AGR's High-Press: Goals galore from Pacific and Ottawa, but what will snap Cavalry, Halifax's tie streak?
Sound the trumpets! Goals have been found in the Canadian Premier League!
After what could only be described as a quiet start to the season offensively in the Canadian Premier League, leading to a flurry of 0-0, 1-0 and 1-1 scorelines through the first four weeks of action, the goals were certainly flying in matchweek five.
In fact, there were a whopping 19 of them scored across four games, for an average of 4.75 per game, the most that have ever been scored in a single four-game matchday in league history.
Along with there being just one draw this weekend, and two home teams winning their games, a lot of early-season trends were bucked with this high-flying offensive outburst.
Fascinatingly enough, too, there is yet to be a player who has had a multi-goal outburst this season, so not only were there 19 goals this weekend, but 19 different goalscorers, as well. Plus, among them were some first-ever professional goals, first-ever CPL goals, and first goals for new clubs, as there were a few special goals for some players.
Basically, this was a weekend for goals, so if you like offence, well, this was the weekend to be watching.
Now, however, this leads to the important question - was this the beginning of an offensive uptick across the league, a sign of forwards shaking off the rust, if you will? Or will things return to normal next week?
That’s harder to say, so enjoy the goals while they were here, because if there’s been one guarantee about this start to the season, it’s that - nothing’s guaranteed.
Pacific keeps flying offensively with another goal outburst
“We need more urgency, quicker decisions, and more decisiveness in front of goal. And more attention to detail with our final pass, and recognizing the opportunities, and eventually we need to reward ourselves and score goals, otherwise we can’t win matches.”
That’s what Pacific’s head coach, James Merriman, said after his team’s third game of the season, a shutout loss to Forge. At the time, they’d just capped off a three-game homestand to kick off the season with one win and one draw, and had scored just two goals.
Since then, they’ve scored a combined eight goals in the two games they’ve played since. Safe to say, Merriman’s words were taken to heart by his players.
Their latest performance, a 4-1 drubbing of York, is just the latest example of that.
Not only did they score four goals in a game for a second straight week, but all of their goals were extremely well taken, too, coming straight off the training ground.
To begin the game, they scored off a corner, as Amer Đidić thumped home a perfect cross from Adonijah Reid for their second set-piece goal in as many games. Considering how much they struggled in that area of their game in 2022, that’s huge to see.
Then, they scored one of the best team goals you’ll see all season, carving through York with a beautiful back-to-front move. From the Georges Mukumbilwa progressive pass, the Reid touch, then the Sean Young through ball to the Manny Aparicio finish, this goal was eye candy.
GOAL 🔱🔱— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) May 14, 2023
Manny Aparicio finishes off a beautiful team goal as @Pacificfccpl take a 2-0 lead over @yorkutdfc in #CanPL action!
Pacific are really enjoying their football at the moment!🔥
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/P9PDSGLw59
Things got hairy after that, as York grew into the game, but then Pacific expertly finished things off with two late goals from David Brazão and Easton Ongaro that also came at the end of two great passing sequences. Here's Brazão's:
GOAL 🔱🔱🔱— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) May 14, 2023
Talk about an instant impact! 🔥
David Brazão comes on and immediately scores a well worked team goal as @Pacificfccpl take a 3-1 lead over @yorkutdfc late in the match!
🔴 #CanPL | https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/OdQ5N7p5LZ
And here's Ongaro's:
GOAL 🔱🔱🔱🔱— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) May 15, 2023
Easton Ongaro scores his first goal for @Pacificfccpl to make it 4-1 over @yorkutdfc
Pacific are scoring for fun these past two matches!
🔴 #CanPL | https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/vllZVbkaGX
Overall, it was a very bright performance offensively for the Tridents, shown by the fact that they had 2.75 xG on just 14 shots (an average of 0.19 xG/shot), as they did well to create a lot of quality looks in front of York’s goal.
Plus, you add in that they’ve now had seven different goalscorers across their last two league games (eight if you add their 2-0 cup win from midweek), and it’s safe to say that they're starting to reap the rewards of having such a deep attack.
Able to craft a variety of different looks tactically from game to game, as well as off the bench, they’ve made themselves hard to defend through that.
Take this game, for example. By going with a front three of Kekuta Manneh, Josh Heard and Adonijah Reid, they were a lot more fluid than usual, as Reid was excellent as a false nine, creating space for his midfielders and wingers to play in.
Then, within the match, they brought on more of a true #9 in Easton Ongaro, as well as more fresh legs in Djenairo Daniels and David Brazão, forcing York to adjust how they defended them. Seeing that Ongaro grabbed his first league goal for Pacific, and that Daniels assisted Brazão for his first-ever Pacific goal, those fresh legs clearly made a big difference.
And all of this came without any involvement from Aymen Sellouf, who could’ve also chipped in up front given his form.
Because of that, it has Pacific coasting right now. Their midfield is flying, as Sean Young had another player-of-the-game performance with two assists, and their defence has been the best in the league statistically, so all that was missing were the goals.
They’ve come now, and it’s led to these two dominant performances, as they’re showing that they can indeed push Forge with their talent and depth.
Really, other than another worrying gaffe from Emil Gazdov in goal, Pacific are in a great spot right now, and their performances in the past two league games reflect that.
“Players are enjoying playing with each other in training, you can see a good spirit in our locker room,” head coach James Merriman said after the match. “We’ve got really good team chemistry, players are quickly learning how to understand each other on the ball, which is beautiful, and you can see their relationships growing because of their quality.”
“I think there’s so much more to come for the group, too. We can change players in games, we’re very versatile and growing in confidence in each match. So it’s exciting, and I still think there’s a long long way for us to go and that’s how the group feels as well, so I think we’re just getting started.”
As for York, it was another frustrating performance after a couple of bright games against rivals Ottawa and Forge in the prior weeks.
In particular, they’ll have to be frustrated with how they started this game, as they came out very flat. Despite having one of the best lineups they’ve been able to put together this season (albeit without Mo Babouli), they looked second-best through 45 minutes, and were lucky to still be in the game as half time rolled around.
They did well to grow back into it in the second half, and probably could’ve levelled the score or even taken the lead before Pacific had their late flurry of opportunities, but ultimately it was too little, too late for them.
Therefore, for them, the big thing will be to start stronger in games (they’ve lost all four games where they’ve conceded first, and won the one game they scored first in), and to find some more goals.
Once again, they underperformed their xG in this game, and are due around three more goals than they’ve gotten based on the numbers. That falls on the shoulders of their strikers, Osaze De Rosario and Brian Wright, in particular, who have zero goals between them yet, having now missed a whopping nine big chances between them (for context, the next five players in that category have missed a combined 10 big chances).
They’ll be encouraged by some good performances from their wide players, such as that of Kévin dos Santos in this game, but they’ll need their strikers to get going, and quickly, to help them get out of this rut.
If not, they’ll keep sinking down the table, as they have, leaving them to play catch up later in the season once again, something they’ll want to avoid doing again this year.
Ottawa put early-season woes behind them in dominant performance
Ottawa must’ve read last week’s High Press, as they had a performance to remember in a thumping 5-0 road win over Vancouver FC, answering a lot of key questions that were posed to them last week.
Heading into this game, they’d scored just three goals, conceded seven and had just two points in their first four games, three of which were at home. That was a huge concern for the defending regular season champions, who had looked like a shell of the team they were last year.
Against Vancouver, however, they returned to some old habits, in a good way.
Of course, the goal outburst will stand out, as it was their first time scoring five in club history, but most importantly, they’ll be happier that they grabbed their first clean sheet of the season.
That’s huge, as Ottawa’s success last year came off the back of their defensive play, not their offence, making their struggles on that side of their game the biggest surprise early on from them.
In this game, though, they answered a lot of questions in that regard. They were diligent in their defensive duties, were extremely organized off the ball, and won a lot of duels, frustrating a Vancouver side that can do damage in transition.
As a result, they held Vancouver to just six shots (none on target) for a total of 0.26 xG, in what might’ve been the best team defensive performance in CPL play this season.
Then, offensively, there’s a lot to like about their goals. Coming from five different goalscorers, they were all well-worked tallies, as Ottawa did well to exploit Vancouver’s makeshift defensive group.
In particular, Jean-Aniel Assi had a breakout game down the right-hand side, as he dominated his matchup with Tyler Crawford in a battle of U21 Canadians. He only finished with an assist, but was heavily involved in several key attacking sequences, and just seemed to cause problems every time he got on the ball.
Then, Ottawa will be relieved to see Assi tee up Sam Salter for his first in Ottawa colours after his move from Halifax, as his confidence seemed to lift immediately after that marker went in. He admitted as much after the game, too, as he’ll now look to use this goal to put a tough start with his new team behind him.
Lastly, that leads to the big shift that started this all for Ottawa - the insertion of Miguel Acosta at the #6.
A huge reason for their early struggles had been a lack of a natural replacement for Abdoul Sissoko at the #6, as they’d experimented with playing Ollie Bassett there in a pivot with Noah Verhoeven.
Two midfielders who prefer to play higher up the pitch, that hurt Ottawa offensively, as they were a lot deeper than they would’ve liked in games, and hurt them defensively, as they weren’t able to offer the same defensive presence at the #6 between that pair.
In Acosta, however, he offered up a more natural replacement for Sissoko, as he sat underneath Verhoeven and Bassett in this game. Fittingly, he mopped up a lot of danger defensively, while freeing up Verhoeven and Bassett to go forward, a move that worked pretty well considering Verhoeven got his first professional goal, while Bassett had a goal and an assist as he returned to MVP form in this game.
(Acosta's action map from the game, via OPTA)
As a result, Ottawa looked as balanced as they have all season, as Gianni Dos Santos and Assi were offering threats on both flanks, Salter was able to lead the line thanks to the support of Bassett and Verhoeven underneath him, while Acosta was holding it all together from his new position.
From there, the insertion of Macdonald Niba at left back continued to be a big stabilizer. Aboubakary Sacko has been great going forward, but he had struggled a bit defensively, something that Niba, who is a centre back, helped solve.
You add in some good contributions off the bench, as Zakaria Bahous and Zach Verhoven both scored after coming into the game, while Verhoven also had an assist, and it was a perfect night for Ottawa.
Now, the challenge will be to build on this, but if they keep this tactical set-up, they appear to be on the right track in that regard.
“Yeah, I'm very happy for them,” head coach Carlos González said of his team’s performance afterwards. “I think that they understood really well what we wanted to do today, finding the spaces where we thought (Vancouver) had the weakness.”
“Today we were clinical, we were solid, and we were competitive. There were great individual performances, and it was a great team performance.”
As for Vancouver… it was a night to forget in their second-ever home match.
They were outworked in every facet of the game, as they just weren’t able to snatch any control of the match, looking second-best for most of the 90 minutes. For a team that has quickly made a name for itself with how organized and disciplined they are despite being an expansion team, that was a big surprise to see from them.
Plus, the suspension of Rocco Romeo seemed to be a backbreaker defensively, highlighting a lot of heavy lifting he’d done for his defensive group, something that Eugene Martínez couldn’t make up for as he was paired with striker Mamadou Kane at the back in head coach Afshin Ghotbi’s latest positional conversion experiment.
You add in that two of their best players to start the year, Kadin Chung and Gabriel Bitar, left this game with what appeared to be pretty serious injuries, and things aren’t looking great for the Eagles.
For an expansion side, depth is always going to be a limiting factor, and the losses of Romeo, Chung and Bitar added up by the end of the game, exemplified by all of the players playing out of position.
The good news for Vancouver? This is a very young team, and this was the first time all season they’ve looked that overmatched against anyone, as they’d never allowed more than one goal in a game.
The loss of Bitar might prove to be a huge blow to their attack, and Chung’s injury will only stretch an already thin midfield group, but you’d have to think that this was an off-night defensively, something that they’ll fix.
And they’ll need to find a way to do that quickly, as the top three teams in the standings, Forge, Valour and Pacific, are their next three opponents, so safe to say, a trial by fire awaits them in that regard.
“It just feels like we left our heart on the field last weekend,” head coach Afshin Ghotbi said afterwards. “What we showed is something I never expected, in every department, we didn't show anything, we were very poor. We lacked concentration, we lacked organization, we were always second best in every duel, and every race.”
“Those are great lessons for us.”
Forge survives back-and-forth battle with Valour
Forge just keep finding a way.
It doesn’t matter how close to the edge they get, if you give them a chance to stay in a game, they will punish you in the end.
This time, Valour would be the side that’d experience that first hand, as they went to Tim Hortons Field for this clash. With both teams in strong form, it was expected to be a good game, and it delivered in that regard.
Yet, while Forge did well to grab a 3-2 win in the end, Valour will have to be frustrated with how the game went for them.
In particular, there are two moments that will hurt the most - their response to both goals they scored.
To begin, they opened the match strongly, grabbing a 1-0 lead in the 30th minute through a powerful Kian Williams strike. It was fully deserved, too, as they looked up for this match.
GOAL🚨@ValourFootball have taken a 1-0 lead over Forge, thanks to this rocket from Kian Williams after a tidy pass from Pacifique Niyongabire#CanPL | https://t.co/7JFAUhgRAE 🔴 pic.twitter.com/sZ6flsXPlG— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) May 13, 2023
That lead would last just three minutes, however, as Forge willed themselves to an opening goal after a beautiful passing sequence and then a bit of hard work, and it was game back on.
From there, Forge made it 2-1, but then Valour did well to respond with a 77th-minute equalizer on Abdou Samaké’s first professional goal. That was a huge moment, as a draw in Hamilton would not have been a bad result whatsoever, showing the importance of that goal for them.
GOAL @ValourFootball🚨— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) May 13, 2023
GAME BACK ON IN HAMILTON🔥
It's Abdou Samaké's 1st career goal, as he benefits from a cheeky ball from Matteo de Brienne to catch Forge asleep, making it 2-2 with a powerful finish#CanPL | https://t.co/7JFAUhgRAE 🔴 pic.twitter.com/hKxe2iXRUR
But just like after the first goal, Forge would respond three minutes later with a late winner from Kwasi Poku following some more great play, and that’d be enough for them to make it three straight wins in CPL play.
Led by a strong performance from captain, Kyle Bekker, who was back to his usual self after a return from suspension and injury, Forge was relentless all game long.
Plus, their depth is continuing to be a big asset for them, as expected. Despite a tough game in midweek, they were able to keep players fresh for this match, and then made some huge substitutions to break things open in the second half.
Casually, Ashtone Morgan, David Choinière, Woobens Pacius, Alessandro Hojabrpour and Poku all came off the bench in the last 45 minutes, while the in-form Noah Jensen remained as an unused substitute.
And, more importantly, they’re getting contributions from those depth players, too. With six different goalscorers in CPL play, they’ve been able to rely on different players to step up in each game, which has been a huge asset as they’ve navigated the busy schedule.
This week, they were paced by Bekker’s strong showing, as he had one goal, one assist and just overall controlled the tempo of the game, looking like his old self in midfield once again.
GOAL🚨— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) May 13, 2023
It's a PERFECT start to the 2nd half for @ForgeFCHamilton, as Kyle Bekker slots home a deflected shot, wrong-footing Rayane Yesli to make it 2-1 for the hosts#CanPL | https://t.co/7JFAUhgRAE 🔴 pic.twitter.com/vg6r5zpebL
You add in that tactical flexibility they once again showed, as they’re now comfortable beating teams in various ways, and it was just a continuation of what’s worked for them this year.
On the other side, however, other than their response to their goals, Valour can be pleased with the performance.
They’ll feel that they could’ve defended the first and third goals better, and could’ve been a bit more ruthless on a few opportunities (including a huge chance from Jaime Siaj that should’ve been put away at 3-2), but the rest of their game was solid. There wasn’t much they could do on the second goal, which was heavily deflected, and they mostly kept Forge out of extremely dangerous areas.
That’s reflected in the stats, as while Forge had seven shots on target, they had just 1.16 xG on 10 overall shots, for an average of about 0.116 xG per shot, which isn’t bad from Valour’s perspective. Given the injuries they continue to battle across their back line and in midfield, they’ll take that.
Then, most importantly, their offence is quietly coming together nicely. The front three of Anthony Novak, Pacifique Niyongabire and Kian Williams is becoming one of the best in the league, which was on display when Niyongabire teed up Williams for their opening goal.
They’ve got to generate a few more chances than they have, as Valour had just 0.94 xG on 11 shots themselves, but they keep getting into dangerous areas, which should lead to even more offence in the future.
Ultimately, loss aside, they can continue to be pleased by their start to the season, as they’ve remained organized, disciplined and dangerous in transition, and should only get better once they get their full squad back and healthy.
Cavalry and Halifax draw it out… again
My game of the week, I highlighted this match for one reason - surely one of these teams would win given that they’d each drawn their first four matches of the season, right?
Wrong, it turns out, although this game was not short on entertainment as they combined for a 2-2 draw.
Ultimately, while they split the points, however, there’s no doubt that the happier of the two managers after this one is Halifax’s Patrice Gheisar, as they were able to accumulate another road point in a tough locale.
Plus, they did so while not necessarily playing at their best, as they weren’t able to dictate the tempo as much as in past matches. That’s key, as it’s valuable to be able to pick up points even when not playing at their best, as Halifax did.
You add in that they’ve played four out of their five games on the road, five points is not a bad return from that run of games, although they’ll need to start churning out some wins as their home games start to come fast and thick.
As for individual performances, they’ll have to be pleased with their attackers, as Aidan Daniels was dangerous once again and had an assist, while Zachary Fernandez and Théo Collomb each chipped in with a goal, doing well to combine between them. Here's Zach Fernandez's goal:
GOAL🌊🌊— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) May 14, 2023
Madness in Calgary as Zach Fernandez scores @HFXWanderersFC second goal in the first half extra time to take the lead over @CPLCavalryFC in #CanPL action🍁⚽️#CavsFC | #TogetherFromAways
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/tTCrnw5wjk
And here's Theo Collomb's:
Defensively, they’ll be frustrated, as this was the first time Halifax allowed more than one goal in a game, but the penalty call that Cavalry got for their second goal did not appear to be a handball (although they probably should’ve given away a penalty in the first half), and they didn’t give up many dangerous chances all game.
Really, the only worry they’ll have other than a lack of wins is their shortage of U21 Canadian minutes, as they’re still yet to crack 100 minutes out of the 2000 they need by the end of the season, which would be less of a concern had they already had a win under their belt.
In terms of Cavalry, they’ll be frustrated with how this game went, as they had control for most of it, but really threw away the win with a two-minute spell at the end of the first half. There, they looked like they’d cruise to half time up 1-0, but fell asleep as the Wanderers somehow grabbed a lead with two quick goals before the break.
From there, they were left to chase all second half, and while they did well to claw things back, and nearly grabbed a winner with a dramatic 94th-minute free kick that hit the post, they’ll feel they should’ve had a lead long before then.
GOAL🐎🐎— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) May 14, 2023
Myer Bevan equalizes from the spot and chaos ensues🚨@CPLCavalryFC and @HFXWanderersFC enter the final 10 minutes of the match all tied up🔥#CanPL | #CavsFC | #TogetherFromAways
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/78A4VB6wah
Yet, that's a sixth lead in five games that they’ve been unable to keep intact, which is not the sort of Cavalry DNA many are used to seeing. Ultimately, they haven’t been bad over the course of five games, but keep switching off at key moments, perhaps showing the growing pains that this team is going through after losing several key veterans over the last two seasons.
It’s one thing for this team to be taking time to gel - that’s normal, but to be giving points away cheaply? That’s been the biggest surprise to see.
Ultimately, they just need to be harder to play against in their own box, as that feels like that’s been the biggest area that’s held them back this season.
In better news, however, Ali Musse was once again a difference-maker, as while he maintained his usual spot out wide, he cut inside a lot more often, playing more inverted. Through that, it opened up space for some good overlaps from Roberto Alarcón, and helped Musse stay more involved than in other games, where he’d be hugging the touchline more.
(Ali Musse's touch map from this game)
Along with another goal from Myer Bevan, there’s a lot to like with Cavalry’s offence, so if they can clean up those defensive issues, they’ll be flying.
Player of the matchday: Ollie Bassett
After their slow start, Ottawa needed a win, and badly.
And fittingly, the 2022 MVP and Player’s Player of the Year stepped up with a huge offensive performance to help do that, racking up the opening goal (which stood as the winner), along with an assist as part of what was a dominant, tempo-setting performance in midfield.
Quietly, Bassett is now tied for the league lead in goals with three, in just four appearances, all from open play. Not bad for a midfielder, one who still probably has another gear to hit, too.
Goal of the Week: Ali Musse
GOAL🐎— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) May 13, 2023
Ali Musse from outside of the box opens the scoring for @CPLCavalryFC to take a 1-0 lead over @HFXWanderersFC in #CanPL action🔥⚽️#CavsFC | #TogetherFromAways
TUNE IN | 🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/wCIRCnU5c8
On a weekend where there were 19 goals, it makes it a bit harder to pick a goal of the matchday, but ultimately, Ali Musse’s powerful long-distance effort takes the cake here.
For him to grab possession as he did, open up his hips and wrap his foot around the ball, it’s a very satisfying goal from a player who knows how to conjure up magic like this.
Honourable mention goes to Pacific’s team goal that was finished off by Manny Aparicio, and Kian Williams’s goal for Valour, too, highlighting the quality of goals this matchday.
You gotta see this: Ollie Bassett’s celebration
Typically, Ollie Bassett isn’t one for big celebrations. Usually, when he scores, he’ll get quite passionate, but won’t rip out much more than a shush, a knee slide or something to either pump up his home fans or provoke the away supporters.
Because of that, it was a surprise to see him rip out a modified version of the “suiii” celebration after he shushed the Vancouver FC fans, as it’s not what we’re used to seeing from him.
Yet, if you saw the video that Atlético Ottawa put out in midweek, you’d know why he did it. There, Bassett met up with a young fan named Taha, who was a mascot for the team’s game last week, and got to walk out with Bassett. There, he had quite the chat with Bassett, who was impressed with his knowledge of the game, hence why he wanted to meet up with him to surprise him with a jersey in midweek.
There, Taha had a request for Bassett - score, and do that celebration.
Obviously, Bassett took that request pretty seriously - he scored just eight minutes into the match, and wasted no time in getting out the celebration - much to the joy of Taha back home.
Safe to say, it was a pretty special moment for Bassett, who has continued to impress not just on the field since his arrival to the CPL in 2021, but off it, as well.
🎬 Atleti Moments | Taha’s Goal Celebration ♥️🤍— Atlético Ottawa (@atletiOttawa) May 14, 2023
The inspiration behind Ollie Basset’s goal celebration in Vancouver 🪄✨
🔗 Watch The Full Video: https://t.co/xzB6yzeZeZ#ForOttawa | #PourOttawa pic.twitter.com/KSR4o3NBj1
What I’m watching this week: Valour vs Pacific
A battle between second and third place, this matchup promises to be a good one, as Valour hosts Pacific at IG Field in what should be a fascinating clash.
On Valour’s side, they’ll look to get back to winning ways, as after claiming all three points in week one, they’ve had three draws and one loss since. They’ve played well in each game, and have dealt with injuries, but they’ll feel that they could have potentially more points than they do, and will look to prove that against a dangerous Pacific side.
Because of that, look for Valour to be compact, organized and dangerous in transition, looking to pull a page out of Forge’s win over Pacific a few weeks back, halting the high-flying Tridents.
Meanwhile, for Pacific, it’ll be all about keeping the good times rolling with more goals and another win. With their deep attack, solid midfield and strong defence, they’ll want to remain consistent in their performances, and no better game to do that than against a solid Valour side.
With Forge in good form, a win here would be huge for either side, as a draw between them would help Forge continue to pull away, so this should be a good battle between two of the stronger teams in the league so far this season.