Is being at the top of the Canadian Premier League mountain at the forefront of Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s mind? For a fleeting moment, yes. But after his side’s 2-1 victory at home against York United, he was quick to make sure it was known that the team wasn’t getting ahead of themselves, attitude-wise. “We’re just taking it one game at a time,” the gaffer stated.
Moving efficiently and effectively down the pitch, Cavalry did face a real challenge at times in the match, but with goals coming within 40 seconds of the first half and within three minutes of the second, the Cavs put their stamp on the match early, and never really looked back.
“The way we started both halves was criminal really, we put ourselves in a predicament… you can’t gift teams goals, and we gifted them two goals to start each half,” York head coach Martin Nash said.
That’s not to say they didn’t face a couple of challenges along the way, though. Following the well-worked play ending in Ali Musse’s early goal, York looked the better side. They’ve come a long way since the start of the year when there was a lot of miscommunication and poor passes. The squad has gelled and now we see the effects. Taking Cavalry off the ball had to be a priority because once they’re on it, they are ruthless. For about 25 minutes in that first half, York was on the front foot, but they never found the perfect opportunity. The Cavalry defenders held strong, led by Man of the Match Daan Klomp, and York couldn’t try an ambitious long ball or through ball. It would’ve been stifled and the Cavs would’ve caught York short-handed at the back.
Playing with hesitation is never a good thing, and York might’ve been too nervous to really go for it having already been a goal down. The Nine Stripes were theoretically in the game until the final blow of the whistle, however, they didn’t take advantage of the few situations they were given where they could score. Set pieces in good areas were few and far between, there were only three times where York was given generous chances by Cavalry. Two were corners. You have to look at Mo Babouli first and question whether he should be taking those shots or not. It seems that he has become awfully inaccurate recently, even sometimes in open play. It’s just that CPL clubs have figured him out, interestingly enough giving him some more open space and then throwing themselves at him when he’s about to play a long ball or cross. He plays well off some, evidently, Clément Bayiha, whose speed can be complimented well by Babouli’s short, accurate passes into the area. He also provides another outlet for crossing on the left wing, but that is another aspect of the game York struggled in.
They couldn’t find Brian Wright at all. It is an awful situation because he has finally found form and confidence, but York just didn’t give him the ball. It doesn’t even have to be on crossing either, last weekend he scored a brilliant individual goal. Partly, it is him not dropping back into midfield to get the ball, but also he was very accustomed to playing high up the pitch. Nash employed a high press, which did challenge Cavalry’s fullbacks and central defenders both making runs and passing; and made it easier for York to spring a goal quickly. The circumstances just weren’t great on the day for the prospects of another Wright goal.
“I felt our lines were deep in possession, they were able to condense that space,” Nash said of the attacking unit, “we weren’t moving the ball quick enough to open up that space. When you don’t move the ball quick, teams can keep their block well and make it hard for you to play off their striker. They were able to do that today, we didn’t find Brian enough. And you know, we played in front of them a lot, we got in behind them early and then stopped doing it… I still think for large portions we had good possession, we had a good amount of chances, just to start both halves that way, it was a killer.”
Nash cites Cavalry’s zonal defence that didn’t challenge recklessly to win the ball back. They sat, waited, and in the end, came out on top. During the latter stages of the first half and much of the second, Cavalry played as they should. Passing not for the heck of it but with an idea and nose for goal. Substituting William Akio for Fraser Aird was very smart, and Akio provided a lot more energy and dynamism down the right side, of course as well as the great goal, followed by his signature backflip.
Their two-striker system with Musse and Myer Bevan at the top worked very well creating chances for Cavalry, especially when York was on the ball. Aird could make a pivot from his deep midfield position and before you know it, Musse is closing down on goal. Both Musse and Bevan can operate as false nines too, which really helps Cavs. Bevan, though, didn’t have to do too much of that on the left flank, because Bradley Kamdem and Maël Henry were playing exceptionally. Henry was just his first start for Cavalry, and immediately got stuck in reading plays well. His pass out wide to Kamdem set up the Musse header. Both took on crucial roles and York couldn’t seem to contain either.
“Brad Kamdem can run for days, he’s one that we felt if we needed to push on as an extra player, we have a balance and a left-sided player, and I’m delighted for him because he’s lived up to the challenge,’ Wheeldon Jr. happily said. “I asked him if he’d got many assists if he’s gonna play higher, and then he does it within the first minute, so that’s terrific.”
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And how did Kamdem, Musse, and Henry be followed up by Akio’s goal so quickly?
“We knew York would start strong in the second half, they’ve got great dynamism, but we felt Willy could get at their fullbacks,” Wheeldon Jr. explained, “he did and I think with a bit of better service from us, we could’ve gone on [and scored more]. I think the goal they got was from our play but I’m not going to be mad at the lads, I want them to play football and I want them to be comfortable in possession because if they do and beat the press, it’s then an opportunity to get one-v-one situations which is why we brought Willy on and Ali on the outside near the end.”
York looked a bit more unstable at the back in the second half, and some would say it’s because of the need for U-21 minutes hampering the results the rest of the team can have. For the most part, a few have been great, and the U-21 players who played, Trivine Esprit, Carson Buschman-Dormond, and Noah Abatneh, are all great players. Buschman-Dormond, however, made an awful error late by drawing a red card seconds before the final whistle. It’s that type of moment which highlights the risks of having U-21 players on late. Unfortunately, York has made their bed with this situation.
Elijah Adekugbe doesn’t see all doom and gloom. “To me, I give them major credit, I think one of the mandates of this league is to play young players, and ultimately with the under-21 minutes rule, it’s not ideal in some situations but the good thing for them is they’re being throwing into the deep end, getting experience in, moments that otherwise they may not have. In those moments I’ve never really judged them for a bad performance, I think it’s a learning experience. I credit Tivine and Carson, I don’t think it’s a red card, and for Trivine, I know how hard he works and how much he puts into the game. Those moments are always going to be difficult… I think they handled it as well as they could.”
Speaking of making their beds, York finally returns home on Friday, battling bottom-of-the-table Vancouver FC. The playoff race is starting to leave York behind, and a win is crucial.
Top photo by CFC Media/Tony Lewis
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