Al Classico: Cavalry find ‘different ways to win’ as Spring lead grows

As the players walked into the dressing room, and fans filed out of Spruce Meadows, FC Edmonton coach Jeff Paulus was in a nearby scrum, speaking to reporters.

As he spoke, a few Cavalry FC fans catcalled, “Who is everyone cheering for now?”

Of course, that was a response to Paulus’s pre-match comments, when he suggested all of the league would be cheering for the Eddies to beat Cavalry FC in the first regular-season edition of Al Classico. The reasoning was simple: If Cavalry won, Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s team would have 12 points after four matches, and a five-point lead in the standings.

Well, Cavalry has the 12 points, and are the only undefeated team left in the league. The Cavs got an inspired redirection from Jordan Brown, and a couple of late great stops from Marco Carducci, on their way to beating their provincial rivals 1-0 on a wet and miserable Saturday afternoon in Calgary.

The goal came right before the halftime whistle. After the Eddies defended the initial Cavalry attack, midfielder Elijah Adekugbe pounced on the ball, shot, and Brown got his left foot on the ball to change its direction. Goalkeeper Connor James had already committed to his right to stop Adekugbe’s shot, and couldn’t recover to handle the deflection that sent the ball the other way.

Paulus lamented the fact that the goal was scored in the second phase of play, after his team tried to play the ball out of the back, rather than hoof it down the field, with almost no time left in the half. His team didn’t recognize the situation — that there was no time to try and counter. It should have been safety first.

“I thought we were defending well, I thought we kept the ball in front of us — and then it was our mistake. We should have played the ball into their half in the 45th minute. That’s a young mistake we made there.”

For the Cavalry, it was the fourth one-goal victory in a row in league play.

“We find different ways to win football matches,” said Wheeldon. “It’s a 10-game spring season. So it does give us a good chance to get points on the board. And, when you play the likes of FC Edmonton, they’ve got great history as a professional club, we knew as soon as it was a one-goal game, that they were going to come back into it.

“I’d love to play champagne football all the time, but I’ll settle for a couple of beers and three points.”

Cavalry was without midfielder Jose Escalante, who hurt his ankle on the wet turf in Hamilton last week. FC Edmonton was without centre back Amer Didic and midfielder Randy Edwini-Bonsu. Six-foot-six forward Easton Ongaro, who hasn’t played yet this season but was slated to get chance in Al Classico, spoiled his chance when he broke his hand in training.

Throughout the first half, Cavalry pressed the Eddies back into their final third and launched a series of set-piece attacks that the visitors were able to repel, until the stroke of halftime, that is.

But, after Paulus injected Oumar Diouck and, later, teenager Marcus Velado-Tsegaye made his Canadian Premier League debut, the Eddies were finally able to create chances.

Goalkeeper Marco Carducci was called in to make two late sprawling saves to rob Velado-Tsegaye. The second one saw him dive to his left after the attacker’s shot somehow went through a sea of legs in the box, untouched.

“I actually saw it early and it helped me make the save,” said Carducci. “To give myself credit, I move my feet quite well… As much as you can, you want to not commit too early.”

“We pressed together as a group, and in the last 15 minutes I thought we matured,” said Velado-Tsegaye. “We knew we needed a goal, we all stepped, we pressured them to give the ball away easily, we created chances. We’ve just got to work on putting it in the back of the net.’

Diouck has come in as a second-half sub in all three of FCE’s matches so far this season. He scored in the season-opening win at Valour FC, and in matches against Pacific FC and Cavalry FC, he’s injected pace into the attack. So, why doesn’t he get a chance to start?

“Oumar Diouck is a player who deserves more minutes,” said Paulus. “He deserves to start. But we’ve got rules in this league. Six Canadians have to play, or else Oumar would be starting.”