Rivalries are a tricky thing in an upstart competition such as the Canadian Premier League. “Competitive” rivalries are more likely to strike than your prototypical intense, “hate-your-guts” encounters.
So it’s rare that Cavalry FC and Forge FC – sitting first and second in the Fall standings – have enjoyed both in a series set to be renewed on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET/OneSoccer) at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.
Their four hotly-contested matches defined the Spring season – two injury-time goals, a Canadian Championship tie, a late-season title-decider and a bench-clearing scuffle. So how will they shape the Fall?
Looking back, May 12 offered many hints about what was to come this CPL season; Cavalry FC and Forge FC play out classic matches, Cavs offer great celebrations and Nico Pasquotti is a real talent.
Cavalry’s patient passing broke Forge’s backline in the 22nd minute when Nik Ledgerwood’s goal, and resulting celebration, put the home side on the front foot on a wet away day at Tim Hortons Field. Forge’s Tristan Borges would answer back in an eerily similar fashion, evening the score as the rain poured.
Enter Nico Pasquotti. Late in injury time, off an in-swinging free-kick, Pasquotti thumped a winner past Quillian Roberts. Cavalry’s bench rushed to the corner in celebration, sliding along the soaked turf towards the goalscorer, kicking off a Spring session rivalry in style with an early-season classic.
Same place, similar late shenanigans, this time in the Canadian Championship.
Forge, hosting the first leg of their Qualifying Round 2 with the Cavs, struck first with an early second-half goal from Emery Welshman.
It calmed Forge nerves, although not for long, as injury time dramatics returned.
Forge goalkeeper Roberts clawed down Dominique Malonga in the box, conceding a penalty and being sent off in the process.
Malonga converted (on Forge midfielder Alexander Achinioti Jonsson, who stepped in at goal) and abruptly glared at Forge’s bench. That saw tensions bubble over with a full-time melee; players, coaches and referees were all part of a midfield tussle that set up a wicked second leg, tied 1-1.
At Spruce Meadows a week later, these early CPL foes kept the intensity going with high-flying, back-and-forth play, dangerous first-half chances and chippy defending. Kyle Bekker opened the scoring before, guess who, Malonga headed home a second equalizer in as many matches.
Cavalry eventually played out the win. Sergio Camargo’s redirect gave the side a sought-after tie with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s side spring boarded off the intense two-legged affair to achieve the biggest league feat to date: beating an MLS side and emerging as the must-beat team in the CPL.
So, by the beginning of Summer, Cavalry FC had dominated the CPL headlines. Undefeated, through to face Vancouver Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship and needing only a draw to clinch the Spring finish, Cavalry faced Forge in their final chance to win the title on home turf.
Not yet a foregone conclusion, arrows certainly pointed in Cavalry’s favour as they searched to celebrate a win in just their eighth match at Spruce Meadows.
That was until Kyle Bekker, in the fifth minute, slashed a left-footed volley past a flat-footed Marco Carducci.
It ended up being Forge’s lone shot on goal at Spruce Meadows, and the only goal of the match, ending Cavalry’s undefeated run and taking away their chance to win the Spring title at home, although they would win later in the week.
Forge earned their revenge, in a way, and brought the title race within reach. Now with the Fall title in scope, sitting two points behind Cavalry, can they do the same? We’ll see Sunday in Hamilton.