It was billed as two Canadian Premier League heavyweights coming together in the lone matchup on this Thursday night in Winnipeg, but only one was able to find knockout punches as the 2019 runners-up, Cavalry FC, ended a six-game winless run against two-time reigning champions, Forge FC.
Tommy Wheeldon Jr’s team have done a lot of things right since the birth of this league only to see and be reminded regularly that the Hamilton-based side have prevented them from reaching the top of the mountain, but this was their night as they came out determined to show their strengths on this side of this rivalry from the opening whistle.
Midfielder David Norman Jr — in for Ahinga Selemani as one of two changes to Cavalry FC’s XI that beat HFX Wanderers on Saturday (Marco Carducci returned in goal) — and Nik Ledgerwood both showed the aggressiveness required from the central area with crunching tackles early. It set the tone as left-winger Jose Escalante rose high to win a key aerial battle against Garven Metusala on the left touchline and the header caused problems amongst Forge’s centre-backs, allowing former Forge man Anthony Novak to sprint on to goal and slot calmly past former teammate Triston Henry.
It was the fourth time in eight games that Bobby Smyrniotis has seen his side trail 1-0, more than they did in the 2020 Island Games, and the same number as their last 20 games of the successful 2019 campaign.
The unfamiliar territory would continue for the men in orange. Forge, with four wins and three losses in their opening seven games before this one, have done relatively well considering how many key players have been missing for them, but the absence of Daniel Krutzen and Dejan Jakovic in defense was abundantly clear again later in the opening half when the inspired Joseph Di Chiara combined with Ali Musse twice to play the Somalian international in to score his second goal of the week. Unfortunately, Musse limped off just minutes after his goal and that was the only dampener on a terrific night for Wheeldon’s side who showed real intelligence switching between different shapes while not losing their identity throughout the contest.
Forge attempted to get back into the game, pushing Kyle Bekker further forward in the second half after a triple substitution from Smyrniotis allowed Maxim Tissot to sit deeper, but they had little answer to get beyond the imperious Daan Klomp and his centre-back partner Karifa Yao. Mo Babouli’s 86th-minute penalty strike, after Jose Escalante fouled David Choinière in the box, led to some late nerves for Cavalry but they held on to take a deserved three points.
Cavalry FC leaves the Winnipeg bubble with 14 points from eight matches (4 wins, 2 draws, 2 losses) and will do so full of confidence after a tremendous team effort against the champions. Forge will be happy to depart Winnipeg with 12 points (4 wins, 4 losses) and head home knowing they will play many of their remaining games against three teams in HFX Wanderers, Atlético Ottawa, and York United that have struggled so far this season.
12′ — Anthony Novak (Cavalry FC)
33′ – Ali Musse (Cavalry FC)
86′ – Mo Babouli penalty (Forge FC)
6′ — Yellow: David Norman Jr (Cavalry FC)
45′ – Yellow: Richard Luca (Cavalry FC)
63′ – Yellow: Anthony Novak (Cavalry FC)
63′ – Yellow: Triston Henry (Forge FC)
86′ – Yellow: Jose Escalante (Cavalry FC)
90′ – Yellow: Elliot Simmons (Cavalry FC)
90′ – Yellow: Mo Farsi (Cavalry FC)