MATCH ANALYSIS: Cavalry earn 1st CPL road win of 2024 after grinding out hard-earned 1-0 victory vs. Valour
Canadian Premier League

Final Score: Valour FC 0-1 Cavalry FC
Goalscorers: Aird 34′
Game of the 2024 season: 51
CPL match: 535

Match in a minute or less

For the first time this year, Cavalry have won on the road in CPL play, as they defeated Valour FC 1-0 at Princess Auto Stadium on Sunday thanks to an early goal from Fraser Aird.

Coming in the 34th minute, it came from some quick-thinking from Aird, too, who had worked his way into a dangerous position in the box. One where he looked like he might cross, he instead went for the shot, catching out Valour’s Jonathan Viscosi with a powerful strike towards the near-post to give his team a 1-0 lead.

From there, he and his teammates would do what they needed to do in order to grind out a result, with an 82nd minute red card to Valour’s Roberto Alarcón helping them out massively in that regard, as they were then able to use the extra player to their advantage as they managed the last moments of the game quite professionally en route to a crucial victory.

Three Observations

Quick-thinking from Aird the difference for Cavalry in cagey match:

Often, matchups between two teams close to each other can go one of two ways – either it can be a wide-open affair, as both teams throw caution to the wind in the chase of victory, or it can be a cagier affair where chances and goals can be at a premium.

This game certainly fit the latter category, because while both were doing well to go toe-to-toe in possession throughout the game, both defences stood strong. As a result, chances were hard to come by, as the game finished with just 15 shots total (eight to Cavalry, seven to Valour), including just four shots on target (two apiece) and 0.87 xG (0.44 to Cavalry, o.43 to Valour).

Essentially, this game was going to be decided by a moment of magic from either side, as otherwise, there wasn’t much to split the two teams on the day.

Yet, that’s why Fraser Aird’s quick thinking on his goal was so crucial. On paper, his chance wasn’t the highest-quality attempt of the day, clocking in at just 0.03 xG, but that he was able to find a bit of magic to be able to deceive Viscosi as he did, helping Cavalry score, ended up being crucial for his team in the end.

“A lot of goalkeepers and defenders in this league know that I like to cross the ball, I like to set up my teammates,” Aird said when describing his goal. “That’s something I’ve always proud myself with, so I’ve seen him kind of cheating to cut out the cross, so I thought ‘I’m going to hit it near post’, and lucky enough, it went in.”

In a match like this one, the team who scores first can get a massive edge, making it a game of “next goal wins”, and Aird’s clever marker ensured Cavalry would be the team who’d benefit from that pivotal moment.

All of Fraser Aird’s actions from this game (OPTA)

Now, this might be exactly what the doctor order for this Cavalry side. For a team that hasn’t been winning, even if they haven’t been losing, they knew that a win in this game could be massive for them as the halfway point of their campaign nears.

Having too often ended up unable to get the desired results out of performances where they felt they deserved better, let alone games where they weren’t at their best, it’ll be good for their confidence to get a win in a game that was so statistically even.

For a team that wants to return to their dominant 2023 performances, where they stormed to a commanding regular season title, a key step for them is to pick up some momentum, and that’s what a win like this can give them.

That all came down to a clever moment from Aird, one he found a way to provide at a crucial moment, helping them earn a result they can now rally around going forward.

“Until we get the rhythm of our attackers going so we can start scoring that second and third goal in games, you just take wins (like this) right now,” Cavalry’s head coach, Tommy Wheeldon Jr., said after the game. “And I think these are important, the best way to go on a winning run is start with your first win, and we’ve done that.”

“Statistically, I’ve gotten tired of looking at stats and having to (tell the guys) to keep going – we’ve got a win today, so we’ll take the good from it, we’ll take what we can do better and work towards our next game.”

Valour finds some offensive success centrally, but are unable to capitalize on key moments:

Of course, while winning a close game like this can provide a big boost for the winning team, it can be heartbreaking for the side on the wrong end of the result like Valour was.

Especially given that they statistically created three of the four most dangerous chances in this game, per the xG chart, that’ll add to their frustration, as they’ll feel that they had the opportunity to win this game and pick up three points instead of leaving with zero.

Having put in a good shift offensively, doing well to create some dangerous actions from central areas, they were doing a good job of putting pressure on Cavalry, too, leading to some nervy moments.

In particular, they did well to put in some dangerous passes in behind of Cavalry’s defenders, creating a couple of dangerous partial and full breakaways, as well as creating some sequences that could’ve led to more.

In fact, the only thing they seemed to lack offensively was that final product, be it the final pass or shot, which is where they’ll feel they let this game go away.

Certainly, they didn’t create the volume of chances that they would’ve liked, but that’s the reality of playing in a cagey game like this, as you have to be willing to take the few chances you may get.

This Valour side knows that quite well, too. They lived in their most recent match, a cagey outing at home against York United, where they were on the right side of that ledger, doing well to ride a 29th minute goal to a well-earned 1-0 win, so it’s not as if this is anything they’re not familiar with.

“We did create some good chances,” Valour’s Jordi Swibel said afterwards. “I think it was just one of those days where we unfortunately just couldn’t put in the back of the net, but we’ll take the positives from today, there are good things to look at, Cavalry are very good defensively, so the fact that we can open up and move the ball, we had more of the opportunities, we had a lot of penalty entries, so we’ll take the positives from that and then continue to work on things.”

Yet, what this game showed is the importance of bringing consistency offensively, as it’s important to be able to make the most of opportunities when they do come, along with the importance of keeping concentration defensively, making sure not to give anything cheaply to the opponent.

Especially in games like this, where both teams put in strong performances at both ends, that is paramount, something that Valour will now look to take in stride going forward.

“That’s football. It’s all about moments, right?” Valour’s head coach, Phil Dos Santos, said afterwards. “As a coach, when your team is getting into the right spaces and getting those opportunities to get behind the opposition, you’ve somewhat done your job, after that, it’s all about execution, it’s about timing, it’s about having clarity in the player’s mind to be able to capitalize in those those moments.”

Photo Credit: Valour FC

Kobza leads the way for Cavalry in strong defensive performance:

In a game of such few chances, credit to that has to go to the defenders who made that happen, and there may have been no better defensive performance in this game than the one put up by Cavalry’s Eryk Kobza, who was central to his team’s defensive showing in their winning effort.

Overall, all of Cavalry’s defenders can look back at this performance and be quite pleased, to be fair, both in how they limited Valour’s chances, as well as how they reacted in key moments, but Kobza seemed to lead the way.

That’s crucial, as Kobza’s only been finding his feet as of late after struggling to stay healthy to start the year, with this game marking his fifth straight 90-minute outing after putting up just three such games in the first eight weeks of the season.

Because of that, it halted some of his progress to begin his second full professional season, which was tough for him, as he had been coming off an excellent debut campaign in 2023.

Now, however, he is beginning to look like the Kobza who had caught the eye of many last season, and this game may have been his finest performance.

From his play in possession, which allowed Cavalry to get some good spells on the ball, to his work defensively, especially in 1v1 scenarios and in the air, he was a rock at the back for his team.

With that, it seemed to give confidence to his entire back line, who were able to feed off that performance, especially late in the game.

“It’s a (tough) environment you’ve got to play well in, and Kobza rose to (the occasion),” Wheeldon Jr. said.

He added: “He was his old best today, like he was last year, where he was imposing, good with the ball, and he’s intelligent.”

They weren’t perfect as a group on the day, as they did require the help of Marco Carducci on a few occasions, but that’s the luxury of having a two-time CPL Goalkeeper of the Year in your ranks, as you can be allowed to make a few mistakes.

Plus, as seen by Valour’s shot and xG numbers, those big moments were rare enough to suggest it was another strong defensive showing for Cavalry, one that proved to be massive in their quest to win this game.

The xG plot from this game (Cavalry’s shots in purple, Valour’s in black), showing the strong defensive effort from Cavalry, in particular (OPTA)

Yet, this isn’t anything new for this team. All year long, they’ve continued to be very strong defensively, which is why they’ve finished this matchday still in second in the CPL for goals against with just 11 in 13 games, with their biggest worry at the moment being a lack of goals at the other end of the pitch.

Given that they haven’t had a fully healthy Kobza until as of late, and that key pieces Callum Montgomery and Bradley Kamdem have also dealt with injuries, that’s a credit to a lot of the work they do as a team defensively, as well as their system.

At the same time, they’ve also got some individuals who can step up and put in big defensive shifts on any given day, such as the 2023 Defender of the Year and Player of the Year Daan Klomp, and as seen in this game, Kobza.

With that, it’s giving Cavalry a shot of winning every game, so if they’re able to find some goals with more consistency, watch out, because their defence doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon.

“Defensively, we’ve been really sound this year,” Aird noted. “I think we have one of the best records in terms of goals conceded and keeping clean sheets, we’ve been pretty good at the back.” Player of the Match

Eryk Kobza, Cavalry FC

Kobza was a key piece at the back for Cavalry in this game, helping his team on both sides of the ball, playing a big role in this victory.

Offensively, he completed 58 of his 67 pass attempts (87%), making eight passes into the final third, but he then did his best work defensively, finishing with two tackles, three headed clearances, six defensive actions and five recoveries, while also winning four out of six of his duels, marking a solid showing from the Cavalry defender.

All of Eryk Kobza’s actions from this game (OPTA)

What’s next?

Valour will have the chance to rest for a few extra days ahead of their next match, as they’ll head out to Nova Scotia take on the Halifax Wanderers at Wanderers Grounds on Thursday, July 18th (5:00 p.m. CT/7:00 p.m. AT). Meanwhile, Cavalry will be in action next weekend, as they get set to host York United at ATCO Field on Saturday, July 13th (2:00 p.m. MT/4:00 p.m. ET).

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