Friday Night Lights turned into Friday night fun for Cavalry FC on Aug. 4.
In a night Cavalry fans will likely remember for a long time, Calgary’s pro soccer team bested visiting Forge FC 3-0, vaulting them temporarily to the top of the Canadian Premier League (CPL) table.
Playing under the floodlights in front of 4,000-plus fans at ATCO Field, Cavalry produced a trio of goals in the second half to coast to victory over Forge, leapfrogging their long-time rivals and the CPL’s three-time title-winners in the league standings.
“Listen, Forge are the defending champions,” said Cavalry head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. in the post-game presser. “To have executed the game plan in the manner the players did was very good. This was one of our best performances at ATCO Field.”
Cavalry’s goals came from Eryk Kobza, Willy Akio, and Fraser Aird.
While they didn’t find the net in the opening 45 minutes, Cavalry showed their attacking intentions with four forward players – Ali Musse, Sergio Camargo, Willy Akio, and Goteh Ntignee. All four maintained a high press every time Forge’s goalkeeper or backline had the ball, often forcing the visitors to cough up possession or hoof the ball out of touch.
“That was exactly executed the way we trained all week,” Akio said. “Tommy brought a game plan and everyone was focused exactly on it.”
Ntignee in particular looked dangerous for Cavalry in the first half, repeatedly collecting the ball on the left-hand side of the pitch, beating his man to the byline and sliding a low cross toward the face of goal.
After the goalless first half, Cavalry’s first goal came just four minutes after the restart thanks to a perfectly executed set piece. On a free kick on the right wing, Musse played the ball inside to Camargo. Running over the pass was Ntignee, who Camargo fed through with a one-touch pass. Catching up to the ball, Ntignee fired it across goal to the back post, where Kobza was ghosting in unmarked to stab the ball home from close range for his second Cavalry goal.
The choreographed tic-tac-toe goal was arguably the turning point for the match, as it seemed to leave Forge’s players shell shocked. From that point forward, the visitors never really seemed to be in the game and Cavalry started to take hold of the contest.
“Obviously disappointing to start the second half giving away a goal on a set piece,” said Forge player Alessandro Hojabrpour. “The first half was OK; We did some good things and we had some chances. Obviously, it was a little back and forth and both teams were in the goal.
“Then we gave away, maybe not a cheap goal, but a goal you don’t want to give away on a set piece. It kind of set things in motion and we stopped defending a little bit. They scored another, and then we were kind of chasing the game. It’s just disappointing.
“From the field, it just sort of felt like they wanted it a little more than us.”
Akio, who was making his home debut after his first two games for Cavalry were on the road, made the second goal happen on his own a dozen minutes later thanks to some skillful dribbling and willful determination. Shortly after the hour mark, the South Sudanese international received a pass inside from Jesse Daley. Making his way inside, Akio then held off a few Forge defenders, dribbling into their box before settling himself and placing his left-footed shot into the bottom corner.
“I’m very happy,” Akio said. “Of course, I’m back home now and it’s really nice to score on my home debut. Once the ball came from Jesse, I was just focused on putting the ball in the back of the net. Everything kind of kind of went black and I just went with my instincts.”
The brother of former Cavalry standout Victor Loturi, Akio celebrated his first goal for the club in a way that long-time Foothills FC fans grew accustomed to seeing in 2017 and 2018 – with a perfectly practiced back flip.
The striker then climbed over the advertising bleachers and into the ATCO Field grandstand – trampling a few flowers in the process – to embrace his mom.
“That’s my signature celebration,” Akio said of his backflip. “I’ve been doing it since high school, college. I’ve just carried it with me and it’s a special moment when I get to do it – especially at home with my mom and my family. I’ll take the yellow card any day for my mom.”
Cavalry wasn’t quite done yet, and in the 80th minute, Ntignee earned a penalty kick after being brought down at the top of Forge’s box. The initial spot kick from Aird was saved by Triston Henry, but the referee deemed the goalkeeper had stepped off his line too early, which meant the kick had to be retaken. This time, Aird placed his shot into the bottom-right corner to put the hosts up 3-0.
Coming into Friday night’s contest, Forge had enjoyed an unbeaten July, with three wins and a draw. They’d allowed just one goal in those four matches while finding the net nine times to maintain their second-place position.
But that positive momentum all came unravelling against a prolific Cavalry under the Spruce Meadows floodlights.
“I think Forge are a terrific side,” said Wheeldon Jr. “They’ve lifted the North Shield three times, so you know they’re never knocked out.
“Even near the end, you still think they’re going to keep going. That’s credit to Bobby [Smyrniotis] and his staff. They’re tough to knock out and I think that’s one of the few times a team has put three or more past them and they haven’t scored. We’ll enjoy it now, but we’ve not won anything yet and we’ll keep trying to improve.”