Cavalry, Forge puts up spectacle worth watching in first-ever CPL final

Cavalry combined for an entertaining affair on Saturday, one that sold the sport well on a day where plenty of eyeballs were watching. 

It wasn’t pretty, but it sold the sport well. 

That was the sentiment shared by both Cavalry and Forge, who combined for an entertaining 90 minutes of play on Saturday. 

“The finals often not the prettiest,” said Wheeldon Jr shortly after the game. “They’re littered with mistakes and controversy, and less more magic moments.”

“There was action,” he continued. “There were talking points, and I think when we’re still selling the game as we are in this country, there’s lots to talk about, and that will only grow the game”.

It was a feeling that was shared by both sides, as Forge’s Bobby Smyrniotis was also very complimentary of the crowd, one that has boosted them on all year long. 

“I think our crowd was fantastic,” Smyrniotis said. “And they pushed the guys, and the environment was great. So yeah, we want a little bit more, but we’re also happy with where we are in just the way we played.”

With the game being played on CBC, Canada’s national broadcast channel, as well as on onesoccer, the official broadcast partner of the league, it was a good chance to bring in some new fans to the game. As seen by the 10 486 raucous fans that showed up, it was a chance to witness some high-calibre football in Canada, and both teams did not disappoint. 

Forge got things started early on, as Kyle Bekker nearly pulled off what Tristan Borges executed many months earlier in this stadium, as he just about stuck in a ball far post off a corner. Along with a dangerous Chris Nanco turn and shot soon after that just slid wide, Forge came out of the gates much the better side, putting the fall and spring champions on the back foot. 

“Today I think we did a great job of going into those areas in the field which we needed to,” Smyrniotis said. “To be able to attack, to be on the front foot, to put them on the back foot and I think that worked very well for us.”

Bekker continued his strong start to the game, making up for some earlier soft strikes towards goal with an absolute missile from 25 yards, one that was only kept out by the upright above Marco Carducci’s head. 

The game, slowly ramping up in pace with each crunching challenge and missed opportunity, reached a peak in the 38th minute, not long after the Bekker bar hit. Borges went for a slaloming run right through Cavalry’s defence, confusing a few defenders and opening up space with his electric dribbling. Cavalry’s last man standing, centre back Joel Waterman, dived in and desperately tried to stop the CPL’s leading goal scorer, but it was to no avail, as his arm struck the ball as Borges easily danced around him. 

While Borges kept going, nearly scoring a goal, the ref called things back and pointed to the spot, having noticed Waterman’s foul. He also brandished the red card, putting Cavalry down to 10 men, making an already tough task even harder.

“Yeah, it was tough for us,” Carducci said. “I think it’s a harsh one on Joel. I won’t comment much more, I haven’t really had a chance to see it.”

Even though some of that pain dissipated when Carducci made an impossible stop to deny Borges at the spot to keep the game 0-0, their hopes of winning the game had taken a huge blow. 

“I committed to my left,” Carducci said. “(I was) thinking he was going that way. (It was) just staying focused, I watched the ball the whole way through, and then, fortunately, it was close enough for me where I was able to adjust my feet a little bit and make a little bit of an unorthodox save.”

It didn’t take long for that hole in their backline to be exposed, as Chris Nanco helped Forge open the scoring in the 45th minute. Nanco worked his way down Cavalry’s right-hand side with a creative spin move, as their right back Dominick Zator had moved to centre back after the red card, giving the Forge winger plenty of time to tee up Borges at the top of the box, and the Canadian made no mistake with the chance. With his curled effort, one that nestled in the top corner behind a hapless Carducci, it sent the crowd into a big roar and gave Forge a deserved lead heading into the half. 

“It was frustrating,” Carducci said. “I think if we were able to get to half nil-nil, then obviously we can regroup and kind of go again, but obviously they got one right before, which was just frustrating for us.”

Forge didn’t waste time to try and build on their lead heading into the new half, pressing on 10 men Cavalry. They almost doubled their lead off of a corner, as space opened up for Nanco to volley, forcing a save from Carducci. The rebound then fell to Forge centre back David Edgar, who had moved up for the set-piece, but he clattered the ball off the bar and out much to the relief of Cavalry. 

“This game is a game of inches, it’s a game of feet,” Smyrniotis said of hitting the woodwork several times. “It’s a game of final decisions and it’s part of it, yeah if it’s 10 centimetres lower it’s in, but guess what? It wasn’t. If it was 10 centimetres higher it would be out, so that’s part (of the game).”

The game had some more fireworks soon after that, with Borges getting sent off for a kick towards the head of the second-half sub Jay Wheeldon, before Forge’s Elimane Cisse sent a glorious header chance wide on the offensive end. With both teams down to 10 men, it gave a boost to Cavalry’s hopes, and it was expected that the game would open right up. 

That wasn’t the case, however, as both teams coasted to the finish line, as the game finished 1-0. Despite the scoreline, it was an entertaining contest, one that the league can certainly be happy about. While all the extras in regards to discipline and red cards surely won’t have them enamoured, they can take solace that their best two teams went toe-to-toe once again, and both teams stayed up fighting. With many eyeballs around the world watching, they can be happy in the ‘made for TV’ aspects the game provided.

Man of the Match: Kwame Awuah

There were several good shouts for Man of the Match, with Kyle Bekker putting up a strong performance in the middle, while Borges was lively before the goal, and not to mention Carducci for Cavalry, but Awuah was strong on the afternoon. Despite playing at left back, he influenced the game heavily, as his overlaps with Nanco gave Zator and Waterman plenty to think about on the right side. 

He led all players with 4 chances created, while adding 81 touches and 56 passes at a 76% percent clip, capping a solid offensive night. While he wasn’t directly involved in the goal, he played a huge part in helping Forge press, and he might have been rewarded if Forge were more clinical. 

Defensively, he was no slouch either, putting in 2 tackles, as well as winning 3 fouls, as he put together a complete performance all over the field. If Forge are to take anything from that away leg, more performances like that on both sides of the ball, from all their players, will take them a long way towards the ‘North Star Shield’.

The North Star Shield (Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic)

Forge rues missed chances?

The stats painted a pretty picture for Forge Saturday, as they dominated possession with 68%, sent 18 shots towards goal, they outdueled Cavalry 56 to 48 and outpassed them 521 to 242. 

Yet, when one looks at the most important stat, which is goals scored, Forge only won narrowly. Despite playing for 30 minutes a man up, they were unable to put Cavalry to the sword, something that they may come to rue in the second leg. 

“We obviously had the chances, but listen, I think our performance was excellent today,” Smyrniotis said. “You know we’re on the front foot, we played Forge football, it’s what we want to show when we play. I think our crowd was fantastic and they pushed the guys and the environment was great. So yeah, we want a little bit more but we’re also happy with where we are.”

While they ensured that Cavalry was unable to pick up a huge away goal, something that gives them an advantage heading into Calgary, it’ll be a tall task to keep Cavalry off the board for 90 minutes. It’s no guarantee that the conditions align as they did on this Saturday, with clear skies and clear turf, as Calgary has already seen a few bouts of snowy weather this year. 

But luckily for Forge, they know that stadium well, having made a couple of visits over there. Knowing Cavalry as they do, as they head into their 9th meeting with the Western team, it means that they shouldn’t have any surprises in the next game. 

And as alluded to by Bekker, after a game like that, especially with all the posts they hit, it’s good to look back and bring some positivity into that next game. 

“Obviously we were unlucky, but there’s so many positives,” Bekker said. “I mean we had them on the back foot since the first minute kind of set into the game, got a rhythm, started causing problems, so, I don’t think there’s anything lucky about it, we’re buzzing with what we did.”

Rain holds off:

There was a chance for rain in Hamilton on Saturday, but it held off long enough for the CPL to have its marquee moment, luckily for players for fans. After the game concluded, the rain came out in full force, drenching people leaving the stadium, but thankfully it did not affect the game. 

With the sun making appearances during the match, making for some cinematic shots, it was a good afternoon for Canadian soccer. After several games this season where Tim Hortons Field played home to some dramatic rainstorms, it was good just to enjoy 90 minutes of the beautiful game played in ideal conditions. 

Home Field Advantage:

Will Cavalry get to do more of this next week? (Keveren Guillou)

Speaking of ideal conditions, Calgary promises to be a doozy next week, with negative temperatures and snowy weather remaining a very real possibility. With snow currently blanketing the city this weekend, it’s unsure how things will turn out by next Saturday, but if anything it’ll be really cold. 

It will create a huge home-field advantage for Cavalry, who have already played a few games in frigid conditions, as the winter weather has been hard on Alberta both sides of the calendar year. Along with what’s expected to be a sold-out Spruce Meadows crowd, a crowd that has boosted them all year, Cavalry have to be feeling confident heading into this game. 

“We’re still in the tie, so we can take that back to Spruce Meadows and get that rocking,” Wheeldon Jr said. “So we’re disappointed to lose, but we know we’ve got a chance at home.”

With their tough grass field, whos conditions can vary depending on the events going on around it, it’ll be tough for Forge to replicate their performance. It’s part of why they might come to rue their performance in this one, with all the missed chances, as the Cavalry pitch can sometimes make it hard to keep the ball on the floor in possession. Add in the weather, which Wheeldon Jr joked would hopefully be a warm 0 degrees, and it gives Cavalry a good chance heading home. 

And even better for him, he won’t have to go so hard on the pomade that keeps his well-manicured hair in place. 

“It’s a wonderful climate,” Wheeldon Jr said with a smile. “It does wonders for my hair, keeps it in place with the frost, so it’s a tough place to play, add into that into the altitude as well, and there’s a reason why we’ve got a great home record, so every advantage we can get at this point, we’re going to take it.

Up next: Cavalry vs Forge, Saturday, November 2nd, 2019, 3:30 EST, 12:30 PST (Spruce Meadows, Calgary)