While the result wasn’t as hoped, Cavalry was still happy with how things turned out, as they head home with only a 1-0 deficit despite a strong performance from Forge. Now, as they prepare to find a huge victory at home, they’ll be relying on their experienced leading scorer, Dominique Malonga, to help push them over the line.
It wasn’t an ideal start for Cavalry.
Down to 10 men within the first 35 minutes, and down a goal by half, they were happy to leave Tim Hortons Field down only 1-0. After riding a wave of Forge momentum that should have seen the home side finish the game up by a few goals, they managed to limit the damage on the afternoon, as they now return to Spruce Meadows with a fighting chance to claim the ‘North Star Shield’.
One player that will be looking to get back to top form was striker Dominique Malonga, the 30-year-old Congolese international, who was quiet on Saturday. After scoring 11 goals, which had him tied for second-best in all of the league over the course of the year, it was rare to see him so quiet in the 1st leg, as he usually finds a way to make things happen around opposing teams goals.
He was just unable to impact the game on Saturday, only completing 5 passes, taking 1 shot while only touching the ball 14 times, before making way for Jordan Brown in the second half. As Cavalry look to claw back the deficit, this time in the friendly confines of their home pitch, they’ll want a tip-top performance from Malonga, who’s performance may very well decide the tie.
As he told us before the first leg, the away leg was always going to be hard, so he and his team will now do everything to win that pivotal home match.
“What we expect from this game is a final, so we expect to win,” Malonga told BTSVancity in French, as he spoke in Hamilton before the start of the first leg.
“We have two games to do it, we start away, so if we score a goal it counts double. So we’ll stay focused, it’s only two games, so we have to do our best to bring the cup home to Calgary.”
While it’s easy for them to say: ‘Oh, we’re going to go score a bunch of goals at home’, as they have certainly done that all year, Forge is no easy opponent. They showed their class in the first leg, where they thoroughly statistically dominated their Western foes, and they’ll be expecting to do more of the same.
Which for Malonga and his team, that doesn’t surprise them. As both teams prepare to do battle for the 9th time in 2019, they know each other well, and it’s built a nice rivalry, a rivalry built on the respect both sides have for the other.
“We have to respect them, we have to have lots of respect for them from all the games we played against them,” Malonga said honestly of his opponents. “We have to have respect, but we know these are the most important games of the season, it’s two finals, so we’re in it to win it. I will do my best to concentrate and help my team to win the game.”
To do that, Cavalry will look to touch upon some valuable experience that they have gained over the course of this season. Having made a deep run in the Canadian Championship, where they knocked out Pacific FC, took down Forge and upset the Vancouver Whitecaps, before narrowly falling to the Montreal Impact, they have a lot of experience to point back to.
On an already experienced squad, having seen some of that pressure both this year and in the past will be huge for Malonga and his teammates, who will be unfazed by the pressure to finish the game as CPL Champions.
“We have played some big games this season,” Malonga said. “Against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Montreal Impact, so I think the pressure will not be much of a problem. I think from my perspective, it will be good, but I just hope that it’s positive pressure.”
“I hope it’s positive because it’s a final, pressure is normal, so hopefully a bit of positive pressure can bring us to a championship.”
Malonga came to the Canadian Premier League with plenty of pedigree under his belt, so it’s been no surprise to see him perform for Cavalry. Having come up in the Tours and Monaco academies in France, before moving onto a half-dozen or so squads in Europe and Africa, he’s been around the game for a while.
With around 75 games in Serie B in Italy, a further 45 or so in Serie A, along with stints in LaLiga 2, Switzerland, the Scottish Championship, the Greek League and even a trial in Tunisia, Malonga brought a wealth of experience to Calgary. And as seen by his 11 goals, 4 of which came in the last 5 games of the season, it has paid off for the CPL spring and fall champions.
“I feel good, I’ve been getting better as the season goes along, which has been good for both me and the team,” Malonga said of his form. “I will do my best, do my best for the team, my best to make chances, my best to finish them, and I think good things will happen.”
“So it’s up to me to be decisive when I get the chance, and that won’t be easy, so it’s just about bringing the best. I got a good team behind me, so I won’t be alone. It’s a good experience, it’s been a fun time here so far, so I just want to enjoy it (and win).”
From a personal standpoint, it’s been a move that Malonga has thoroughly enjoyed, as he also reflected on his first season in Canada. While his main thoughts were mostly on the game at hand, he didn’t hesitate to share his opinions on the country when asked. Having played in the wealth of nations that he has, it was interesting to see what he thought of things, having had that experienced eye in some diverse locales.
“Living here has been good, I’ve been surprised,” Malonga said. “I was really surprised. Surprised by life in Calgary, and all the other cities I’ve seen, it’s a great country. I’m happy to have had the experience to come here, because it’s been a good first time.”
Based on his positive impression he gave, don’t be surprised if more international players come and try their hand at the Canadian game. While for a lot of Canadians it’s natural to love the country, as most of them grew up for a good chunk of their childhood here, seeing someone like Malonga admit that is huge.
For a league looking to grow its profile, as they build upon the many lessons learned over the course of year one, Malonga’s reflections offer a lot to think about. While this first year can be considered a success, as interest in the sport slowly started to drum up across the country, the biggest challenges will be maintaining that from year 2-5, as the shine of a new league wears off.
Which for Malonga, he and the other players will play a big role in that. As long as the quality on the pitch improves, the fans will come, so it’s about building off that, and the cultural stuff will come with it.
“In terms of football, it’s the first year, so there’s a lot to improve,” Malonga offered. “Tactically, more specifically defensively, there’s some work to be done.”
“But with the talent that there is, the Canadian talent, they just need to keep working, we all need to keep on working, and that’s how it can get better year after year.” he finished.
They now get a chance to do that this Saturday, as things kick off at Spruce Meadows. And based on what we’ve seen all year, don’t be surprised if Malonga shows up and has some fun in front of his home fans.
Up next: Cavalry FC vs Forge FC, Saturday, November 2nd, 2019, 15:30 EST, 13:30 MST, 12:30 PST (Spruce Meadows, Calgary)