Payback: ‘Resilient’ Cavalry FC gets on the board in the 2nd round of Island Games with win over ‘learning’ Pacific FC

In their opening match of round 2 of the Canadian Premier League’s ‘Island Games’, Cavalry FC took out Pacific FC by a score of 3-1. Here is our report from that one, as we hear from both sides after a huge early victory for Cavalry in their quest towards the final. 

It was far from a dream start for Pacific. 

After having done very well to qualify for the second round of the Canadian Premier League’s ‘Island Games’ tournament, all thanks to an 85th-minute winner from early MVP candidate, Marco Bustos, in the last game of the first round, Pacific came out flat in their 2nd round opener, falling by a score of 3-1 to Cavalry FC. 

Against a team with the quality of Cavalry, it’s never easy to beat them in any setting, but after seeing Pacific cruise to a 2-1 victory over the Cavs in round 1 action, it was hoped that they could repeat a similar trick on Wednesday. 

Even more frustratingly for Pacific, the loss felt more like a case of them not being up to play, as opposed to Cavalry being a step ahead, but against a team with the quality of Cavalry, who we have to remember has finished first in all 3 CPL leagues/groups so far (spring 2019, fall 2019, round 1 of the ‘Island Games’), you’ve got to be at your best to disrupt them. 

Unfortunately, Pacific wasn’t up to the task on Wednesday, but at the very least, it taught them an important lesson: to beat the best, you cannot have any days off. 

With the defending champions, Forge FC, on deck this weekend, it’s something they’ll surely keep in mind ahead of that one. 

“It was a nice battle,” Pacific head coach, Pa Modou Kah, said after the game. “I thought it was a nice battle in terms of the physicality that they brought in, so for me to see our guys also matching it and understanding that is also a part of the game, you cannot feel sad or feel sorry, because you win some and you lose some, and we beat them the other day and today they beat us fair and square and that is football.”

As for Cavalry, they have to feel great about the result. Even despite their first-place finish in round 1, they struggled in the middle portion of that section, as they lost in back-to-back games to Pacific and expansion side Atletico Ottawa, setting the table for a dramatic last weekend, in which they needed a win versus York 9 to qualify to the next round. 

They did just that, and thanks to some of the results around them, they actually finished first, but it was a lot tighter than you would’ve expected from them, so you just know that they were intent on making a statement in the opener of the next round. 

And based on the scoreline, as well as the fact that Cavalry generated an impressive 2.82 Expected Goals on 7 shots, consider that statement delivered. 

Instead of sitting back, they took the game right to Pacific, electing to go right down the middle on several of their best scoring chances, showing them that even though the West Coasters are a young team on the rise, Cavalry is still a team very much capable of taking over matches when they feel like it. 

With one foot already pretty much in the final with this result, Cavalry has set themselves up nicely for their last 2 games, as they’ll look to build off of this heading into the rest of this second round. 

“We’re certainly sharpening our axe, aren’t we?” Cavalry head coach, Tommy Wheeldon Jr., said after the match. “We’re getting closer, we’re getting closer, it’s a war of attrition, I say that all the time, it’s about being the best version of ourselves in the current circumstances, we’re in, so whether we’ve got a two-day turnaround or a three-day turnaround or a five-day turnaround, what can we do that’ll give us our best.”

“And credit the guys, they are just resilient when it comes to performing under pressure, and they’ve done that and I think they kind of enjoy it, it’s getting better and better but we haven’t won anything yet. We won’t get carried away, we’ll enjoy the win today, and then we’ll get back onto business to prepare for Halifax tomorrow.”

As for the game itself, it was a dream start for Cavalry, and by a similar token, a nightmare first few minutes for Pacific, as the Cavs opened the score in the 15th minute. 

After pressuring the Pacific defence throughout those first 15 minutes, it finally paid off, as they would win a penalty as Mo Farsi would zigzag his way into the box, forcing Abdou Samake to take him down with a tackle, which the referee whistled down nearly immediately for the penalty. 

Nik Ledgerwood would step up to the spot for Cavalry, and he converted with an emphatic effort, giving them an early lead, as well as all of the confidence they needed to keep on pushing. 

Things calmed down for a bit after that goal, as injuries to Samake and Nico Pasquotti forced both coaches into changes, with the two players being forced to leave yet another instance of injuries playing a role at these ‘Island Games’. 

Obviously, with the shortened and compressed schedule with no preseason plays a huge part, and it’s something that has hurt the ability of several teams, it was a tough blow especially for Pacific, as they’d already lost regular centre back, Lukas MacNaughton, to an injury, so to lose their 3rd and final natural centre back on the squad, Samake, was a big blow. 

“We’re playing a lot of games in a short amount of time,” Kah said. “And that’s it. As you see, unfortunately, we have Abdou (Samake) today, but you have all the teams like Valour, who had six, seven injuries, no and no muscle injuries and that’s what you get when you haven’t played a lot of competitive games and then you just jump into competition in a tournament.”

“But hopefully this pandemic will never happen again, but you adapt to the situation that is in front of you, and we adapted, and we did well, but this is part of the learning and the growth that we have as a club, and it’s part of football, injuries are part of football.”

But while injuries were certainly a big talking point, as Pasquotti’s absence was yet another instance of Cavalry losing a #10, after Sergio Camargo and Oliver Minatel picked up knocks in recent games, they’d still find the next goal in the second half, as they continued to send wave-after-wave of chances towards Callum Irving in the Pacific goal, finally forcing one through in the 49th minute. 

Nathan Mavila, who has been immense for Cavalry at left back all tournament, found his way into the box, and he played in Elijah Adekugbe for a 1v1 with Irving, with Adekugbe doing well to tuck in a low finish past the Pacific goalkeeper to double the lead. 

And while Pacific would claw one back via an own goal off of a corner, Mo Farsi, who is an early favourite for U21 player of the tournament, continued his strong play for Cavalry this tournament, as he scored an absolute worldie of a counter-attacking goal in the 74th minute, giving Cavalry the 3-1 lead. 

All part of a relentless performance, it was the cherry on top of the cake for them, as they returned to their high-pressing ways that caused all sorts of problems for teams in the league last year. 

“Yeah, I think, first and foremost, we’re a very sort of energetic squad, so I think that’s just in our nature,” Cavalry midfielder, Elliot Simmons, said after the game. “And I think with all the boys around, spurring each other on it, it gets the job done and we can keep pushing and managing the game.”

As for Pacific, it’ll be back to the drawing board ahead of their next game. 

With Forge, a team they came oh-so-close to grabbing points off of in the group stage before a Kyle Bekker 97th minute winner dashed their hopes of doing so, awaiting them on Saturday, they’ll want to tighten up their tactics ahead of then, as they were unable to do with Cavalry. 

“It is also our mistake,” Kah said. “But Cavalry did well, they didn’t allow us to to play, and then they wanted to stop the source, which they did fantastically and they punished us when we made the mistake, and that is football. So you have to give credit for them as well.”

On the other side, Cavalry gets set for a big match with Halifax, with a victory already putting them in the final phase of the ‘Island Games’, so they’ll want to secure all 3 points to limit the drama they could face ahead of the third and final matchday. 

For Simmons, it’s a particularly exciting matchup, as he used to play for Halifax, and while he admitted that it’s hard to judge his former team based on all of the changes they made this offseason, he also admits that he wants to keep focused on Cavalry improving, as they have so far. 

In a tournament like this, the way they play can wear down teams, with Pacifc being the latest example of that, so look for them to be their usual high-flying self on the weekend. 

“Yeah, from playing against them (his new team, Cavalry) last year, it was always a pain because they go straight onto you,” Simmons said. “You know me, I like to get on the ball, so pressing all the time you don’t have that freedom and space, it’s very hard to play again, so it’s good to be on this side this year personally.”

Up next: 

Pacific FC vs Forge FC, Saturday, September 12th, 2020, 9:00 PST, 12:00 EST

Cavalry FC vs Halifax Wanderers, Saturday, September 12th, 2020, 12:00 PST, 15:00 EST

Cover Photo via David Chant/Chant Photography/Canadian Premier League

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