Cavalry FC beat Forge FC 2-1 in Hamilton Sunday afternoon, thanks to a 94th minute strike by Lethbridge-born winger Nico Pasquotti.
Cavalry FC had gone ahead in the 22nd minute when captain Nik Ledgerwood, also of Lethbridge, scored his first goal of the new Canadian Premier League season. 20-year-old Tristan Borges equalized for the hosts 10 minutes later.
As the match wore on under a torrential downpour, Forge FC looked the likelier of the two to find a winner. But Pasquotti’s last-gasp effort grabbed the three points for the visitors. The victory means the Cavs are the only CPL club to still have a perfect record – three wins in three matches.
Here are three talking points from Cavalry FC win over Forge FC:
1. Tactical switch pays off for Cavalry FC
Cavalry FC began Sunday’s match versus Forge FC with the same 3-4-1-2 formation it has started with in its first two matches – with José Escalante and Dominique Malonga up top. But a second-half injury to Escalante prompted a switch to 4-2-3-1 formation.
Instead of a like-for-like, the Honduran was replaced by eventual game-winner Nico Pasquotti, who took up his natural position on the right wing. The substitution and formation change also shifted other players from their starting postions. Dean Northover went to right back from further up the pitch – the back three shifting left to make room. And Nathan Mavila moved up from left wing back to become more of an orthodox left winger – a position he seemed to enjoy. Malonga remained up top by himself, supported by the row of three attacking midfielders that included Sergio Camargo.
For some, the changes may have felt drastic born of necessity and concern. Rarely does a manager want to shift so many players out of position in a single move.
But for Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr., who has always sought players able to perform multiple roles, it was an opportunity to strengthen his midfield and defence in a tough away match in which his opposition was growing in confidence without putting any of his squad out of their comfort zone. This is probably as defensive as Wheeldon Jr. gets – which is to say not very defensive at all.
But the formation shift helped his club handle the building pressure while still having outlets for attack. Forge FC did come close to bagging a winner themselves – a great save from keeper Marco Carducci and another shot hitting the post denying the hosts. But Cavalry FC had two glorious opportunities of its own late on, ultimately capitalizing on one.
The Cavs would likely have been satisfied with an away point as the minutes ticked away. But the formation shift provided the potential for more. Of course, there’s an element of fortune with any victory earned on the last kick of the ball. But Wheeldon Jr. will probably, and quite rightly, still be rather chuffed with himself for having made the changes as he did.
2. Cavalry FC is already a contender for the spring season
For those needing reminding, the Canadian Premier League inaugural season is divided into two sections – a 10-game spring season and an 18-game fall season beginning in July. The winner of each season face one another in the CPL championship match in October.
While the league’s lopsided format has its drawbacks (there’s a risk the format may not reward the league’s best overall team, which is usually the purpose of any league), there’s no denying it has given these early matches added significance. Of course, this was the intention – to place a measure of importance on each game, without having the luxury of multiple continental places to compete for and without the threat of relegation to battle through.
For all seven clubs, whether they admit it or not, there’ll soon be a decision to make. Do you continue to push with best-eleven lineups for the remainder of the spring season, targeting the first championship berth? Or is there a point at which you take the foot off the gas pedal, giving the younger and inexperienced members of your squads more playing time, with an eye towards the 18-game fall season.
For Cavalry FC the choice is beginning to look like the former. Three wins in three matches currently places Cavalry FC atop the table and makes them a prime contender for the spring season already. Another couple positive results in the coming weeks and Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s choice will have been made for him. The Cavs will be making a sprint for the spring season.
3. That bizarre Ledgerwood goal celebration and what it says about Cavalry FC’s club culture
How could we not discuss that strange goal celebration that followed Nik Ledgerwood’s first-half opening goal?
After his strike in the 22nd minute, the Cavs’ captain ran to the sideline, turned to his teammates, stopped, mimicked pulling down his shorts, raised his arms above his head and shook his hips.
It’s not difficult to picture what we’d have seen had he actually dropped his shorts. Some teammates joined in, clearly in-the-know as to the celebration’s origins. But those watching from home were left perplexed.
Following the match, Ledgerwood provided some insight, but kept the full story to himself.
“Yeah, it’s just a little insider with the boys,” admitted Ledgerwood, speaking to Canpl.ca following the match. “We had some fun with it over the pre-season (in Punta Cana) and it was just the first thing that popped into my head. I won’t go into too much details, but, you know, it was just to have a little laugh with all the boys. That was the reason behind it.”
It’s an inside joke the rest of us may never hear.
? GOAL from @CPLCavalryFC‘s very own Nik Ledgerwood
? FOR 0 – 1 CAV ?
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) May 12, 2019
There won’t be a more professional or intense player in the Canadian Premier League than 34-year-old Nik Ledgerwood. But Lethbridge native has a mischievous streak. At a club pub event earlier in the year, my wife and I caught him sneakily blacking out the teeth on some teammates’ promotional photos with a Sharpie pen and then slipping them back into their envelopes, ready for distribution by the unwitting victims. Head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. was a gleeful accessory to the prank.
Leaders worth following often take the work seriously while not taking themselves too seriously. Cavalry FC’s captain and manager want the club to be fun and for its players to enjoy themselves, even if the rest of us are left scratching our heads at times.
But it’s easy to laugh along with a group of players who obviously get along so well. And Cavalry FC’s pre-existing club culture will be the envy of most of the managers in the CPL.
And a quick recommendation to members of the Foot Soldiers Supporters Group: The next Cavalry FC goal at home should be promptly welcomed with a quick Ledgerwood-style arms-up hip-shake celebration en masse by those sitting in ATCO Field’s section 200. Just sayin’.
Next Cavalry FC visit Pacific FC for the first leg of their first round match of the Canadian Championship Wednesday, May 15. Cavalry FC’s next CPL match is against FC Edmonton at Spruce Meadows Saturday, May 18.