AGR's HIGH PRESS: Cavalry heats up as defenders steal the show on Canada Day weekend
It was a holiday weekend in the CPL, but no one appeared to have any intention of taking any time off.
That much was clear when Halifax Wanderers hosted Forge to kick off this past weekend's slate of games, as they brought an energy that carried through the rest of the matchday, culminating with an entertaining clash between Vancouver FC and York United on Sunday.
Late goals, drama, red cards, worldies were all on display this weekend, as the CPL celebrated Canada Day in the best way possible - with entertainment. Now, teams will have to leave those long weekend vibes behind them, as the dog days of summer approach. The transfer window is open, the table is relatively settled and teams know what they are at this stage of their process.
Ahead of a stretch of games that will likely make or break some team’s seasons, this is the time to adjust any first-half malaises, pick up some new additions and build on any success, small or large, as the business end of the campaign approaches.
Here’s more on that, and other takeaways from this matchday, in this week’s High Press.
Are Cavalry returning to usual service?
As we've seen this season, winning cures all woes. Draws may temporarily bring relief, but the best way to get out of a slump is to win a couple of games, allowing a team to climb up the table.
Cavalry is the latest team to be the beneficiary of the drastic turn of fortunes that a few wins can bring, as they defeated Valour 2-0 for their third win in their last four games.
Most importantly, they did so by ticking off a few important boxes - nabbing a road win, their first of the CPL season, and by keeping a clean sheet, just the second time they’ve done that this season.
The latter, in particular, is encouraging, as Cavalry’s defence has performed well, but they’ve been struggling to keep the ball out of their net.
Certainly, they didn’t do anything that was too different in this game - they did allow 1.96 xG on 15 shots, as Valour probably should’ve had three or four goals with some better finishing, but sometimes, you need a bit of luck to win.
Especially for a Cavalry team that has gotten anything but luck defensively, they won’t complain, as some days you just need to get a clean sheet over the line to then build a bit of momentum off that.
V-A-R— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) July 1, 2023
Did it cross the line or did Marco Carducci make a fantastic save?🤔 pic.twitter.com/gGmZSvLCWx
That ties in nicely with the other big takeaway from this result – the importance of a road win.
At home, Cavalry have been sterling, as they usually are, sitting as the only team yet to lose a game on their own pitch so far this season. On the road, however, they’ve struggled, as they were only the seventh out of eight CPL teams to win a road game, and had some frustrating performances in past road games this season.
The key for them now will be to build on this, as this wasn't any old road victory; they also snapped Valour's 13-game unbeaten run at home dating back to last year.
After having the best road record in the CPL in 2019 and 2021, Cavalry has had the fourth-best road record last year, so this has been something that they’ve struggled with for a while now before this win.
If they can start stringing together a few road victories? A return to that old road form would go a long way toward their success given how good they’ve continued to be at home.
From there, they’ll look to springboard this into a run up the table. Now sitting just two points off second place, with two games in hand on both second-place York and third-place Forge, Cavalry are in a great position to start climbing the table.
GOAL 🐎— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) July 1, 2023
Incredible start to the match for @CPLCavalryFC as Myer Bevan scores his #CanPL leading 7th goal of the season to give his side a 1-0 lead over @ValourFootball
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/eFz97KO45U
Plus, with an away game against Pacific this weekend, they could close that gap between them and first place to four points, which would be massive for their season.
Therefore, it'll be imperative that they build on this Valour result as a team. It might not have been their best overall performance, but it was one of their grittiest team results, as they did well to embody the spirit that Cavalry has typically been known for throughout their history.
The individual performances have been there for Cavalry this year, but it feels like at times they haven’t been able to collectively put together true Cavalry performances as often as they would’ve liked.
No doubt, the individuals remain key to the project - Ali Musse continues to play at an MVP rate, Myer Bevan is pushing towards the CPL single-season goalscoring record, Goteh Ntignee is quietly emerging as a fun U-21 Player of the Year candidate, and the likes of Daan Klomp and Eryk Kobza are putting in some really good performances week-in-and-week out.
GOAL 🐎🐎— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) July 1, 2023
Goteh Ntignee scores to put the match out of reach as @CPLCavalryFC now lead 2-0 over @ValourFootball
Valour have created quality chances and will wonder how this one got away from them!
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/sRDxao4GJc
Plus, they’ve finally seemed to settle on a tactical identity, continuing to work on the hybrid 3-4-2-1 on the ball and more of a 4-2-3-1 off of it, with the former shift to more of a back three being huge.
Yet, the strength of Cavalry has always been collective, so if they can continue to get those sorts of performances while Cavalry finds its defensive identity, then they’ll really be firing.
The numbers suggest they are, as they’ve not conceded the third-lowest xG in the league, even despite the chances they allowed against Valour, so they just need to return to usual service and they’ll be in the clear.
Especially as some key names finally return from injury in Callum Montgomery and Shamit Shome, and they get new arrival Maël Henry into the mix, there’s only room to go up for this Cavalry side.
Wanderers keep finding ways to win
Speaking of surging sides in the CPL, Halifax is certainly giving Cavalry a run for their money in that department right now, as they’ve also won three of their last four games, picking up 13 out of a possible 15 points in their last five games.
After starting the season with no wins through eight games, it’s been a stark turnaround for the Wanderers, one that has pushed them up to fifth in the table, just two points behind Cavalry.
More importantly... they’ve started to win in different ways. This weekend was the latest example of that.
Against Valour, they won with total domination, as they played Valour off the park for most of the 90 minutes in a 2-0 win. Then, against Cavalry, they showed pragmatism, doing well to absorb all sorts of Cavalry pressure before catching them on the break twice late on in a 3-1 win. Against Forge, they showed arguably the most impressive version of themselves – a resilient, unbothered one.
They went toe-to-toe with Forge, doing well to battle with the defending champions. Even though Kyle Bekker did some Kyle Bekker things on his left foot from distance in the 88th minute – and all of a sudden Forge didn’t just seem likely to be leaving with a draw but seemed to have eyes on a winner – at that moment, Halifax may have arguably changed the course of their season. Instead of succumbing to Forge's late wave, they held strong, and then did the unlikely, winning a 96th minute penalty to win the match and send Wanderers Grounds into a rapture of cheer.
This is what this new-look Halifax Wanderers can be about. No matter what, they’ll play their way, and do whatever they can to win. They've turned Wanderers Grounds into a fortress in the process with their third straight win at home, the first time they’ve done that in league play in their entire history. Credit must also go to the Wanderers' supporters, who are the biggest and most deserving winners here. Always committed and loyal to the team, through wins or losses, rain or shine, it’s felt like they’ve deserved the chance to watch a team that can consistently win.
Of course, it’s far too early for the Wanderers to be at that stage yet, but they’re on the right track.
Shout out to under-appreciated defenders
Attackers are usually the ones making headlines; goals win games, after all, so those who score and create them naturally attract attention.
It's why forwards dominate end-of-season individual awards, but it can be easy to forget about those who can often be just as crucial to that success: Defenders. This weekend served as a good reminder of their importance.
First, Daniel Nimick of Halifax had a fantastic performance against Forge, putting in a dream showing for a centre back. At one end, he chipped in offensively, scoring the winner while also adding a well-taken assist on a perfect long ball that played in Ferrin for the opener. Then, defensively, he was arguably even better, finishing with eight (!) clearances, one tackle, four recoveries and won eight of his 12 duels, as he was dominant in the box for Halifax.
As a result, he was deservedly named player of the match, which is a due reward for how good he’s been for Halifax this season. In his first year as a professional, as joined Halifax after getting drafted by the Vancouver Whitecaps out of college in the winter but not signing with the club, he’s quickly become a revelation under Patrice Gheisar.
It was nice to see him get some shine this weekend, as he’s spent a lot of the year doing dirty work for Halifax, playing a big role for them as they found their identity. But he wasn’t the only defender to have a similar performance this weekend: Daan Klomp was fantastic for Cavalry in their win over Valour, helping them clean sheet with a strong defensive performance (three tackles, four clearances, one interception, four recoveries and six out of 10 duels won), which also earned him player of the match honours.
Continuing a strong campaign from the Dutch defender, who has stepped up back in more of his natural centre back role after spending much of his first few years with Cavalry at full back, he’s allowed his side to stay afloat defensively even after the early injury to Callum Montgomery.
Yet, those are just two of what were a few strong performances across the board from defenders this week, from Tass Mourdoukoutas to Thomas Meilleur-Giguère, allowing them to get some due praise for their play. Therefore, while some strikers might steal the headlines, don’t forget those who help keep things tidy at the back, and this weekend was a good reminder of that.
Alex’s notebook: Quick thoughts around the CPL
- Speaking of Pacific FC, they had a four-game winning streak halted this weekend at the hands of Atlético Ottawa, who did well to frustrate them at Starlight Stadium. It was a frustrating match for Pacific, who allowed an uncharacteristic goal for Ottawa’s opener, and then gave away a penalty that they’ll feel is a bit soft for the second goal, but in the end, they still had plenty of chances to win, including a penalty that Josh Heard had saved when it was 2-2. Because of that, it’s a surprise they didn’t extend their winning run to five, as they reminded other teams that they’re still human. At the same time, if drawing a game where you win the xG battle 2.56-1.58 is considered an off day, most teams would take that… Also, Ayman Sellouf stayed red-hot, grabbing a goal and an assist to get to 4G/4A on the season, and was named the CPL’s player of the month for June. He continues to be very fun to watch for Pacific.
- York United continued to be road warriors, nabbing a 2-1 win vs Vancouver FC in a chaotic wide-open game to resume their push back up the table. Not exactly a coach’s dream, one might say, but a winning goal from Osaze De Rosario, a standout performance from Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé and a fantastic game from Clément Bayiha will have Martin Nash pleased. Also, that Tass Mourdoukoutas and Roger Thompson finally started and finished a game together at centre back must feel nice for Nash, too.
- The battle for consistency continues for Forge FC after their loss to Halifax. Overall, not a lot to take away from that one for them, although they’ll need to find some consistency in front of goal. And play Woobens Pacius more centrally. Also, having a fit David Choinière back wouldn’t hurt, either.
- Speaking of struggling in front of goal… Valour FC certainly have questions to ask after somehow being shut out by Cavalry. Sitting tied for the fewest goals in the CPL with just 11 goals in 13 games, Valour needs to figure out some solutions in front of goal, quickly, helping make up for the fact that they’ve also allowed the second-fewest goals with 12. Really, the big concern is that no one has scored more than two goals, and only two players have hit that mark. In particular, they’ll need one of Jaime Siaj or Anthony Novak to step up. Walter Ponce and Kian Williams have been sorely missed, though, especially as their absences came right when Pacifique Niyongabire returned from international duty.
- It was a good road point from Atlético Ottawa vs Pacific. Not much to complain about there, even if it was a bit sloppier defensively than they would’ve liked, and they now saw Diego Espejo pick up a suspension. In better news, however, Sam Salter is really starting to heat up, and looks like he’s really starting to figure things out at the #9 for Ottawa. He looks like a whole new player right now, especially when you remember how he started the year.
- They didn’t get the win, but Vancouver FC’s attack looked a lot better with the debut of new arrival Mikaël Cantave. They only finished with one goal, but should’ve had more, and looked more dangerous on the ball than they have all season. If they can keep that up, and tighten up their midfield, all while maintaining their recently found defensive structure, things could be on the upturn for them very soon.
Player of the Week: Daniel Nimick
It was a week for central defenders, and with Nimick leading the way, he earns a well-deserved Player of the Week nod.
Anytime you can be as dominant on both sides of the ball as he was, as a defender, your team has a good chance of winning, and Halifax showed that with their 2-1 result over Forge.
Goal of the Week: Ayman Sellouf
A repeat winner of this award, Sellouf showed that he once again has a flair for the big moment, scoring an Olimpico against Ottawa.
The best part about this, too? He nearly scored an Olimpico in Pacific’s first meeting this year against Ottawa, too, if not for teammate Amer Đidić making sure it got over the line at the last minute.
And, these are fully intentional, as well. Chatting with him this week, he was even able to give a full breakdown of what he saw with the Olimpico, and why he went for it.
Safe to say, with the confidence he has, he’ll be scoring a lot more fun goals by the time this season is over.
GOAL🔱🔱— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) July 1, 2023
It's an Olimpico!!
Ayman Sellouf scores directly from a corner to give @Pacificfccpl a 2-1 lead over @atletiOttawa, he now has four goals and four assists this season!🔥
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/lwn5yR4DVQ
You gotta see this: Chaos at Wanderers Grounds
Anytime the Wanderers play at home, it's worth watching for the crowd alone, but especially when they’re able to win and give something for that crowd to cheer about.
GOAL 🌊🌊— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) July 1, 2023
LATE DRAMA!!@HFXWanderersFC take a 2-1 lead as Daniel Nimick cooly puts away his penalty to take all three points against @ForgeFCHamilton
Do you agree with the penalty call?🤔
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/xIV1fR1cj5
They served a nice reminder of that this weekend in front of a very strong holiday crowd against Forge, as the Grounds seemingly exploded when Nimick’s winner went in.
Goosebumps-inducing stuff, really.
What I’m watching this week: Forge vs. York United (FREE on YouTube!)
Tough choice this week, as each game offers intrigue in its own right, but given that this is a matchup between #2 and #3, Forge and York’s clash just edges it.
A 905 derby, these matchups never fail to entertain, and so far their first two meetings of the year have shown that.
Plus, interestingly, each game served as a key turning point for their seasons. In the first matchup, Forge won, as they got off to a strong start, while York continued to flounder. But then, in their second meeting, York won in dramatic fashion late on, and have been in red hot form since, while Forge has struggled.
Therefore, given how tight the table is at the top, both teams will be pushing hard to win, only adding to the fuel of this derby.
In what should be an entertaining tactical matchup, it’s hard to ask for more than that, which is why this one is the game to watch this week.