MATCH ANALYSIS: Cavalry FC go down swinging in Concacaf Champions Cup tie against Orlando City SC

Final Score: Orlando City SC 3-1 Cavalry FC (6-1 agg.)
Goalscorers: Lodeiro 48′, Enrique 71′, Smith 88′; Bevan 65′
2024 Concacaf Champions Cup
Round 1 – Leg 2

Match in a minute or less

Cavalry FC’s run in the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup came to an end on Tuesday night, but not before they delivered a thrilling second-half performance, and a historic first continental goal in club history.

A breathtaking second half delivered all four goals in Tuesday’s match, with new Orlando signing Nico Lodeiro opening the scoring just three minutes after the break. Cavalry, however, replied impressively as Myer Bevan redirected a low William Akio cross into the net for the club’s first goal in this competition. With Cavalry aggressively pushing for further goals, however, Orlando were able to make them pay on the counterattack and Ramiro Enrique scored a brilliant effort in the 71st minute, before Kyle Smith added a third for Orlando in the 88th.

Orlando City SC, meanwhile, advance for the first time in their club’s history in the Concacaf Champions Cup, and will now take on Tigres, who they will host in the first leg on March 5.

Three Observations

Despite elimination, Cavalry FC praise ‘addicting’ Concacaf Champions Cup experience 

No matter how the results, or performances panned out, Cavalry FC knew they were making important club history just by stepping onto the pitch in continental competition for the first time.

Tuesday’s second leg was the culmination of months of tireless off-season preparation, video and training sessions, scrimmages and friendly matches in the cold weather of Alberta — all before taking on one of the best teams in Major League Soccer. In the end, that experience itself will come with a myriad of valuable lessons for the team and its players, and a motivation to push themselves and the club to even bigger heights.

“I think we’ve become addicted to it, I think the level of competition, and the quality is something we want to experience year in and year out,” said Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. “We are rookies when it comes down to this level… but what we wanted to do is show that we could live in moments with a great side like Orlando.”

For many of Cavalry’s players, especially those who are younger, this was a firsthand experience in what the next level looks like in terms of the pace, intensity and technical quality of the game. Just as they set out to prove, in moments throughout the 180 minutes between the two sides, Cavalry demonstrated they could hang at that level.

“They created a lot of difficulties for us, and I thought the way they battled the game and complicated things for us was remarkable,” said Orlando SC head coach Óscar Pareja of Tuesday’s second leg. “Not an easy task after the result that we got in Canada.”

In the end, however, the quality and sharpness of Orlando City SC won out. They were more decisive in their counterattacking moments, more connected all over the pitch and more ruthless when opportunities presented themselves in front of goal. But still, the 6-1 scoreline on aggregate doesn’t tell the whole tale of the fight that Cavalry showed.

“Really enjoyed the series, and it’s all about those fine margins,” said Wheeldon Jr. “Orlando had it over us, there is no shame in admitting it. But we’ll be back.”

Cavalry take the brakes off during brave second half performance

After holding Orlando to a scoreless draw at half-time with a more defensive setup which included a back five and a number of players behind the ball, Tommy Wheeldon Jr. elected to throw caution to the wind for his club’s final 45 minutes in the competition.

Cavalry began the second half with a pair of substitutions, bringing on attackers Tobias Warschewski and Ali Musse in exchange for defensive midfielder Shamit Shome, and central defender Callum Montgomery.

The visitor’s cagey first half was replaced by free-flowing attacking football more recognizable to what Cavalry became known for last season on their road to claiming the Canadian Premier League’s regular season title.

“We had a choice in the second half, strategically we wanted to frustrate them in the first half with an extra defender and oftentimes and in a back five, and then second half we want to unleash with more attackers, and have a go,” said Wheeldon Jr., adding “In moments, we had them on their heels, and even talking to Óscar Pareja there, he commented on how we tactically changed to give them a bit of a problem.”

The new approach left them vulnerable at the back at times, as they conceded almost immediately after the half on a brilliant strike off the post and in from Orlando’s Nico Lodeiro that left Cavalry goalkeeper Marco Carducci with absolutely no chance. But Cavalry also did a good job of pressing quickly when they lost the ball, which kept Orlando pinned in their own half for large parts of the second 45.

Cavalry’s bravery paid off in the 65th minute when Myer Bevan finally got their first goal of the competition as William Akio beat his man one-on-one down the line and fired a low cross across goal that the New Zealander tapped past the keeper.

As the half wore on, Wheeldon Jr. kept introducing offensive options, including Cavalry debuts for attacking midfielder Lucas Dias, and Australian winger Lleyton Brooks. The aggressive approach resulted in eight shot attempts and 54 per cent of the possession.

Ultimately, Orlando added two more goals on the counter-attack, and put the tie well and truly to bed, but Cavalry deserve credit for choosing to go after the game in the second half.

Bevan’s goal a moment worth savouring for Cavalry FC 

In the 64th minute of Tuesday’s match, Cavalry FC finally got their signature continental moment.

Myer Bevan, who had tirelessly led the line the entire night, beat his defender to a low William Akio cross and made Cavalry FC history with their first goal in the Concacaf Champions Cup. The moment was a deserved reward for a brave second-half effort from the Cavs, but also for all the hard work and preparation they had put in over the past few months.

“It’s a special moment for Myer, he and his partner just welcomed home their second child just prior to this,” said Wheeldon Jr. People are watching back in New Zealand, people are watching back in Canada, and we’ve now scored our first Concacaf Champions Cup goal. Next time we come back we want to get our first victory.”

It was a special moment, but also an important one too. Coming out of this competition with a moment like that will only serve to increase the club’s confidence — and the belief that should they return to this level more special moments could well be on their way.

If the club can build on this experience, Bevan’s goal could well just be the beginning for Cavalry Football Club in the Concacaf Champions Cup. Player of the Match

Ramiro Enrique, Orlando City SC

The 22-year-old Argentina attacker could have had several goals on the night as his clever attacking movement and work rate caused Cavalry issues throughout the 90 minutes. Instead, he settled for one golazo on five shots, three of which were on target.

What’s next?

Cavalry FC now turn their attention to the 2024 Canadian Premier League season, where the club will look to defend their CPL Shield title as regular season winners. Cavalry open the season on Saturday, April 13 against Forge FC in a rematch of the 2023 CPL Final at Tim Hortons Field (4:00 p.m. ET / 2:00 p.m. MT).