Cavalry FC’s 2021 season has ended, after their 2-1 loss in extra time in Saturday afternoon’s CPL semi-final matchup with Pacific FC.
The Cavs, led by coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr., had a strong season — as they did in each of their prior two years in the CPL — having finished level on points with first-place Forge FC after a grueling 28-game regular season.
However, they didn’t quite manage to jump the final hurdle, unable to find that extra-time goal despite out-possessing and out-shooting their opponent throughout the 120-minute affair.
Regardless, the Cavs’ season is over, much to their dismay. The process of analysis will now begin, as Wheeldon sifts through his roster to decide how best to approach the 2022 season. However, on the doorstep of Cavalry’s disappointment, it’s a good time to take stock quickly of the immediate reasons that might’ve contributed to their downfall.
Here are three things that contributed to Cavalry FC’s early exit.
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Inefficient attack despite talent sink Cavalry
Cavalry FC came into the 2021 season with a strong cast of attacking players — starting with Joe Mason, but carrying on to the likes of Anthony Novak, Jose Hernandez, and several others. After two years where they sat comfortably among the CPL’s top sides, especially considering their dominant regular season in 2019, the Cavs have been entrenched among the CPL’s elite since the beginning.
On Saturday, their individual talent showed itself; Mo Farsi had two shots, as did Mason. The Cavs were able to work the ball out of the back, but Pacific did a good job of stifling them at the front and preventing the most dangerous attacking options.
In the 2021 season, Cavalry have actually had an issue with chance conversion; they’ve always been one of the most overwhelming attacking teams in the CPL, but they haven’t quite turned that into goals on a consistent basis.
Cavalry have been through some strangely dry stretches this year; in October, they played six matches, with a combined score across them all of 7-7. They didn’t lose much ground in the standings in that stretch — although the 4-2 home loss to Valour on October 30 hurt their chances of claiming the top seed — but nonetheless they dropped some points at home with two draws and didn’t quite score as many goals as they would’ve wanted.
Ultimately, the Cavs this season were a team who could control the ball and put it forward, but weren’t always the most efficient in the attacking third; Mason, a talented striker, scored some spectacular goals, as did some of his teammates, but the club as a whole would probably want to have generated more and finished them.
Key injuries make life more difficult
Cavalry were, for the most part, the healthier team of the two in this semi-final. Certainly, they weren’t missing a talisman the calibre of Marco Bustos, and they actually had a couple faces (like Oliver Minatel and Ali Musse) return to the matchday squad after missing significant time during the regular season.
Where injuries caused problems for the Cavs, though, was earlier in the campaign. Musse spent much of the year hurt after a few excellent performances at the start of the year, as did Ahinga Selemani. Even Tom Field, who came on late in the match against Pacific, could’ve been a very important player for the Cavs considering their strong fullback play, but he dealt with injury issues after several strong outings for the club.
At the end of the day, injuries are certainly not the reason Cavalry fell short at the end (and every CPL team dealt with many, many of them moreso than Cavalry), but they certainly had players on the sidelines who might have made a difference. Plus, above all, many of their healthy players might have had more opportunity to find their place in the tactical setup had they not missed key parts of the season due to injury.
Cavs dominate physicality, but don’t convert to goals
A key part of the Cavs’ game since day one has been their ability to make life difficult for opponents. Across the league, there’s been a feeling that the Cavs were a hard team to play against — in large part because of their ability to dominate games physically.
In this semi-final, they were once again the most dominant team when it came to one-on-one physical battles; players like David Norman Jr. and Karifa Yao in particular made a huge impact off the ball by stepping into the Pacific players with the ball.
From those situations, though, Cavalry wasn’t able to turn their physical dominance into scoreboard success. On several occasions they would win the ball with a physical battle and put the ball forward before playing too direct and giving the ball away.
It’s always been a hallmark of this team, and not one they should change, but it all comes down to Cavalry’s efficiency with the ball. Although they dominated Pacific physically at points of the semi-final, they never quite turned that dominance into scoring opportunities.
Of course, Cavalry came achingly close to winning that semi-final, and had they done so, the concerns could have been shelved. Nonetheless, it’s Pacific who march forward, with Cavalry — arguably the second-most dominant team since the CPL’s inception — left to ponder why they have missed out once again.