AGR's HIGH PRESS: Cavalry catches Forge by surprise in tactical heavyweight bout
It was a matchweek of crucial clashes.
By fate, the matchups this past weekend in the Canadian Premier League? 1st vs 4th place, 2nd vs 3rd, 5th vs 6th and 7th vs 8th.
Almost like a playoff weekend, of sorts, it made for some intense games, which thanks to it being a long weekend, were laid out one day at a time from Friday to Monday, making for quite the viewing experience this weekend.
And with 10 games to go in the league, the stakes are only going to keep growing going forward. It’s crunch time, when the contenders start to distinguish themselves from the pretenders, and the table is slowly starting to demonstrate that.
Therefore, it’s safe to say that this is just the start of what’s to come the rest of the way, as the race toward the playoffs really heats up.
Before looking ahead to that, however, here’s a look back at what stood out this past week in the latest edition of “High Press”.
Cavalry vs Forge lives up to the billing
As usual, it promised to be a fascinating tactical battle.
To be fair, when you’ve played another team as often as Cavalry and Forge, they always tend to be, especially when little often separates the two teams when they meet.
And so far this year, that had been the case. Through two meetings, one in each team’s stadium, they both finished in draws.
Therefore, as they got set to meet this past weekend, one could only expect a close game… right?
Turns out, not exactly, as Cavalry stormed out to a 3-0 win that will have certainly caught a lot of observers by surprise.
Yet, a big reason for that comes down to their game plan, and the level to which they executed it. Instead of their usual tactical set-up, which looks something like a 3-2-4-1 in possession and a 4-2-3-1 out of it, Cavalry went for something slightly different this time out.
Instead, they went for a 3-2-2-3 in possession, and a sort of 4-3-3 out of it. The big tactic? To overload Forge in the middle with a box midfield of Shamit Shome, Charlie Trafford, Jesse Daley and Sergio Camargo in possession, matching up to a similar set-up that Forge had been employing to good success as of late.
Then, from there, they looked to exploit Forge’s lack of natural wide players in that formation by employing two dangerous wide threats in William Akio and Goteh Ntignee. In particular, the former was tasked to profit from Forge’s aggressive off-ball rotations on the left side, while the latter aimed to pin back Rezart Rama, who was playing as a right wing back in possession.
Lastly, they then tried to use the 4-3-3 to press Forge, instead of sitting back as many typically try to do against Forge.
And to Cavalry’s credit, those aggressive tactics worked out to perfection. Through their speed on the flanks, they found all sorts of joy in those areas, while doing well to make the most of the overload they created in midfield.
As a result, Akio then fittingly scored a goal by exploiting gaps down Forge’s left side, while Ntignee nabbed an assist and won a penalty by similarly finding space on Forge’s right, further showing how that plan worked.
GOAL🚨— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) August 5, 2023
Welcome back to the #CanPL, William Akio! 🔥
He doubles @CPLCavalryFC's lead over Forge with a mazy run and finish, before pulling out his trademark acrobatic celebration to cap it off 🐎🐎
Finally, their high press also worked to perfection, as Forge never really seemed to get into a rhythm, especially when it came to breaking Cavalry’s lines in midfield.
Overall, it was a disciplined tactical performance from Cavalry, who completely caught Forge by surprise, which is reflected in their winning the xG battle 2.01-0.90, something that doesn’t happen too often to the three-time champions.
Yet, that’s why these sorts of matchups are always so intriguing. Two teams that know each other well, with two tactical versatile and experienced managers, meetings between them are often extremely strategic.
This game was no exception, with Cavalry getting the better of their Hamiltonian counterparts this time.
Because of that, circle your calendars for the rematch, the final regular season clash of the season - September 9th, at Tim Hortons Field, where you can only imagine Forge will have some tricks up their sleeve as they look to avenge this match.
Pacific’s road prowess shines once again
In a league like the CPL, where travel can be so gruelling due to the natural geography of Canada, winning away can be hard.
That’s why a feat like Atlético Ottawa’s last year was so special, as they managed to pick up an impressive 28 points from 14 regular season road games, finishing with a record of 8W-4D-2L across those matches.
Yet, as impressive as that was, that could stand to be one-upped, as Pacific has quietly been on quite the run of their own this season.
After a win over Halifax this weekend, they’ve now already claimed 17 points from just eight road games, where they have a record of 5W-2D-1L.
For context, only three teams finished with more than 17 total regular season road points last year - Ottawa (28), Forge (21) and Pacific (20).
Despite having some of the toughest travel in the league due to their location (although Halifax probably takes the cake in that regard), that has not fazed Pacific, who have arguably played better on the road than at home this season (they’ve averaged 2.12 points per game on the road versus 1.5 per game at home).
GOAL🚨@Pacificfccpl have opened the scoring vs Halifax, as Thomas Meilleur-Giguère gets on the end of a clever Easton Ongaro flick to put his team up 1-0 right before half time🔱— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) August 7, 2023
Because of that, credit has to be given to Pacific for the position they’ve put themselves in with six road games remaining on the season. It’s hard to say that they’ll run the table across those games, as they’ve got two trips to Cavalry, one trip to Ottawa and one trip to Forge (although they’ve won at both Forge and Ottawa this year), but they certainly have a shot at pushing for 30 road points.
Yet, that’s just a sign of Pacific’s depth and tactical versatility.
First, through the former, they’ve been able to rotate their squad in each game, ensuring that they don’t get too burned out through road games. For example, in their last two road games, wins over Valour and Halifax, they only gave Ayman Sellouf 60 minutes, which is quite the luxury given that he’s been one of their best players this season.
Then, through their tactical versatility, they’ve been able to impose themselves in games on the road. Against Valour, they were able to adjust their game plan to take advantage of IG Field’s wide playing surface, while against Halifax, Pacific seemed comfortable playing on the slick grass at Wanderers Grounds.
They might not be making big tactical tweaks - they play a 4-3-3 nearly every match, building up in a back three on occasion, but they’ll make small changes, such as ones to their midfield group, to facilitate tweaks.
Against Valour, for example, they went for more of a build-up-oriented midfield of Steffan Yeates, Manny Aparicio and Cédric Toussaint, before slotting in Sean Young for Yeates to get a bit more going between the lines against Halifax, with Yeates preferring to drop on the ball versus Young playing higher up.
Therefore, look for them to maintain that heading into the rest of the season. Certainly, their home form is something they’ll want to clean up, given that they’ve got four games left at home (and could stand to host some crucial home playoff games at this rate), but they’ll have to be pleased with how they’re playing on the road right now.
Plus, given how good they typically are at home, they’ll be pleased to know that their road form is giving them a chance at potentially hosting a crucial semi-final or final, too, showing why they’ll be eager to keep this form up heading into the last 10 games of the season.
What to make of the Golden Boot race?
Once again, it was another quiet weekend in the CPL’s golden boot race, as none of the top 12 scorers found the net across the four games.
Because of that, other than Josh Heard scoring his fourth of the year, movement was light across the top scorers in the league, something that has been the case for a couple of weeks now.
Of course, there are vastly different reasons for this - Myer Bevan has been suspended, while Ayman Sellouf hasn’t played a ton lately, for example, but it’s still a surprise to see.
At the same time, it’s setting up what should be a good race towards the Golden Boot. And, most interestingly, nearly every club has a claim to putting up a potential winner, too(sorry, Valour), joining Halifax (x2), Forge and Pacific in that category.
At the top of the league table, there’s Pacific, who have a whole roster of names still in the race, as Sellouf (5), Heard (4), Easton Ongaro (4) and Amer Didić (4) all sit within pouncing distance, with each having a good claim except perhaps Didić (and even you’d be hard pressed to rule him out given his proficiency on set-pieces).
Then, Cavalry’s got a pair of choices in Bevan, who remains tied for the lead with 8 despite his suspension, while Ali Musse (4) could also make things interesting. Ditto with Forge, who has Terran Campbell tied with Bevan on 8, while Woobens Pacius has quietly climbed to the race with 4, and could be a great dark horse candidate to win it all.
Meanwhile, Ottawa is hedging their bets on Ollie Bassett (7) and Sam Salter (4), while York can lean on Mo Babouli (4) potentially heating up by the end of the year, something Halifax will be hoping can also happen with Théo Collomb (4).
Lastly, even though they’re arguably out of the playoff race, Vancouver’s Shaan Hundal (7) can easily make some noise in this, especially if he keeps getting chances at the rate he has as of late. Given that he’s formed a nice partnership with 2022 winner, Alejandro Díaz, who also can’t truly be ruled out of the race with two goals since his midsummer arrival, there’s a lot of potential there.
All of that to say is that this race is begging for someone to get hot and grab a few goals in bunches, the same way that Terran Campbell did so a few weeks earlier, which could make for a fun end to this race after it went to Díaz in rather unceremonious fashion last year.
Player of the Week: Carl Haworth
Carl Haworth has been in excellent form as of late for Atlético Ottawa, and he kept that up this weekend, nabbing a crucial brace in a come-from-behind draw against York.
For all of the focus on some of the new faces that have shone for Ottawa recently, Haworth has been putting up some bright performances on both sides of the ball down the right for this Atlético side as of late, and this was another great one.
And for him to cap it off with two excellent goals? Not a bad weekend for him, at all.
Goal of the Week: Eryk Kobza
Some good candidates this week (shout out to Haworth’s pair of beauties), but ultimately, Cavalry’s team set-piece goal was too hard to ignore.
In terms of boxes, this one ticks a lot of them, as it was a great team effort, was flawless in its execution, and was hugely important to Cavalry’s win over Forge, standing as the match-winner.
Therefore, while it might not have the flash or individual brilliance of some other goals, it certainly deserves the honour of being the goal of the week, as it shone brightly in its own way.
GOAL🚨@CPLCavalryFC opens the scoring over Forge, as Eryk Kobza gets on the end of a Goteh Ntignee cross to make it 1-0🐎— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) August 5, 2023
And how about the set-piece routine from the Cavs to set it up?🔥
You gotta see this: Ottawa and York’s chaotic six-goal thriller
If there was a game of the weekend award, the all-Ontario derby clash between Ottawa and York certainly would’ve won that this week, as they combined for quite the game last Saturday.
From six goals, ranging from the routine to bangers, with even the extremely unlucky thrown in there, fans certainly got their money’s worth from this one.
Therefore, instead of giving one particular moment its shine, I urge you to revisit the highlights - they don’t disappoint.
What I’m watching this week: Forge vs York
For the last time all season, Forge and York are getting set to meet this season, which is a huge game on many levels.
First, there’s the fact that this series has been hard to split - Forge has won two games on the road, and York has won one on the road, making it intriguing to note that Forge is hosting York in this match.
Second, and most important, is that these two teams have a game in hand on everyone else, meaning that a loss in this match could prove to be costly, given that each team around them has a game to make up over the next month.
Lastly, is the fact that this is a derby, and those are always interesting to follow, no matter the context.
Oh, and it should be a good battle between York’s hot-and-cold defence and Forge’s flexible midfield set-up, so there’s also a good tactical angle for this one, too.
Safe to say, lots to watch out for as these two get set to do battle this upcoming Saturday night in Hamilton.