(Photo Credits: Scott Strasser/AFTN)
A second-half equalizer from Valour FC spoiled the party during Cavalry FC’s 2023 home-opener on April 30 at Spruce Meadows.
While the hosts took a 1-0 lead in the first half thanks to a goal from Myer Bevan, Valour equalized 10 minutes after the restart, when CPL newcomer Kian Williams roofed a shot over Cavalry goalkeeper Marco Carducci from close range.
Valour took a stranglehold over the game after that goal, and finished the match on the front foot. In the end however, neither club was able to add to their total, and the match ended 1-1.
A third consecutive draw means Cavalry are still unbeaten this season, but also still chasing their first win of 2023. Their previous outings saw the Calgarians draw Forge FC 2-2 in Hamilton and Pacific FC 1-1 in Langford.
But while those two points would have felt hard-fought and earned, Sunday’s sunny outing at Spruce Meadows certainly felt like two points dropped.
“The first thing is, we’re disappointed to come out with a draw,” said Carducci during the post-game press conference. “We started the season off on the road and felt we earned two points there, whereas I feel we lost those points today.
“That’s the feeling we have. Credit to Valour for staying in the game and challenging us when we weren’t able to get that footing in the second half. Obviously, they scored. But like I said, we’re disappointed.”
As they’ve done so often at Spruce Meadows in previous seasons, Cavalry started the match on the front foot, as they sought to entertain the 4,000-plus fans who ventured out to ATCO Field on Sunday.
Striker Myer Bevan in particular was a spark plug for Cavalry’s offence, tirelessly hounding Valour goalkeeper Rayane Yesli every time he received the ball in the first half. More often than not, the New Zealander’s pressure was enough to force Yesli to either cough up possession or launch the ball out of bounds.
Bevan was rewarded for his efforts on 38 minutes, when he notched his third goal of the 2023 CPL season. A quick throw-in from Fraser Aird on the right-side touch line was corralled by Ali Musse, who took on his man, got to the byline, and laid the ball off perfectly for Cavalry’s number 9 to stab home from the top of Valour’s six-yard box.
Despite heading into the half-time break with a 1-0 advantage, Cavalry failed to maintain momentum as the second 45 minutes got underway. Valour, perhaps sensing some timidity from the hosts, began to take control of the game.
Valour’s pressure and comfort in possession paid off in the 56th minute, with Williams scoring his first CPL goal since joining the Winnipeg club from Iceland’s Knattspyrnudeild Keflavík.
On that play, right back Andy Baquero launched a ball into the box from the right, which eventually landed at the feet of striker Anthony Novak. The former Cavalry forward’s shot was deflected toward an unmarked Williams, who settled the ball before rifling it into the roof of Carducci’s goal from close range to level the score.
Valour controlled the bulk of possession and chances from that point forward, though Musse did come close to winning it for Cavalry late with a curling left-footed effort that Yesli was able to dive for and palm away spectacularly.
In the end, a share of the spoils was perhaps the fairest result for what had clearly been a game of two halves. Shots ended 10-9 in Cavalry’s favour, but Valour entered Cavalry’s defensive third 73 times, compared to 46 times by Cavalry.
Asked if Valour had spoiled the otherwise celebratory occasion of Cavalry’s first home match since last October, head coach/general manager Tommy Wheeldon Jr. denied that, suggesting his side simply should have played better.
“That’s the brutal honesty,” he said. “We should have been better. We had chances. We were very average in possession today, which was disappointing because I thought last week, we had to grind and this week, we wanted to enjoy it.
“It was one of those that we didn’t do what we planned and worked on, and that’s what’s disappointing for me as a coach. I know this group is a very talented group, but they’ve got to show it.”
Considering their inability to keep the ball for long spells in the second half, Wheeldon Jr. added possession will clearly be a focus of Cavalry’s next training sessions as they prepare for their next match.
“I think we’ve got a full week of training, and I think that’s what we have to do,” he said. “We have to keep playing, keep getting the ball out, and keep developing chemistry.”
Cavalry will have a week to regroup before their season resumes on the road against CPL newcomers Vancouver FC on May 7. That match in Langley will be Vancouver’s home-opener, as Afshin Ghotbi’s side has played every game thus far on the road.
“It’ll be an exciting one for sure,” said Carducci. “Obviously, [it’s their] home-opener and we know they’ll be up for it. But I think as much as we’re disappointed [with today’s result], there’s positivity in that we know we can be better.
“I think you look at this game, there were moments where we let ourselves down – not the other way around. That’s a driving force for us to say we can be better and do more. It’s back to work this week.”