LANGLEY, BC – Another classic tale of CPL soccer played out in the blazing heat of Willoughby Park on Saturday afternoon.
Three red cards and six goals combined to make the game an unforgettable match for the spectators, but also demonstrated the power that officials have on games in this league.
Standard of Refereeing Proves Costly For Vancouver Once Again
It was not just the weather that was heated in this match. Tempers were flying early after an early penalty call from the referee was followed up by a ridiculous red card on Vancouver’s Eugene ‘Pele’ Martinez.
Martinez was wrong-side of Myer Bevan, and admittedly brought him down for a deserved penalty. However, the challenge did not merit a red card and unfairly put Vancouver in a difficult position with a looming penalty and reduced down to 10 men after less than ten minutes.
After the match, Vancouver head coach Afshin Ghotbi was somber in his analysis of it.
“I think my sadness is not so much about myself or even [about] my players,” explained Ghotbi in the post-match
presser. “Our players work very hard to prepare for a match like this, the fans travel long ways to come and they pay to sit and stand in this heat.
“I’m quite shocked because I feel that in such an early stage of the game, if you think it’s a penalty, give a penalty, but why do you make a team play with 10 players for the rest of the game? So i feel a little but gutted because of that, and sad for the game and for [our] fans”.
Things would only get worse in the second half, as two more reds were issued, this time one for each side, as Myer Bevan and Ameer Kinani were given their marching orders after an altercation, meaning the game ended with only 19 players on the pitch.
“I’m hoping that the league will take the steps necessary because, in the first home game we saw a red card that wasn’t a red card,” remarked Ghotbi to media. “Now fast forward, same opponent, same venue, another red card [making us] play short for almost an entire game.
“You just hope to see improvement, or to see some actions to change [so] that doesn’t happen again, because all we can control is preparing the team properly, and hoping that decisions are consistent and fair”.
With both Martinez and Kinani now out, Ghotbi will once again have to stretch his team to try to field his best team ahead of their next match against Forge.
Ali Musse Magic Puts Cavalry Back On Top
While it was a chaotic performance from Vancouver, given the circumstances Cavalry must be given credit for taking full advantage and blowing away this Vancouver side to climb back atop the Canadian Premier League table.
Even though the referee took centre stage for a majority of this match, one player who shone through was Ali Musse.
Musse proved to be a menace on that left side for Cavalry, causing all sorts of trouble for the young James Cameron, who still had a strong performance outside of his dealings with Musse.
Musse should have gotten an assist on the second goal for Camaro, dancing past two challenges with a roulette to drill a shot across goal. His effort was palmed away by Callum Irving, but only as far as Camaro who tucked it away to give his team the advantage.
Musse showed his dancing skills once more in the second half, performing a series of fake-shots, ball rolls, and step-overs to get past Minjae Kwak and curl a powerful effort past an outstretched Irving.
The early MVP candidate has four goals and two assists so far this season, and has been a big part of this mid-season resurgence for Cavalry, who now sit one point atop the table after Pacific’s loss to Forge the day prior.
“I think we can be better,” exclaimed Cavalry coach Tommy Wheldon Jr. after the match. “A really good thing about this group is that we got some really nice things about us.
“It took a while because we’re actually trying to implement a few different things than we’ve done in previous years, and sometimes to adapt you have to just be brave, and we had to be brave when we tied five games in a row and everyone was starting to question who we were but… I’m pleased the way the boys came together.”
Now, with 12 games left in the season, Cavalry have their fate in their hands to try to stand atop the mountain and claim that regular season trophy and a spot in the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
Silver Linings for Vancouver in Wero’s Goal and Cameron’s Performance
The scoreline was not flattering for Vancouver at the end of the day, but there were a few positives for Ghotbi’s side at the end of the match.
One was that Alejandro Diaz, in just his second appearance, already has two goals for his new side. Immediately after going down a goal and a man, Wéro got on the end of a great cross by Kwak to slip past his markers and tuck it past Marco Carducci with ease.
If Vancouver can get him more involved in the play under regular conditions, he can storm up the scoring charts and help his team try to climb the table for that slim chance at playoffs.
“We have nothing to lose now,” explained Díaz after the match. “We got to [now] keep working hard and just try to fight. Every single point matters so we don’t have to let go of any point from now on.”
The other positive is in the performance of James Cameron, who arguably was the best player on the pitch for his team, despite the Musse terror that plagued him.
The young BC native had one tackle, one block, two clearances, and four recoveries in his stint. But more than just stats, he was the most energetic and hard-working player through large parts of the game and proved to be a dynamic outlet for the Eagles when they were a man down.
“For me, he embodies a champion,” remarked Ghotbi on Cameron’s performance. “This kid is 18 and you look at him the way he fought. He was very disappointed that he got that yellow card and I think that affected him so just, for him, it is how quickly can he mature, how quickly can he manage his performances based on things he cannot control?
“The duels he was winning, the actions that he did, the energy he brought, was phenomenal.”
Despite the play-offs now looking more like a far-off fantasy than a practical possibility, Ghotbi can build off of these displays to improve his side for 2024, where, with better insights and lessons learned, he can have a stronger challenge for the playoff positions.