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They finally got the goal they couldn’t get before in a playoff game with their arch-rivals.
But Cavalry FC couldn’t corral the elusive win against nemesis Forge FC.
Instead, Calgary’s footie side leaves home after the first leg of its Canadian Premier League semifinal all-square en route to Hamilton for next weekend’s deciding match in the post-season series.
“I think we just cancelled each other out there,” said Cavalry gaffer Tommy Wheeldon Jr., moments after Saturday’s 1-1 matinee at ATCO Field — the first leg in the two-game, total-goal, home-and-home set with Forge.
“But the pressure’s on them now because they’re expected to beat us at their home.”
The hope was Wheeldon Jr. and the Cavs would do just that on their own pitch.
After weathering a Forge storm early, they got their chances — on counters in the first half, with Daan Klomp’s header eventually breaking through late, and in the late stages of regulation, with a push that offered them a few impressive opportunities to get the go-ahead goal.
But the scoreline didn’t fall their way, creating a push that makes this now a 90-minute — plus penalty kicks, if necessary — decider out east to determine a finalist in the chase for the North Star Shield and 2022 league bragging rights.
“Now it’s just winning in their house,” said Wheeldon Jr., of next Sunday’s second leg at Tim Hortons Field (3 p.m., OneSoccer, OneSoccer.ca). “It’s not an easy place to go, but we actually strangely enjoy going there, because it’s a bigger pitch and it’s wide open and it’s one of the better turf pitches in the league.”
Fans got one of the better games in the league’s history Saturday at Spruce Meadows.
But that came as no surprise given the resumé of this rivalry.
It was an entertaining playoff contest — a real advertisement for the league — between teams that each could’ve clicked for more on the afternoon.
Early on, it was Forge — expectedly — on the front foot and nearly scoring when a ball fell to Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson in free space just outside the goal box, but his knock of the ball over Cavalry goalkeeper Marco Carducci came down off the bottom of the crossbar and bounced away from harm.
“We wanted to be the aggressor,” said Forge gaffer Bobby Smyrniotis. “Even though we were playing away from home — it’s part of our DNA as a club. And we did that. We hit the crossbar there at the beginning and really put the pressure on Cavalry. For the most part, we played some excellent football on the pitch. I think we deserved a little bit more.”
More pressure followed from the visitors, but from their failed attempts came a number of dynamic counter-punches by Cavalry, only to see headers by captain Mason Trafford and attacker Joe Mason and a boot by Ali Musse fail to find the back of the net. Forge goalie Triston Henry was mint on Musse’s blast from close-in, as he stretched out his leg to take away a rebound that fell to the in-form Cavs striker.
However, that set the table for Klomp’s goal — again on the counter — as Mason took Musse’s feed up the wing, slowed down just inside the right edge of the penalty area and delivered a perfect cross into his teammate.
“In a league like this, where you play each other so much — in this case, Forge six times — you know what their game-style is,” Klomp said. “So we know Forge likes to dominate and go up the pitch with a lot of people, so that leaves a lot of gaps in behind. So that’s what we tried to exploit.
“And I know Joe Mason a little bit by now, so I know what run he’s going to make. And I saw the space, and I thought, why not go for it?”
The goal in the 42nd minute marked the first time in four all-time playoff games that the Cavs found the net behind Henry. Because of the goal-drought, the Calgary crew lost those three previous post-season meetings — all by 1-0 scores — with Forge.
Klomp’s strike also proved possession isn’t always the tell-tale statistic of a game.
“Possession is only part of the tale,” said Wheeldon Jr. “It’s what you do with it that counts. I think we had bigger chances. They took most of the possession — that’s part of their style. We had 70 per cent of possession (three weeks ago) against Atlético (Ottawa) and lost 3-nil. So it’s what you do with it.”
Unfortunately for the hosts, Forge finally did get something out of it early in the second half.
The visitors came out with more pressure, leading to an inadvertent handball by Cavs defender Roberto Alarcón at the corner of the pitch. Forge captain Kyle Bekker then launched his free kick perfectly into the box, where Woobens Pacius got his head on it for the no-doubter past Carducci.
“That was the only disappointing thing,” said Wheeldon Jr. “Coming out in the second half to concede as early as we did kind of takes the stuffing out of us. But we had to rally up, we had to suffer a little bit and they got their tails up, but then the game changed again. But it’s about managing when you’re suffering, and in the last 10 minutes, I thought they defended well.”
Indeed, the home squad delivered quite the push late in trying to secure at least a one-goal lead heading to Hamilton.
At the same time came the heightened bit of bad blood between the rivals, especially when Trafford got his foot in late on Henry trying to smother the ball during a home-side flurry. The fireworks of that moment spilled over post-game, when Bekker and Wheeldon Jr. exchanged words after the whistle.
It was a frantic fireworks-filled finish again.
“In these games, and especially with Cavalry when they play at home, it’s something that they do late in games where they start putting every ball into the penalty area — something we’ve seen every year,” Smyrniotis added. “We just prepared with that, made a couple of substitutions in preparation for that.
“And we’re happy in that end.”
Sergio Camargo (hamstring) wasn’t available for selection by the Cavs. Neither was fellow midfielder Charlie Trafford (ankle) after feeling discomfort in the hours leading up to the game. Trafford was eligible to return after a two-game ban handed to him by the league for too many yellow cards on the year … Yellow cards were drawn by Forge players Bekker, Alessandro Hojabrpour and Malik Owaolabi-Belewu, while yellows for Cavalry were handed to Musse, Alarcón and Trafford … The Cavs’ Starting XI was: Carducci; defenders Alarcón, Klomp, Trafford and Karifa Yao; midfielders Elliot Simmons, Jose Escalante and Elijah Adekube; and forwards Mason, Musse and Mikael Cantave … The home-side subs were: goalie Julian Roloff; defenders Bradley Van Vliet and David Norman Jr.; midfielders Ben Fisk and Joe Di Chiara; and attackers Myer Bevan and Goteh Ntignee … The other semifinal, featuring regular-season champion Ottawa Atlético and fourth-place finisher Pacific FC, went later Saturday with Leg 1 in Langford, B.C. (5 p.m., OneSoccer, OneSoccer.ca) … The other semifinal, featuring regular-season champion Ottawa Atlético and fourth-place finisher Pacific FC, saw Ottleti score a 2-0 win later Saturday in Leg 1 in Langford, B.C. It was Ballou Tabla with a goal in the 79th minute and Zachary Verhoven with another in injury time.