Report and Reaction: With 2-1 win over Cavalry, Whitecaps prove they can do it on a wet, cold Tuesday night in Calgary

Report and Reaction: With 2-1 win over Cavalry, Whitecaps prove they can do it on a wet, cold Tuesday night in Calgary

A goal in each half from Levonte Johnson gave Vancouver Whitecaps a 2-1 advantage over Cavalry FC on a wet and windy Tuesday night in Calgary, in the first leg of their Canadian Championship quarterfinal.

While Cavalry kept themselves in the tie thanks to a stoppage-time goal from Malcolm Shaw, the result means the Whitecaps are a goal to the good as the two teams prepare to meet again for the second leg at BC Place in two weeks’ time, and with the away goals rule in effect, Cavalry will need to score at least twice to advance.

It marked the Whitecaps’ first regulation-time win in three visits to Spruce Meadows to take on Cavalry in the Canadian Championship. The inaugural meet-up in 2019 produced a goalless draw, while their 2022 match-up ended 1-1, before Vancouver prevailed in a penalty shootout.

“Coming in, we knew it was going to be a tough match,” Johnson told OneSoccer immediately after the game. “We’ve played a lot of games here. This was our first win here on this field.

“Coming in, the weather, the pitch, the rain – we knew it was going to be a tough match, but the guys were up for it and ultimately, we got the win.”

The first half was mostly a midfield battle of attrition, with very little goalmouth action at either end. Cavalry set up with a defence-first approach that nullified Vancouver’s 53 per cent of possession and limited the visitors to just a single shot on target, but what a decisive shot it was.

The cagey nature of the opening 45 minutes was reflected in the first-half statistics, which saw Cavalry produce a 0.06 xG compared to Vancouver’s 0.04.

But even though the match seemed destined to remain scoreless until the break, Johnson took matters into his own hands – or rather, his own feet – with a screamer on the cusp of halftime.

After a long free kick from the Whitecaps’ half was taken quickly and only partially cleared by Cavalry centre back Callum Montgomery, Johnson latched onto the loose ball before unleashing an outside-of-the-foot half-volley from well outside the box that clipped into Marco Carducci’s net off the right-hand post.

“Honestly, as soon as it left my foot, I had a good feeling about it,” he told OneSoccer. “I already started running to the corner flag. It was just a good long ball from our centre back. Their centre back headed it down and I was just first on the bounce. I just tried my best to get a clean contact on it.”

The goal from Johnson – who was making his starting debut after primarily appearing as a second-half sub this season – stunned Cavalry and the crowd at ATCO Field, and took the wind out of the hosts’ sails as the two sides headed into the half-time break.

The goal also seemed to spur more action (from both sides) upon the match’s resumption. First, the Whitecaps nearly doubled their lead when Ali Ahmed struck a shot off Carducci’s crossbar.

The hosts weren’t devoid of chances of their own, though, and Cavalry winger Lleyton Brooks came close to tying the match on 60 minutes when he connected his head on a cross from Fraser Aird that Isaac Boehmer saved.

Vancouver doubled their lead in the 80th minute. Once again it was thanks to Johnson, who for the second time on the night capitalized on a long ball forward and a miscued clearance from Montgomery, before slotting the ball calmly into the bottom corner past Carducci.

At 2-0 down, Cavalry spent the rest of regulation time chasing the game, and their attacking impetus finally paid off in the 92nd minute, courtesy of two second-half subs.

Midfielder Lucas Dias slipped a well-weighted through ball between Vancouver’s defenders onto the path of Malcolm Shaw, who managed to slide a shot from a tight angle past Boehmer into the Whitecaps’ goal.

Cavalry had a chance to tie the match with a direct free kick two minutes later, but Brooks sent his shot high and wide.

The two teams will meet again for the second leg at BC Place on May 21.


Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini

On his team’s performance across both halves:

“I’m going to be honest, in the first half, Levonte [Johnson] scored a fantastic goal but the real result at the end of the first half should have been 0-0. We didn’t have a lot of chances, they didn’t have a lot of chances, it’s a tie. Then because we scored, probably they had to press a little higher, they left a little bit more space and we found more space in-between the lines and in the second half we played better.

“In the second half, we deserved to score the second goal, we could have scored another one. Unfortunately, at the end, we conceded the goal that makes a difference, from 2-0 to 2-1, it’s going to make a difference at BC Place. But we are happy that we get away from here with a win, that we are ahead in the tie, and the next game is home so there’s a lot of things to take away from here that are positives.”

On Levonte Johnson’s brace and performance:

“I’m very happy for him. I’m very happy that he grabbed the opportunity because in the league, for the moment his role, he kind of comes in as a role player. In the last 20 minutes he comes in when we need more strikers, or a faster attacker. But this was his first start of the season. I mean, scoring that banger in the first one, it was a fantastic goal, and then in the second half, switching positions from the wide to play as the number nine, and be a handful against a very physical defence.

“You need to be fearless because these guys are not shy to do a tackle and everything, and I think he was really good and I’m really happy that probably this performance is going to give him the confidence to continue his growth and development, and be an important player for us in the future.”

Cavalry head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr.

On Cavalry’s performance:

“The conditions were against us, the wind was in our face a little bit in the first half. I thought our defending for the most part, especially in the first half, was good. We knew once we had the wind in our sails, the game would change a little bit. We were disappointed to be conceding on a long-range effort. We’re better than that. I think we have to manage the game (better).

On Cavalry’s second-half response:

“I challenged the boys at halftime. I said listen, we’re still in this game. Let’s play forward, let’s get at them now and let’s test them. I thought we did, even at 1-0. Obviously we had brooks’ header and a couple other moments like that. We gave them a good test and now we have a game on our hands.”

On the need to score twice at BC Place in the second leg:

“The reality is, we’ve got to score two goals at their place and we’ve done that before. There’s nothing to fear and everything to gain. They’re a terrific side.”

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