The Impact have the early jump, but there’s everything to play for in leg two.
Cavarly FC grabbed a crucial away goal in the 2-1 loss to the heavily favoured Montreal Impact Aug. 7 at Saputo Field setting up a thrilling second leg at Spruce Meadows on Aug. 14 in the Canadian Championship semifinal.
“I don’t think we were as good as we wanted to be first-half and that’s shown with the goal we’ve given away,” said Cavalry head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. “Even when the second goal went in I looked around and didn’t have to rally the boys because we knew if we took one goal it’s a whole different ball game in the second leg.
“We knew this was a big pitch, a quick pitch, it was like playing on ice there for our boys. Come to Spruce Meadows it’s a different circumstance, our fans are phenomenal and on top of it and it’s a slower pitch and a tough one to play on.”
Due to the away goal counting as the tiebreaker, the Cavalry would advance through to the next round with a 1-0 result in the second leg.
The Cavalry nearly caught the Impact sleeping to start the tie when dynamic winger Nico Pasquotti got behind the Montreal defence and hammered a cross into the box for captain Nik Ledgerwood to volley just wide in the opening minute.
“I think we start the game fantastic and probably should go up within the first 30 seconds,” said Cavs centre-back Mason Trafford. “That could have been a different game. I think we put some early pressure on them and like any game, they’re at home, they’re going to get the ball and start to move it around.”
From there, the Impact gradually took over with a ton of possession and a high press forcing the Cavalry defence into some uncharacteristic turnovers.
Impact captain Piatti broke the goalless deadlock in the 31st minute, taking advantage of a Cavalry turnover before meandering his way into the box, deking out a defender and hammering a shot past Marco Carducci.
Pitch conditions at Stade Saputo in Montreal took some getting used to for the visitors and the reverse should be true for the Impact at Spruce Meadows.
“It’s a bit of different sport playing on a field like this,” said Cavalry centre-back Mason Trafford post-match. “This doesn’t really exist in the CPL. It’s a big, perfectly manicured grass pitch. It’s fast and it took us a bit to get used to that, especially against a good side like Montreal with quality players.”
Montreal stormed out of the gates in the second half and within three minutes of the restart had doubled its lead through the Argentine Piatti who deposited a picture perfect low-cross from Impact right back Bacary Sagna, a legendary figure in the sport as both a France international and Arsenal FC and Manchester City player.
The Cavalry got back in the tie on the counter midway through the second-half.
Substitute Dominique Malonga came on for Jordan Brown in attack and played a focal part in the tally, taking the ball down the left wing and feathering a through ball to a wide-open Sergio Camargo at the top of the box.
The attacking midfielder took over from there, striking a calm finish past Montreal’s James Pantemis in the 68th minute.
“We were looking at freshness when Dom Malonga came on,” Wheeldon Jr. said. “We couldn’t get in behind which is what we wanted to do, like we did against Vancouver, so we had to look at linking up. The tactical change by bringing Dom in, he holds the ball up and puts a great ball into Sergio for the goal.
“That shows the quality of player that he is.”
The Cavs were dealt a late blow shortly after the goal when Ledgerwood was handed his second yellow of the game for a late tackle on fellow Canadian international Samuel Piette in the 71st minute.
“I felt he slipped, which led to that tackle,” Wheeldon Jr. added. “In fairness, I thought what that forced us to do was be more compact and then force the ball wide and try and deal with the crosses.
“The pleasing thing now is we’re walking away here and we’re still in the fight.”
Down but not out, the visitors left Montreal down just one goal despite the Impact owning 63 per cent possession and a 19-6 edge in shots.
Ledgerwood’s red will force him out of action for the return leg at ATCO Field. Fortunately for the Cavs, there are several other options in a deep midfield including the likes of vice-captain Elijah Adekugbe and the experienced duo of Oliver Minatel and Mauro Eustaquio.
In the other Canadian Championship semifinal, the three time defending champion Toronto FC blanked the Ottawa Fury 2-0 in our nation’s capital.
The second leg of the Canadian Championship goes Aug. 14 at 7:30 p.m. at Spruce Meadows’ ATCO Field.
Cavalry FC got past Canadian Premier League rivals Pacific FC and Forge FC before knocking off the MLS' Vancouver Whitecaps to reach the fourth round of the Canadian Championship.
For more information go to cavalryfc.canpl.ca