Imagine, for a moment, we found the Infinity Stones. One of them is, of course, the Time Stone — so we go back in time to the opening of training camps across the Canadian Premier League.
A quick trip across the country using the Space Stone and we’re in Calgary, chatting with Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr..
“Tommy,” we reveal. “Three games into the regular season, your team will have scored only one goal from open play, and that was in a second phase off a throw-in.”
Now, it would be a safe bet that Wheeldon would not like what we’ve said. So, before things get ugly, we’ll also need to follow it up with, “Oh, but don’t worry — your team will be so dominant on set pieces, that you’ll have nine points after three games and be on top of the table.”
That’s just how important set pieces have been, both for Cavalry, and across the league. After Nico Pasquotti’s last-gasp winner on Sunday in Hamilton, which came off a second ball from a free kick, four of the five Cavalry goals this seasons have come from dead-ball situations. Jose Escalante beat Valour FC with a free kick. Two goals off corners beat York9.
The truth is, there is a lot of parity in this league when it comes to four of the five phases of play — attack, attacking transition, defense and defensive transition. But how well you do in phase five — set pieces — is the biggest influence on the standings right now.
Need more evidence? There have been 11 matches played so far in the league’s short history. It’s fair to say that six of them were decided because of the fifth phase of play.
Dead-ball situations were major factors in all three Cavalry triumphs, of course, but there’s more.
- HFX Wanderers won their home opener 2-1 over Forge, and the opener from Akeem Garcia came off a free-kick rebound.
- FC Edmonton won its first game, 2-1 over Valour FC, thanks to a opener scored from the second phase after a restart, then the eventual winner from a corner kick.
- Pacific FC’s only win came thanks to a Hendrik Starostzik header off a corner.
So, six of 11 matches – just a little more than half – have been decided or at least heavily influenced by set-piece goals.
Wheeldon said after the win over Valour FC that “the parity is evident, it’s all close games” so far in the CPL. So, his team has rehearsed a variety of set pieces in order to find the “brilliance” needed to change a game. So, don’t think that these set-piece deciders are because the Calgarians are on some sort of lucky streak. Their hard work, their preparation, is showing off in the standings.
And, while they didn’t come off, in Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Pacific, FC Edmonton bombarded the opposition penalty area with long throws, hoping to hit one of the many six-foot-plus targets in the box. The fact that the Eddies kept at it all game long showed just how much value they put in the long throw.
“That’s one of the strategies we’ve worked on in practice,” said Eddies midfielder James Marcelin. “We’ve been doing more than two different ones (throw-in setups) … For the next couple of games, we’ve got to find another way to score.”
Long throws, corners and free kicks. It’s amazing how almost 90 minutes of hard work can be undone because of one missed assignment, one mistimed header, one miscommunication, on a set piece.
Or, in the case of Cavalry, launch your team into first place