YORK LIONS STADIUM, TORONTO – Make it seven matches unbeaten for league-leading and Canadian Premier League Shield frontrunners Cavalry FC. With the weight of the new trophy on their shoulders, Cavalry came away with a 1-0 win over York United, although they faced significant roadblocks. York’s offence challenged them more than most other teams have been able to do in this recent stretch of phenomenal form, carrying out 59% possession, and 67% in a second half that York looked more than just on the front foot.
However, in the areas and moments where it mattered most, York couldn’t find a good enough shot to get past Marco Carducci and Cavalry’s gritty defence. They did everything right, there were a few players in new positions, yet it worked exceptionally well, and the midfielders both had excellent distribution and good dribbles. Not to mention York was by far the squad more up for it: they fought for every ball with more passion and intent than Cavalry did, winning the majority of their duels. It’s hard to say that York deserved a loss considering the strides they made giant strides since the previous Sunday. Though this type of promising contest is acceptable in the middle of the season when all the teams are still figuring themselves out. In the middle of a heated playoff race, each loss, no matter what happened in it, is more crushing and consequential than the one before.
You wouldn’t know it based on Martin Nash’s demeanour post-match. He seemed satisfied, maybe because his team wasn’t blown out, but more likely the reason is Nash had a lot of smaller managerial victories.
Saturday was the culmination of Nash’s project that is transforming Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé into one of the league’s best double-pivot midfielders: he played as a number ten in Mo Babouli’s absence. That gave York the opportunity to actually play a 4-3-3 with Gagnon-Lapare dropping back to provide some defensive support. He did at times, but the welcome return of Brem Soumaoro, coupled with Matthew Baldisimo, didn’t force the Québecer to drop back a lot. He didn’t get too far up the field, but let Kévin Dos Santos come into the middle to make some exceptional dribbles. Austin Ricci played on the right side, a big change from being in the striker position but he settled back into the winger role well.
Obviously desperate for a bit of a personnel change and something new to work on York’s midfield was fantastic.
“I thought it worked well,” Nash said of the changes, “I wanted to do it for a few reasons. I thought for one you have more stability in the middle of the park. There I think we have three quality midfielders. Jérémy’s our leading assist guy so we thought if we can get him in those pockets he can pick a pass, he’s a really good presser and initiates the press well. And, you know Cavalry are typically a really good possession team and I thought we were good in possession today, and we’re able to because of that midfield being able to hold the possession along.”
The Cavs managed a bit of time on the ball every so often, but they were neutralized by a new fullback combination, that being Jonathan Grant and Kadin Martin-Pereux. With Paris Gee playing at centre-back, it opened up the possibility to try something new. With both in deep positions often whipping the ball in and getting down the field, it was remarkable how well both did considering the circumstances. Grant is returning from a head injury that had him sidelined for weeks, and Martin-Pereux was making his first start for York.
With each involved in many battles against red-hot wingers Ali Musse and Maël Henry, there was no easy task yet the tandem held the opponents back. Especially considering Musse and Henry were York’s killers the last time they played Cavalry, the fullbacks exceeded expectations.
Martin-Pereux also came away with plenty of U-21 minutes, a requirement that York is inching closer and closer to. With 192 on the day, York now needs a mere 101 for the next two matches to reach it. Considering this could be the factor that gets them into the playoffs, the situation needs to be handled with extreme focus. Halifax, who lost to Vancouver later on Saturday, a big result for York’s playoff hopes, needs to average 140 after garnering well over 200 minutes against Vancouver. These young players for York are much more well-conditioned for this playoff fight, though. Someone like Martin-Pereux now knows how to handle himself in the heat of the massive moments.
“Kadin came in more as a wing-back, maybe winger, I think he’s got more of a future as a fullback personally,” said Nash. “I think that position suits him well so we’ve been working with him for the last three weeks and in training he’s been playing as a fullback, and I thought he did well today. I don’t think he put too many feet wrong, there’s a few little things in his game, getting tight early or reading some spaces. But when you’re playing a new position that can be difficult. In the first half [Roger Thompson] was able to help him out, but I thought he did well for us. He’s got a lot of quality and he’s got good size, strength, and speed.”
The tendency to be in more of an attacking position left Cavalry reaping the benefits of their speedy attacking unit. York couldn’t get numbers back in time and Myer Bevan was played through brilliantly, not hesitating and just charging up the field. A beauty of a cross was put in for Sergio Camargo to tap home. Eleias Himaras nearly got to the ball, but Cavs, as always, were too quick. That signature is something increasingly valuable, the clinical ability is unmatched in this league. So with their backs against the wall on defence, they made the most of what they’d got.
Cavalry was thinking that the match would play out differently, based on what Tommy Wheeldon Jr. had to say post-match about adapting to York’s pressure. “In all honesty, we had to adapt in the game. If Myer had scored his breakaway, and that’s one that he felt he could’ve gone ’round the keeper or something different for his finish. It’s a different scoreline, 2-0, and I think York are on that brink where they’re still in the fight, so you’re giving them a reason to stay in the fight. I mean, Nashy, in fairness to him, he’s taken a team that’s not had a couple of good performances and given us hell in the second half. There’s no success without suffering, so we realized that there’s 15 minutes of chaos. We actually had to change a few things, and we did, and we changed the formation, we went into a 3-5-2, then a 3-4-3, then we collapsed into a 5-4-1 in the last ten minutes. That was an in-game adaptation.”
As a unit, nobody can challenge Cavalry. The locker room dynamic is one where no player is left out, they’ve bought into a mentality that nobody is bigger than the badge. Wheeldon Jr. has implemented a championship mindset, making it even more perplexing that they have not yet lifted a trophy.
Though that will make it only more rewarding when they inevitably do this season.
“We know how big it is, this club has been pushing for a trophy for five years now, and we know we’re at that touching distance, we want to do it for the gaffer, so I wouldn’t say nerves [going into the game], but it’s starting to build and there’s that excitement and everything,” defensive stalwart Charlie Trafford said of the title push. “I don’t think that had too much to do with our performance today.”
Trafford, who has a long history with Wheeldon Jr. and Cavs, knows the heartbreak on the road to a title. If he and the rest of Cavalry can get it done, a performance like this is pivotal.
As for York, two matches remain. Two winnable matches, you could say.
Let’s reiterate the mantra again, Nash hasn’t stopped with the phrase as things are on the upswing for York – finally.
Two cup finals left.
Top photo by David Chant
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