(Photo Credit: Scott Strasser)
It doesn’t always have to be pretty.
Cavalry FC exemplified that attitude on July 15, overcoming HFX Wanderers FC with a late own goal to win 1-0 at Spruce Meadows.
After earning a free kick on the left side of the pitch following a foul on left back Bradley Kamdem-Fewo, Ben Fisk stood over the ball as his teammates set themselves up in the Halifax box. Just as the clock ticked past the 90-minute mark, Fisk’s cross was whipped into the area.
Fisk’s well-aimed ball ricocheted off HFX defender Daniel Nimick’s back, and bounced into the net to put Cavalry up 1-0, prompting a raucous celebration by the Foot Soldiers and the 4,000-plus fans in attendance at ATCO Field.
As he answered questions during the post-game press conference, a grinning Fisk admitted the stoppage-time winner brought more relief than joy. The well-timed goal capped off a hard-fought Canadian Premier League (CPL) battle that appeared poised to finish 0-0 – which would have been Cavalry’s first goalless draw since August 2021.
“We definitely created enough chances to win in a much easier fashion today than we did,” he said. “We made it a little hard on ourselves. But it’s so special to score the winner in the last part of the game in front of the Foot Soldiers. Honestly, you have to be out there to feel what it’s like. It’s incredible.”
It seemed fitting that Cavalry’s goal came off a set piece, as crossing was a notable part of the hosts’ attacking strategy to break down a resolute Halifax defence. Throughout the game, Cavalry pumped 29 crosses into their opponents’ box, compared to just four crosses by the Haligonians.
“I think it’s always one of our strengths, especially with guys like Fraser Aird on the team, or Ali Musse,” Fisk confirmed, when asked about Cavalry’s penchant for producing goals off crosses and set plays. “Everyone on the team this season can whip a good ball in, so it’s definitely something we look to.”
But it took until the very last one to make a difference between two fairly evenly-matched teams.
“Credit to Halifax, they’re a terrific side,” said Cavalry’s head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. “They had moments with the ball where we had to suffer. They defended very well in the second half and made it tough for us to break them down.
“We knew we could create something. You could see Halifax had tired legs and there was going to be something. Leon Hapgood works a lot on our attacking set plays, so we have to give credit to him. Ben Fisk put in a terrific ball. It’s nice to have a bit of luck go our way.”
Apart from the own goal, there were a few other noteworthy attacks from both teams. Just after the half-hour mark, Halifax’s Aidan Daniels pinged a long-distance shot off Cavalry’s goal post, only for Fisk to do the same just seconds later on the hosts’ ensuing counter-attack.
And then Halifax forced a point-blank save from goalkeeper Marco Carducci’s leg on a shot from Callum Watson, following a great layoff to the back post from Massimo Ferrin.
But those two chances were as close as the Wanderers got, as their efforts in the second half posed less of a threat. Playing their third game in eight days (two of which involved lengthy flights to the west side of the country), and with smoky conditions at altitude, HFX’s players seemed a bit gassed in the second half.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t get a goal,” said HFX’s head coach Patrice Gheisar. “We’ve been really rolling with our attack. [But in the second half], we barely posed a threat, which was disappointing.
“We had that free kick and things started to move, so to give that up in the 90th – it’s an absolute killer. It hits you right in the gut. But we’ve got to be better. It’s not the freekick, it’s the actions leading into the free kick.”
Cavalry’s win over Halifax maintains a strong run of form for the Calgarians, who have won seven of their last nine games in the CPL. After a slow start to the season that saw them draw five games on the trot, Tommy Wheeldon Jr. appears to have finally found a winning formula, with four wins from their last five outings.
During the press conference, Cavalry’s head coach spoke about how the match against Halifax presented an opportunity for the squad to make amends after a disappointing 2-0 home defeat to Atlético Ottawa a few days before.
“We’d won six of our last eight, so we knew we were in form,” he said. “At Wednesday’s game, it was one of those where we had a lot of control and ended up literally throwing the game away.
“We said, ‘Look, be a gold fish, focus on Saturday and give the fans something to cheer about in a very busy week for this city.’ To score as late as we did was terrific. The boys put in an absolute shift, and that’s what you saw there.”
Cavalry temporarily moved up to second place in the CPL standings as a result of the win, with a 6-6-3 record and 24 points. They’ll be back on the road on July 22 when they head west to face Vancouver FC.
Wanderers remain in fifth place with a 4-7-4 record. They’ll be in action at home on July 22 when they face Ottawa.