MATCH ANALYSIS: Cavalry dominate stretches of home opener, but Pacific hang on for scoreless draw

Final Score: Cavalry FC 0-0 Pacific FC
Goalscorers: n/a
Game of the 2024 season: 12
CPL match: 496

Match in a minute or less

Cavalry FC dominated Pacific FC for much of Sunday’s match at ATCO Field, but a lack of clinical finishing let them down as the Tridents held them to a scoreless draw.

The Cavs had ten shots in either half of the game, but were limited to just three on target by a tenacious Tridents backline that was forced to defend for most of the 90 minutes. Lleyton Brooks forced a great save from Sean Melvin in the 67th minute with an audacious shot from distance that was going to dip into the back of the net, and Melvin denied both Brooks and Ali Musse in the final moments of the match as the Cavs pushed for a winner in their 2024 CPL home opener.

Both of Pacific’s shots on target came right at the very end of the match as well, with Cavs captain Marco Carducci making two incredible stops to deny Ayman Sellouf in the 86th minute and Reon Moore in the sixth minute of stoppage time.

With the draw, Cavalry are up to two points on the year, while Pacific now have seven through three matchdays. The Tridents are yet to concede a goal this season, the only team in the CPL with three clean sheets to start the year.

Three Observations

Cavalry dominate the scoring opportunities, but can’t find the back of the net

In their 2024 Canadian Premier League home opener, Cavalry FC leave ATCO Field having dropped two points rather than gained one, according to head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr.

The reigning CPL Shield winners were held scoreless on Sunday despite outshooting Pacific twenty to seven on the day, and playing in the Tridents’ half of the pitch for significant stretches of the match. The ball was either in Pacific’s third of the pitch or the middle third of the pitch for 79.4% of the match according to data from Stats Perform, with Cavalry often stringing together several chances in a row.

The first half was all Cavalry, with the home side outshooting their opponents ten to two. The second half wasn’t much easier for the Tridents, who managed to create a few chances toward the end of the 90, but were outshot ten to five after halftime as well.

Context is important, however, and the number of shots don’t tell the full story — Pacific battled hard to protect their goal, and didn’t allow a shot on target until a 67th minute effort from substitute Lleyton Brooks. Just three of Cavalry’s 20 total shots were on target in the end, with two of those coming in the final moments of the match.

Cavalry FC’s shot map from Sunday’s match. The bigger the circle, the higher the xG (expected goals) on that particular shot. (Data via Stats Perform)

Many of their shots on Sunday were from low-percentage areas, and Wheeldon Jr said after the match that he wants his team to be more ruthless going forward. A game against Vancouver FC coming up on Friday, just over a week after they knocked the Eagles out of the Canadian Championship, is an opportunity for the players to prove that they can be more clinical in attack.

“I think the manner in which we played the first half, coming in at nil-nil was disappointing, but we stuck to the tactics, the first 10-15 minutes we were at them again,” said Wheeldon Jr. after the match. “Maybe we ran out of steam, maybe the changes coming in weren’t what we needed at that time, but look, we played three games in a week, so you have to make them. We found a way to win on Tuesday, but if you don’t score, you don’t win games here.”

Pacific keep third clean sheet in a row despite leaving several starters at home

After keeping clean sheets in both of his two appearances to start the season, goalkeeper Emil Gazdov was kept out of Pacific FC’s squad for this third match of the year due to illness.

As a result, Sean Melvin made his first start between the sticks for his hometown CPL club after joining from Atlético Ottawa in the offseason. The Pacific backline — which was missing Georges Mukumbilwa and Paul Amedume after they started the first two games of the season — was busy in this match as Cavalry piled the pressure on the visitors, but they worked hard to limit the number of shots Melvin had to face.

In the end, Pacific allowed just three shots on target, and Melvin made a trio of important stops in the rare instances he was called upon.

“I think if you you look at the whole game, yeah we will take the point,” James Merriman said after the match. “Are we happy with the way that we played with the ball? We know we want more still, but again, it’s still early, it’s our third game. There’s moments that were good that we can take, moments that we need to be better.

“Big credit to Sean Melvin, stepping into goal, the way we built out the goal kicks, that when we needed him he was there. [Thomas Meilleur-Giguère and Aly Ndom] as well, the centre-back pairing in front of goal. We defended very well, we’ll take the positives, we have clear things that we need to improve and work on, and you take the point in this game.”

For Melvin, picking up a clean sheet in his debut for his hometown club was special, and comes after Emil Gazdov kept clean sheets in the first two matches of the season as well. Shutouts are a source of pride for any backline, and when your goalkeeping tandem can start the season with zero goals conceded in three matches, it builds confidence.

“It’s been really great so far,” Melvin said after the match about his partnership with Gazdov. “I can’t speak for him, but I’ve loved absolutely every minute of it so far all the way through preseason. Trev Stiles (Pacific FC’s goalkeeping coach) has created a great environment for all the goalkeepers and we push each other every day, and I think you can see so far from the performances that we’ve got a good group and a good, solid base.”

In addition to Gazdov, Mukumbilwa, and Amedume, Pacific were also missing Adonijah Reid, and Andrei Tîrcoveanu on Sunday after all were involved last week, but Merriman said after the game that none of them were affected by the illness that Gazdov was dealing with. The Pacific head coach said that the decision to keep them back in Langford and play with a short bench was intentional, and with an eye on the Tridents’ Canadian Championship match on Wednesday against TSS Rovers.

Sean Melvin comes off his line to grab the ball off the foot of Sergio Camargo (Photo: CFC Media Mike Sturk)

Carducci the hero late as Pacific nearly steal three points

Cavalry should have been up by at least one goal if not multiple by the final moments of Sunday’s game, but with time running out the Tridents found a surge of energy that nearly saw them leave ATCO Field with all three points. Marco Carducci had other ideas, however, making a pair of huge stops late to keep the match scoreless, and bail out the backline in front of him that had been good for most of the game.

The first of two saves he made in the latter stages of the match, which were also the only two shots on target he faced, came in the 86th minute.

Ayman Sellouf, as he did many times last season, gave Pacific a boost when he came off the bench in the 69th minute, and 17 minutes later nearly gave his side the lead with an effort from distance. The hard, low shot seemed destined for the back of the Cavalry goal, but Carducci dived to his left and fully extended his body to push the ball away from danger before collecting the rebound.

Carducci came to his side’s rescue again in the sixth minute of stoppage time, bravely coming off his line and getting low to deny a shot from Reon Moore, who ran onto a perfectly weighted through ball from Zakaria Bahous. Moore looked like Pacific’s most dangerous attacker on the day, but came away with nothing to show for it.

“It happened fast, so to be honest it’s a bit of a blur still,” Carducci said of his save on Moore. “Obviously [I’m] happy to make a big save near the end of the game, but frustrated that we’re giving up a chance like that in a game that I think we had the lion’s share of chances.

“To give that up is, especially as a goalkeeper in the defensive unit, it’s not what you want to do, but at the end of the day it’s my job to help the team make sure we don’t concede goals in in those moments. I’m just glad I was able to do it.” Player of the Match

Marco Carducci, Cavalry FC

On a day when the players in front of him couldn’t find the back of the net, Cavalry’s captain stepped up when his side needed him most, making two huge saves in the final moments of the match to keep it scoreless.

What’s next?

Pacific FC are back in action on Wednesday night, hosting League1 British Columbia side TSS Rovers in the Canadian Championship preliminary round on Wednesday night (10 pm PT/7 pm ET). Cavalry next take to the pitch on Friday (7 pm MT/6 pm PT), when they welcome Vancouver FC back to ATCO Field after beating them in the Canadian Championship last week.

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