An incredible six months now behind us, we’ve arrived at the final match of the CPL’s inaugural season. Leg 2 of the Canadian Premier League Finals goes down in Calgary on Saturday, where hosts Cavalry FC will try to overturn the 1-0 deficit they conceded to Forge FC in Hamilton last week.
Leg 1 saw the mighty Cavalry, winners of Spring and Fall campaigns, held to just three shots at Tim Hortons Field. It was a match of many theatrics, on the CPL’s greatest stage, with Cavs defender Joel Waterman and Forge leading scorer Tristan Borges both shown red cards. Borges had his suspension rescinded by Canada Soccer’s Disciplinary Committee, meaning he’ll take the pitch on Saturday, but Waterman will not.
Cavalry holds the best home record in the league, going 10-1-2 at ATCO Field at Spruce Meadows. That lone defeat, though, came at the hands of Forge, when the Hammers took a 1-0 decision back in mid-June.
The task is clear for both sides in Leg 2. For Cavalry, with no away goals to bank on, it’s a matter of winning by two goals or more; a 1-0 win for the Cavs would take us straight to penalties, while any other one-goal victory would give Forge the championship.
Forge, meanwhile, could get by with a draw or a win, as well as any one-goal defeat in which they score at Spruce Meadows. That theoretically puts the pressure on Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s Cavalry side to go for it, since they’ll need at least a couple goals if they want to complete their 2019 treble.
Cavalry will be shorthanded with the loss of Waterman, but Forge will be buoyed by the return from suspension of defenders Bertrand Owundi and Dominic Samuel. They also saw Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson back in the starting 11 last weekend, as well as a cameo appearance for Kadell Thomas, both of whom had missed significant time with injury.
Based on current forecasts, it looks like Nik Ledgerwood won’t be getting his wish of an ice-cold, snowy match; Saturday’s projected high in Calgary is about eight degrees Celsius, cloudy with a mild breeze.
Regardless of how it shakes out, the CPL will have its first champion on Saturday evening. If Leg 1 was any indication, Leg 2 should be a spectacle you won’t want to miss.
KEYS TO THE MATCH
Command the flanks: Perhaps the biggest tactical storyline to emerge from last week’s first leg was Forge’s utter dominance in the wide areas. Although Cavalry boasts some of the best wing talent in the league with Nico Pasquotti and Jose Escalante, they found themselves utterly smothered. Forge’s left side, with Kwame Awuah and Chris Nanco overlapping seamlessly, completely overwhelmed an uncharacteristically flat-footed Dominick Zator, squeezing the Cavs into the middle of the pitch. Much of Cavalry’s success this season has come from their ability to win the ball centrally and move it wide, assailing fullbacks before playing toward the box. They need to re-establish that dominance at home if they’re to return to their best.
Deploy the garrison: In a tight, two-legged final with so much on the line, every single player who sees the pitch will have a part to play. Depth will be a huge factor in Leg 2, in what’ll be a hard-fought title match at altitude. Both sides have had to lean on their depth this season, and unlikely heroes have emerged when necessary. The two managers will need to find a way to get the most out of their squads – both starters and substitutes. For Cavalry, that may mean finding a balance between Oliver Minatel (who started Leg 1) and Sergio Camargo, both of whom have a ton of talent. Either would be an incredible weapon to bring off the bench.
Stay disciplined: Hot-headedness was a major factor in last weekend’s first leg, with two red cards, five yellows, and 31 fouls shared between hostile foes. Most challenges were aggressive, if not outright reckless, with both Forge and Cavalry bringing an intensity worthy of a championship match. Still, it doesn’t serve either team to have players injured on what’ll likely be a very hard pitch, nor to have any other key contributors sent off. There’s sure to be some bite in this game, but both teams need to keep their emotions in check to avoid getting themselves into trouble (especially since the two teams are so dangerous from set-piece situations).