Final Score: Valour FC 2-4 Cavalry FC
Goalscorers: Ponce 56′, De Brienne 90+3′; Cebara 4′ (OG), Camargo 15′, M. Trafford 60′, Pepple 64′
Game of the 2022 season: 40
CPL match: 291
Match in a minute or less
A six-goal thriller ended the CPL’s midweek slate of games, as Cavalry FC climbed into first place in the league table with a resounding 4-2 win over Valour FC at IG Field, extending their winning streak to four and their unbeaten streak to seven (the latter tying a club record).
The visitors took the lead just four minutes in, as a touch from Aribim Pepple deflected off Valour defender Stefan Cebara for an early own goal. They added to their lead just over 10 minutes after, when Sergio Camargo received a loose ball and fired a shot from outside the box to beat Jonathan Sirois. The hosts would find a way back into the game briefly after halftime thanks to Walter Ponce’s brilliant overhead kick goal, but it would all be for naught as Mason Trafford restored the two-goal lead just four minutes after.
Pepple added another goal shortly after, getting on the end of another well-worked set-piece play for the Cavs to make it 4-1. Valour would ultimately add another goal in stoppage time thanks to Matteo De Brienne, but Cavalry would see out the convincing victory nonetheless.
Cavs triumph with efficiency in attack, patience in possession
Looking at a stats sheet, it’d be hard to immediately conclude that Cavalry were actually the dominant side for most of this contest. However, despite Valour’s slight edge in possession, visits to the attacking third, and passes completed, the visitors looked the more dangerous side consistently at IG Field.
Such a dissonance stems from Cavalry’s killer instinct with the ball. They’re frequently the quicker side to react upon winning the ball, looking for dangerous options. The speed and ruthlessness with which they enter the attacking third often supplies them with a numerical advantage going forward, which further helps them create higher-quality chances (for example, both sides had three shots in the first half, but Cavalry’s chances produced twice the expected goals figure of Valour’s with 0.18 to 0.09).
That’s how the Cavs attacked in open play; any ball they won from a Valour player prompted the likes of Jose Escalante, Aribim Pepple, or Sergio Camargo to get forward quickly. Indeed, that’s how they scored their second goal — Elliot Simmons won it off Brett Levis and almost immediately he found Camargo, who scored before Valour’s line had time to get anywhere near him.
Valour coach Phil Dos Santos was particularly annoyed with that play:
“There’s things that you can do when you’re playing in the park with your friends, and there’s others that you can’t,” he said postmatch. “This is a pro team, and there’s things that you can’t do; the mistake of the second goal can’t happen.”
In other situations, though, when Cavalry claimed possession from a restart, they did not rush to attack, with Valour’s lines more set.
Instead, they were more methodical and patient in those phases; centre-backs Mason Trafford and Daan Klomp looked to work it out to fullbacks Bradley Vliet or Victor Loturi, or else to play Elliot Simmons through in the middle. When no opportunities presented, they would cycle it back to retain and attempt to draw a pressing Valour player out of position to open up a passing lane.
Ultimately, Cavalry gaffer Tommy Wheeldon Jr. was most pleased with the versatility his team has shown in playing in different ways, both from week to week and within individual games.
“It’s versatile, isn’t it?” he said. “We’ve moved it around a little bit; you’ve seen on the weekend we had Joe Mason playing as a 10, Aribim Pepple at nine, (Ben) Fisk started, but today we thought Aribim could go out wider coming from that side; Joe Mason was down the middle, I thought he was good, and then Sergio Camargo’s back in. Sergio’s earned his time to come back in because he’s been very impactful off the bench — if you go back to the York game, the Halifax game, the Whitecaps game — and he took his goal very well… It’s pleasing when the offence is firing like that.”
That said, this is not a team to rest on its laurels. Cavalry have spent a lot of time at the top of the table over the past four years, but they have no trophies to show for it. By now, they put little stock in where they sit in the standings, even if they did leapfrog two teams on Wednesday.
When prompted, Wheeldon grinned.
“We’re in first?” he said. “Awesome.”
Valour missing ‘balance’ in midfield, lose central battle
Phil Dos Santos was not dealt the easiest hand with regard to lineup selection for this game, with three of his options for central midfield unable to start the game. Diego Gutierrez was suspended for yellow card accumulation, Matthew Catavolo is away on international duty with Canada’s U-20s, and Daryl Fordyce picked up a knock in training just a day or two before the game to keep him out of the starting XI as well.
So, Valour had to go with a somewhat makeshift midfield in a 4-1-4-1 formation, as usual forward Moses Dyer dropped into a deep-lying role and the left-sided Brett Levis came into the right side of midfield next to Sean Rea.
With a number of players perhaps not quite comfortable in their roles, Valour struggled for territory in the middle of the pitch. They gave the ball away too often — all three central players lost possession in the double-digit numbers, led by Levis with 17 — and they weren’t often able to advance the ball forward, despite having an advantage in possession and ultimately completing more passes than Cavalry.
Dos Santos explained that his side was definitely missing something in the middle that kept them out of sync for much of the night. He acknowledged that losing Fordyce was a blow after expecting to have him in the middle for most of the extended period they’d spent preparing since their last game nine days prior. Still, tactically he felt his side was positioning itself wrong in midfield.
“I thought we lost a bit of the balance that we usually have,” Dos Santos said, “but I wasn’t expecting perfection, in the sense that we worked for a week or so with Daryl in the mix and 24, 48 hours before the game there was the injury and we had doubts whether he was going to play or not, so Moses had to go back to a position he had to play in the past.
“But there’s moments in the game where I didn’t think we dealt well with things; the positioning was often too square, on the same line, and when the opposition plays through you there’s bigger gaps, so we addressed that at halftime, but when you’re chasing a result there’s this natural instinct where players start cheating two yards here, two yards there because they’re hoping the team is going to win the ball and then they’re already a few yards ahead of the opposition.”
Certainly, life becomes harder when you’re playing from behind from the first four minutes onward, which didn’t help at all, but nonetheless Valour will not be pleased with their inability to build through the middle or make better use of possession on Wednesday.
‘Maverick’ set-piece moves gives Cavalry the edge
Cavalry have long been considered one of the most dangerous sides in the CPL when it comes to dead-ball situations — and for good reason. A number of times this year, and over the past few seasons, they’ve been able to turn a result around thanks to a timely corner or free kick — even in spite of the rough luck they’ve had from the penalty spot.
This game was a perfect example of the ability Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s team has from set-pieces. Three of their four goals came from perfect deliveries (thanks to José Escalante) and well-executed movements to put the ball in the net.
The early first one, a corner, was a great curling ball from Escalante to Aribim Pepple at the back post; the youngster’s directive was likely to put it back across goal looking for a deflection from traffic or else a teammate’s boot, and he found the former — the knee of Stefan Cebara — for the goal.
Cavalry’s third, a much-needed response after conceding early in the second half, was another great hit over the top from Escalante to his target, six-foot-two centre-back Daan Klomp, and the Dutchman understood his role perfectly: to flick it toward Mason Trafford’s run. The finish was a difficult technical one out of the air, but every part of the set-piece play deserves credit for being a move that Cavalry has clearly perfected on the training ground.
That’s even more clearly the case for the fourth Cavalry goal. Again, Escalante stands over the ball, but after putting it to the back post the previous time, he sends it to the near post. Joe Mason hides himself somewhat in an offside position, but he drifts onside in time for Escalante to deliver toward him. Mason heads it backward just as Pepple is sneaking toward the back post, and the young forward finishes (on a second attempt).
Cavs boss Wheeldon was thrilled with the overall effort of his side on Wednesday, and he explained that the players’ ability to pull off elaborate set plays is a testament to the work they’ve done away from matches and the confidence they have to try them in pressure situations.
“Whether it’s attacking, the way we were playing and building the ball out, to when we’re defending or pressing, I was really happy with it, and then the set plays are the icing on the cake,” Wheeldon said. “What it shows us now is every part of our game, the guys are committed to. Credit to (assistant coach) Leon Hapgood who’s been working on that stuff, just having a few maverick plays. The boys are feeling confident, so anytime they put the ball down it’s a great opportunity. Yeah, we like it; it gives us different ways to score goals.”
On the other side of the coin, Valour coach Dos Santos was not at all pleased with the resolve his team showed in defending those set-piece situations, particularly considering Valour have been quite good at dealing with them for much of the season. In particular, he wasn’t happy to concede one so quickly after they found a foothold with their goal early in the second half.
“Three set plays, where we’ve been good throughout the season — I think apart from a second phase in Pacific, it’s the first game that we’ve conceded, and right away three,” Dos Santos said.
He later added: “I told them at halftime, all we needed was one goal. One goal, and we got it. But then again we concede on set plays where, I have to see them again, but I don’t think we dealt with it.”
CanPL.ca Player of the Match
Aribim Pepple, Cavalry FC
The 19-year-old continues to make it look easy. Pepple scored for the third consecutive match, and he created Cavalry’s first goal as well; he had four shots of his own and won 10 duels (including three out of four in the air) on another electric night for the youngster.
Both these clubs will have the coming weekend off before returning to the pitch the following Sunday, June 26. Valour will head to Toronto to take on York United (11:00 a.m. CT/12:00 p.m. ET), while the Cavs return home to host FC Edmonton (5:00 p.m. MT/7:00 p.m. ET).
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