Who would have doubted the two teams that have tied every game this season would keep the streak going when they faced each other?
Cavalry FC and HFX Wanderers FC resumed their draw-heavy starts to the 2023 Canadian Premier League season on Saturday with a 2-2 result at Spruce Meadows that saw the lead change and the momentum shift multiple times, before a feisty ending to the match ensued after a controversial penalty was rewarded for the hosts.
“It was a very good game,” said Cavalry head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. during the post-game press conference. “The sad thing about this is we’re having to defend the result but not the performance – the performance was terrific.
“I thought we moved the ball around and created opportunities. We had to show guts and refuse to lose. I’m happy with the performance, but we’ve got work to do on the defending.”
After a strong start from the hosts, Cavalry took the lead thanks to a well-placed effort from Ali Musse in the 19th minute that whistled into the bottom-left corner from the top of the arc.
Musse – boasting another energetic performance on Cavalry’s right wing – looked likely to score again 10 minutes later. Picking up the ball in midfield, he dribbled past HFX defender Cale Loughrey before attempting to curl the ball into the far corner. This time, Wanderers goalkeeper Yann-Alexandre Fillion was able to read the flight of Musse’s shot and palm the ball out for a corner kick.
While it looked like Cavalry would take their one-goal lead into the break, HFX Wanderers equalized early into added time. After moving the ball over to the right side of the box, Lorenzo Callegari took a shot in the 46th minute that was flicked past Marco Carducci by the head of Théo Collomb into Cavalry’s goal.
But Wanderers weren’t ready to head to the locker rooms quite yet, and in the third minute of injury time, they took an unlikely lead. An innocuous cross from the left from Collomb was trapped at the top of the box by Aidan Jun Valcarel Daniels. He touched it to his right, and it was one-timed into the top corner of Carducci’s near post by Zachary Fernandez.
The half-time whistle sounded shortly after the resumption of the match, and Cavalry’s players were met with boos – a rare occurrence, if it’s ever happened at ATCO Field before – from the supporters’ section as they made their way toward the dressing room.
“We’ve conceded quite soon after scoring a few times this year, and it’s something we need to work on as a group,” admitted Cavalry striker Myer Bevan. “But I thought we were brilliant the first 41, 42 minutes of the first half. It’s just that little lapse of concentration toward the end of the first half. It was five minutes today that hurt us. Other than that, I thought we were solid.”
Down a goal and having conceded a lead for the fifth time this season, Cavalry certainly seemed to be in desperation mode as the second half wore on, and Wheeldon Jr. began to make subs midway through the half as a means of turning the tide back in the hosts’ favour. He brought on Ethan Beckford and Eryk Kobza, as well as Goteh Ntignee and Fraser Aird to try and make something happen up front.
Eventually, something did happen – Cavalry was gifted a lucky lifeline in the 76th minute, when Aird’s cross from the right was blocked by Loughrey’s midriff. The referee, thinking the ball came off Loughrey’s arm, pointed immediately to the spot.
Bevan, Cavalry’s leading goal-scorer and most in-form forward this season, was elected to take the penalty. Despite a lengthy hiatus as the ref attempted to maintain order, Bevan coolly slotted his kick into the bottom-right corner for his third goal of the 2023 CPL season, tying the match 2-2.
“The [HFX] boys were giving me all sorts before I took the pen, but I just had to keep my composure,” Cavalry’s number-9 said in the post-game presser. “I practice [penalties] quite a lot, so I just had to go back to the training part. I was happy it went in.”
Bevan’s attempt to retrieve the ball from the net after scoring sparked a heated confrontation between the two teams. The New Zealander shoved over Fillion after the goalkeeper attempted to shield the ball from him. Bevan in turn was up-ended by Loughrey, which caused a fracas involving virtually everyone on both teams – you’d think this was Cavalry vs. Forge, or something.
Ultimately, the minute-long altercation only resulted in two yellows being shown, which were dished out to Fillion and Bevan after the drama had died down.
Cavalry used the adrenaline of Bevan’s tying goal and the increased fervour of the Spruce Meadows crowd to try and score a winning goal in the remaining minutes.
In the seventh minute of a tense added time, Cavalry earned a direct free kick just outside of the box. Beckford struck the free kick well, but the ball was kept out by the frame of Halifax’s goal.
“Becks has been brilliant in training – he does that every day and most of them go in,” Bevan said. “He’s the guy to take that for us and he was that close to being a hero for us today. It is what it is and we just have to move on to next week.”
The final whistle sounded just seconds after the restart, leaving both teams to rue on yet another point.
Remarkably, Cavalry and Halifax have each tied all five of their CPL games thus far. With five points apiece, they share the sixth spot in the league table at the moment.
“[HFX Wanderers head coach Patrice Gheisar] and I were joking that we’ve got between us more ties than I’ve got in my wardrobe,” Wheeldon Jr. quipped after the match.
While frustrated to once again fall short of a first win this season, Cavalry’s head coach argued the team is playing well.
“I think you guys like to talk about what’s going wrong for us, but there’s actually a lot going right,” he said, addressing the reporters at the post-game presser. “It’s just that sometimes, the scoreline doesn’t give the greatest reflection.”
For his part, Gheisar said he was happy to escape from Spruce Meadows with a hard-earned point, and suggested it was the kind of performance that can spur HFX on to their first win of the campaign next week.
“I thought it was a game of different tales,” he said. “They produced a lot of opportunities at the beginning and we really took the game back. Where it was heading, hopefully, was to our first win.
“Obviously, unforeseen circumstances happened, which were out of our control. It happened. But it’s part of the game. For me, we’re undefeated. I’m sure Cavalry feels the same.”
Gheisar brought up how last season, HFX failed to take any points from their games against Forge and Cavalry, and the Haligonians have already secured two points on the road against those teams in 2023.
“We’ll take these points because they all add up, and if you look at the league, it’s crazy how close it is,” he said. “If either of us get that win [today], we’re in third place. For me, if I’m going to go back to [the first question], I’d say it’s a point earned. It’s an important point.”