On the Canadian Premier League’s top side, Dominique Malonga was the one who hadn’t yet been at his best.
Cavalry FC’s French-Congolese striker went into Saturday’s tilt with HFX Wanderers still looking for his first goal with his new club.
Jordan Brown, Cavalry’s other international attacking talisman, had played in every one of Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s first half-dozen matches … and first half-dozen wins.
It was a bit of intuition that led Wheeldon to replace Brown with his goalless striker.
“I had a feeling about him,” said Wheeldon of Malonga, who scored his first and second goals on Canadian soil in a 2-0 win over the Wanderers at Spruce Meadows.
“We knew Dom was going to come into a purple patch of scoring. When I talked to him about it, I said ‘I fancy today, Dom.'”
His two-goal performance was the first brace in league history. While not as significant as the first hat trick, no striker would complain about scoring goals.
The 30-year-old had seven shots on target during his four-game season-opening dry spell — a total good enough for top 10 in the league.
“I wasn’t that worried about not scoring,” Malonga said. “It’s about team success. As long as we’re winning, I’m OK. My mentality is that if I play well, we win the game.”
Malonga’s first CPL goal was what Wheeldon Jr. would expect from the lanky, six-foot-one striker. Leaning down, contested, Malonga glanced a header across the face of goal towards the back post. HFX goalkeeper Christian Oxner managed to only push the ball, which ended up tapping the post before going in.
The second showed his patience as a veteran striker; taking a quality cross from man of the match Nico Pasquiotti, waiting just long enough to fire a winner through a crowd of HFX defenders.
He was key to connecting play, too, making two key passes, according to Opta, on route to posting an 84% passing percentage.
“Scoring the way he did, he scored with a sharp header and a calm finish under chaos, that speaks to the person that he is,” Wheeldon said of Malonga. “He’s a class player. ”
CanPL.ca earmarked Wednesday’s Canadian Championship second leg between Cavalry FC and Pacific FC, with the Cavs already up 2-0 in the tie, as a potential confidence booster for Malonga.
Instead, thanks to a bit of intuition from his gaffer, the break was worth the wait.
“There was no pressure. I just play my game and that’s it,” Malonga said.