Cavalry FC overcame York United 2-1 on June 23, thanks to a well-struck free kick from Ali Musse in the 83rd minute.
In a close battle that arguably could have swung either way, Musse’s pinpoint effort in the final 10 minutes was enough to seal the three points in a game that otherwise looked likely to be heading toward yet another draw for Cavalry. Yet, Musse’s strike hit the back of the net, and the hosts were able to hold on, thus maintaining their top-four position in the Canadian Premier League standings.
Here are four talking points and questions that arose from Cavalry’s latest match:
1. Was that José Escalante’s last match in Cavalry colours?
Saturday marked José Escalante’s 100th match for Cavalry, making him just the second player at the club to reach that milestone, alongside goalkeeper Marco Carducci. While a hamstring strain kept him out of the starting line-up, the Honduran winger was fit enough to be subbed into the match in the second half, and helped Cavalry see out the result.
Was the cameo Escalante’s last outing for Cavalry? A few days before the match, social media posts emerged from Honduran First Division club FC Motagua, who announced that Escalante would be unveiled as the Tegucigalpa-based team’s new player sometime this week.
After Saturday’s game, Cavalry FC made a big show of thanking Escalante for his services to the club since 2019, unveiling a special jersey for him with ‘100’ on the back and parading him around the pitch. Teammates and coaches alike all took their turns embracing Escalante, who looked clearly emotional throughout the whole proceedings.
Asked to quash or confirm the rumours about Escalante’s potential departure, here’s what Cavalry head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. said during the post-game press conference:
“What I do know is José has been terrific for us for 100 games,” he said. “I do know his family is not with him here and he’s endured this without them. Whatever happens next will be public when we need to make that announcement, but today we’re going to enjoy his 100th game.”
Based on that quote, it certainly seems like Escalante’s departure is imminent and the club is keeping it as under-wraps as they can.
But Musse, who also took questions during the post-game presser, may have all but let slip that Saturday’s win was Escalante’s last for Cavalry:
“[Escalante] has been a big player since day one,” he said. “This is a good way to send him off, in a way. It was a good performance. Even before the game, we chatted about how we wanted to do it for him.”
2. Youth on the wings
If Escalante is indeed returning to his native Honduras, Cavalry will have a big hole to fill on the left wing.
Fortunately, they have a young player who appears eager and ready to take up that responsibility.
Goteh Ntignee started on the left yet again for Cavalry on Saturday and put forward a spirited performance. Notably, the 21-year-old scored his first professional goal as he slotted home a lay-off from the right side early into the second half to put Cavalry 1-0 up.
The player who set him up for that goal was another Cavalry youngster, who was actually starting for the first time: Gareth Smith-Doyle.
“He was terrific,” Wheeldon Jr. said of Ntignee’s goal. “We wanted to go and put some young legs out there. Gareth Smith-Doyle and Goteh Ntignee. We’d been working this week on practicing this little movement pattern. It hadn’t quite come out in the first half, but we drew it up, put some video up.
“We knew we could get in the space there and attack the back post. Credit to Gareth, he’s got his first start and first professional assist, and Goteh’s got his first professional goal. I thought all around that he’s had a fantastic game.”
Ntignee played a bit last year and showed glimpses of his dribbling talent and speed. With that season of experience and a few more games under his belt, he’s appeared much more comfortable in 2023. He earned an assist in Cavalry’s last home game against Vancouver and now has opened his scoring account.
I’m sure Ntignee is brimming with confidence at the moment, and there may now be a great opportunity for him to become a regular starter on the left wing.
3. Kobza at centreback
For all their experienced signings, U Sports draft pick Eryk Kobza has possibly been one of Cavalry’s most impressive newcomers this season. While it took the 21-year-old a few games to become a regular player in Cavalry’s starting 11, the University of Calgary Dinos captain has put forward a string of competent, confident performances in central midfield ever since.
However, Saturday’s match saw Kobza instead employed as the left-sided centre back in a back-four, alongside Daan Klomp. Despite being played out of position, Kobza showed his versatility and appeared quite self-assured playing at the heart of defence.
Given his physique and his comfort on the ball, the fact Kobza can play at centre back is a great card for Wheeldon Jr. to have in his back pocket. The 21-year-old has the height and leap to win aerial duels, and he showed on Saturday that he can time his tackles.
It’s an easy comparison to make, but Kobza’s not the only player of Polish descent signed after starring for the University of Calgary to impress for Cavalry.
“Kobza is terrific,” Wheeldon Jr. said during the post-game presser. “I think we’ve had a lot of really good success from the U Sports draft. We watch that league. We’re big on the pyramid that this country has, it’s unique.
“Kobza has been terrific with the U of C Dinos – a place Dominick Zator came through as well. He came on our radar, has a good upbringing, we’ve seen him play in midfield, or at the back. You need those types of players. But he’s got a lot of ability for a young 21-year-old. He has a lot of upside and he’s versatile. He’s got a high character, so I’m pleased to see him put forward several performances now.”
4. Will Ali Musse and Myer Bevan stay with Cavalry all season?
Cavalry’s top two players this season have undeniably been Myer Bevan and Ali Musse. Once again on Saturday, it took a moment of individual magic from one of them to make the difference, with Musse’s excellent free kick.
“There’s been a lot of games that have had this ‘CPL bangers only,’” Wheeldon Jr. said of Musse’s late top-corner strike. “We’ve had one scored against us where it was like, ‘How has that one gone in?’ The grit we showed and the calm and poise Ali had to stand over the ball in the moment we needed him – he’s got magic. That’s why he’s a very important player for us.”
Considering Aribim Pepple’s and Victor Loturi’s departures in 2022 after impressing during the first half of the CPL season, it begs the question: Will Bevan and Musse stick around Spruce Meadows for the entirety of this year’s campaign?
Here’s what Wheeldon Jr. had to say when fielded that question:
“Listen, we know our place in the football food chain,” he said. “We’re a domestic league that is creating opportunities for Canadians. I think for us, now, we’ve created a trading history, or we’re starting to.
“Now, we get to decide when and where players leave. Last year was an opportunity we couldn’t resist. This year, we can resist. There are interests in several of our players, but we’ll only move for us if it’s beneficial to us mid-season.”
Based on that quote, it seems like Cavalry will be trying harder to hold onto their star players – which is a good thing for fans, because the team’s championship hopes may hinge on it.
You can find more photos from the match (via AFTN photographer Justin Knight) on our Flickr account HERE and in the slideshow below: