It was a historic occasion at Willoughby Community Park on Sunday as Vancouver FC’s new stadium was unveiled and open to fans for the first ever time against Cavalry FC. And while the result ended in a stalemate, there was enough dramatics to go around in this one, as a controversial red card, a fluke goal, and a record-breaking teen made this match one to remember.
Vancouver Resilient After Ridiculous Red Card
The match did not go as many Vancouver fans would have wanted it to go on such a special occasion. For inside 30 minutes, Rocco Romeo, who went up to challenge a loose ball against Myer Bevan, saw red from the referee. At first glance, it didn’t seem like there was much in that challenge. Sure, Romeo probably went a bit to rough in on the jump, and likely deserved a yellow for his troubles, but it seemed like a red card was way too reactionary from the man in the middle. Even on the replay, it still looked like it didn’t warrant anymore than a caution, but without VAR in play, the decision stood.
And you could be forgiven if you were Afshin Ghotbi and you decided to go park the bus and play five at the back with 10 men, but credit to the Iranian coach for wanting to stick to his game plan. Vancouver shifted from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3 and a 4-3-2 at times. They kept their defensive structure, moving Ibrahim Bakare at centre-back and Kadin Chung at right back, and never really looked like they were getting overwhelmed.
The goal they conceded was uncharacteristic, as it came off a poor clearance, but for the majority of the match, they kept Cavalry quiet. Ibrahim Bakare, playing on his 21st birthday, was immense after the red card, and deservedly got the Man of the Match. He was playing with such confidence and exuberance, he even made a dizzying run down the middle of the pitch past four or five defenders, epitomizing his quality on the pitch.
Overall, Afshin can be proud of his team’s efforts, as they didn’t back down when faced with a monumental challenge, and rose to the occasion after going down a goal and a man.
History-Maker TJ Tahid: One to Watch
Going into this season, it was clear that Vancouver had a philosophy that was based on developing and playing with youth. But even with that philosophy in mind, I’m sure no one was expecting that Afshin Ghotbi would throw on a 16 year old player, making his debut as the youngest ever to play in the CPL, with 10 minutes to go and only 10 men. But once again, Ghotbi showed his wisdom and faith in the team’s younger players by bringing him on and the Burnaby teen slotted into the team seamlessly.
Cool as a cucumber, he went in and challenged players that were nearly twice his age, connected the play well, was intelligent in his runs and passes, and overall made a very tidy cameo. After the match, he was all smiles as he explained how incredible it was to feature in such a massive game.
“It was amazing, especially being at my home,” Tahid told reporters. “With the fans, my friends, and family, everyone’s here to watch. It’s beautiful.”
To be able to field such a young player, you need to have complete faith in him and Ghotbi drew on the fact that he has coached young players before, and he knows when it’s time to field them.
“I believe in youth,” Ghotbi stated. “I believe that age doesn’t play [a big role]. TJ, he has a temperament of a 25 year old, he has no fears. You could put him into a stadium with 100,000 fans in the World Cup and he would perform just the same.”
High praise from a man who has been all over the world and seen hundreds of young players in his 40 year career. Do not then be surprised if the name TJ Tahid becomes more well-known in the coming years.
Cavalry Toothless Despite Advantage
Cavalry had the full intention of going into the match to ruin the party, and the stage looked set up for it as well after Romeo’s early red card. But the Calgarians did not make much of their man advantage in Langley, taking 18 shots but only mustering three on target. One of those was the goal, while two of them were in the last five minutes of added time.
Perhaps some of it can be due to Vancouver’s determination to not break or bend, but much of it is on how this Cavalry side played. It seemed like the Cavs were too eager in how they attacked Vancouver. At times it looked like they were played a 4-2-4 in possession, which allowed Vancouver to match or overwhelm the midfield with their 2/3 man midfield.
Ali Musse was a ghost on the pitch, hugging the sidelines and never really getting all that involved. They had some success on the left wing, but the service wasn’t fantastic and when they did get the ball in, the forwards weren’t clinical enough to get shots on target. Even with 10 men, it looked like Vancouver were pretty comfortable in their defence.
It improved in the second half a bit with the introduction of Fraser Aird at right back. It seemed like that sub brought more bite on the right, that allowed Cavalry to have a couple really good chances at the end that were brilliantly met by Callum Irving, but in the end, it just feels like Cavalry are missing that extra spark of quality to put a team to the sword and see out a result. Overall, it was a missed opportunity for the visitors, who are still winless in all competitions so far in 2023.
** You can see all of AFTN photographer Tom Ewasiuk’s photos from the game over on our Flickr page and in the slideshow below: **