One of the (refreshing) hypotheses coming out of the first weekend was that maybe the rest of the league was closing a bit on Cavalry and Forge.
This weekend, maybe not.
A lot of it is fatigue, to be sure, but the big two have shown that good teams find ways to win even when they’re tired. And so far, nothing has matched the quality or intensity of that first match.
Which leaves us looking at six teams that are now really four teams chasing those final two spots.
(D 1 – 1 v. Forge; L 1 – 2 v. Cavalry)
There are a couple ways you can look at this.
First, obviously, is that Wanderers have two points from three games, which is not what it’s going to take to advance. The upcoming matches against Edmonton and York are basically must-wins.
They were coming into this thing, too, however. The other way of looking at this is Wanderers have now looked competitive against, for me, the top three teams in this tournament. I still think this tournament is mostly about 2021–and I doubt the club has seriously changed tack on that, either–but 2020 is looking a fair bit better than I thought it would. It’s been entertaining.
Part of why it’s been entertaining is that you never quite know when Jason Beaulieu is going to cost his team a goal, so you’re on tenterhooks the whole time! Wanderers have conceded five goals on PEI thus far–four of them have come pretty directly from individual mistakes1My thinking on the first Pacific goal is Beaulieu gets chipped, then doesn’t get his feet set quickly enough. On the second Pacific goal, Jake Ruby gets out-fought and plays for the foul he doesn’t get. The Forge penalty was harsh but Beaulieu doesn’t actually need to try to win that ball anyway. Mavila’s against Cavalry is self-explanatory.. Given Christian Oxner should be back soon, and three of those four involve Beaulieu in some capacity, I’d say it’s not too much to worry about. Wanderers aren’t conceding goals off team-wide breakdowns, and their system, if a bit defensive, has kept them in games.
The Cavalry game is instructive. I always like Tommy Wheeldon Jr. interviews because he is 100% candid, including with his own ego–he will absolutely tell you about it when his team is playing well. That he was particularly subdued on Sunday night, particularly at half-time, says a lot. Wanderers surprised Cavalry a bit. Fair play to Cavalry for getting the win anyway–more on that below–but without the catastrophic mistake on Mavila’s goal, it could easily have been a draw, and Wanderers would have come out of their difficult start undefeated.
How far they go from here is going to come down to how ruthless this newly-built team can be. Players that don’t know each other sometimes make more mistakes, and Wanderers now have to shift from playing underdog to maximizing points against the teams competing with them for those last two playoff spots.
Time to join the big-time. If they can keep their focus–that’s a big if–they can absolutely go through.
Up next: v. Edmonton on Aug. 26, v. York on Aug. 29)
(W 4 – 0 v. Ottawa; D 0 – 0 v. York)
The opener against Cavalry was the kind of game where any points would have been a bonus, and Valour still managed to look terrible, failing to generate a shot on target, or any danger at all.
The second game against Ottawa was the one where they’d expect to win, and they looked even better than expected! Then again, it was Ottawa and seven of Valour’s eleven shots came after Ottawa’s Milovan Kapor was sent off.
Against York… Valour were almost exactly what we’d expect, which is to say they were better defensively, though still prone to coughing up better-quality chances than you’d hope, especially late (they gave up 0.6xG against York, which is high for a drab 0 – 0). They also have absolutely no idea how to score beyond lobbying for penalties.
The point from York is good and the rout over Ottawa keeps them in it. They’ve got Cavalry out of the way. There were flashes in that Ottawa game of how they might score against a better team–Gale got Aird and Levis on their stronger sides, they found smart runs from Shaan Hundal–but the build-up is still way too slow and predictable to really threaten a team like Edmonton or Pacific, both of which they’re going to need points against in the next 10 days.
Up next: v. Pacific on Aug. 25; v. Edmonton on Aug. 29.
(D 1 – 1 v. Pacific; D 0 – 0 v. Valour)
These draws are now a problem for York. They’re probably remain just in contention, but they’ve now dropped four points to Ottleti and Valour–both teams that playoff teams should probably take 4 – 6 points from. They haven’t played either Cavalry or Forge, and are going to have to bank on at least one of those teams going full rotation (and, unfortunately, they play Forge, the team more likely to do that, next, before Forge have fully secured a spot in the second round).
Points are good, but if you don’t win, it gets grim.
I’m not totally shocked this team hasn’t clicked yet, and it may not in 2020. I think a lot of it is down to injuries and absences and, partly because of that, they haven’t solved last year’s problem where they build-up can look gorgeous but the final ball and finish were almost completely absent. There are just too many midfielders on this team.
There have been little flashes. Alvaro Rivero bounced back from a rough opening weekend to show some of his smarts in making a nifty run to score against Pacific. Max Ferrari continues to impress, and the midfield can control games even without Chris Mannella and (mostly) Mike Petrasso. Ryan Telfer looks threatening again.
There’s still nothing to tie it together, though, and Gabby Vasconcelos is still nailed to the bench.
It’s tough–I don’t think this team is that bad, or that far away, but we’re very prone to hyping teams up in CanPL and that tends to set fans up for disappointment. York are, at this point, the first team (save Ottawa) for which the rest of these games really are about 2021, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The pieces are there, the cohesion, in this weird season, is not.
Up next: v. Forge on Aug. 26, v. Wanderers on Aug. 29
(D 1 – 1 v. York; L 1 – 2 v. Forge)
Just go up and read the Wanderers section.
Mistakes are just killing this team, too. Without late gaffes against Wanderers and now Forge, they’d be the new focus of all the hype (just like they were at the beginning of 2019! that went well!).
On the one hand, you can kind of overlook the kinds of individual errors that have been sinking Pacific. They’ll happen. Sometimes, your goalkeeper passes it to the other team. Sometimes, he does this twice. But it’s nothing systemic.
On the other hand, it’s the same kind of mistakes this team made way too often last year, in the same spots, and there are way too many of them.
Nolan Wirth probably saves as many sure goals as he coughed up–that’s kind of the deal with him–but given Callum Irvin has a résumé, maybe give him a shot at winning the job? Jamar Dixon’s done the job at d-mid, but is maybe needed in centre of defense too? Is #10 maybe a bit of a problem, all of a sudden, given Noah Verhoeven doesn’t seem to be playing much? Is Alejandro Diaz going to look like he can score sometime soon?
These are all questions you can ask of a good team, and Pacific look a good team under Pa-Modou Kah, playing flowing soccer that suits the talent out there. I’m just not sure what the answers to any of those aforementioned questions are, so while they look quite pretty on six points, I’m not quite sold on the purple team yet.
Up next: v. Valour on Aug. 25, v. Cavalry on Aug. 30
(D 1 – 1 v. Wanderers; W 2 – 1 v. Pacific)
Good teams find a way, but man have Forge not looked great in this tournament thus far.
It actually started in the opener. There was lots of Cavalry-esque intensity and very little of Forge’s trademark cutting possession, and they were downright awful for the first 15 minutes. I mostly put this down to rust and they have indeed looked a bit more like themselves this week, but had they not found a very late winner against Pacific this recap would have looked very different coming off a 1 – 1 draw with Wanderers.
In both games, Forge created quality chances, then found spectacular ways to miss them. That’s actually an improvement on their first weekend where they didn’t create the quality chances, either. There is very much a “playing their way into this tournament” thing about Forge.
Paolo Sabak is not Tristan Borges. He moves well and passes well, but he doesn’t have the finish. It was that movement, along with Mo Babouli’s, that created the winner against Pacific. That’s what Forge do. But I think it’s fair, at this point, to say that Choiniere, Nanco, Cissé, and Zajac have not responded to Bobby’s pushing them. All have had occasional sparks, and Choiniere had some nice connection with Gabriel Balbinotti, but it took Anthony Novak coming on to really open space against Pacific.
I’d not be shocked to see changes in 2021. For now, they’ll make the second round easily, but I wonder a bit beyond that.
Up next: v. York on Aug. 26, v. Ottawa on Aug. 30
(L 0 – 2 v. Cavalry; D 2 – 2 v. Ottawa)
Another 2 – 2! They’d gone out of fashion there for a bit.
The Eddies got absolutely dismantled by an expansion team for 87 minutes on Sunday, and that’s not good, but it is worth noting the team had found out minutes before the game that the club’s first captain and Edmonton soccer institution Chris Kooy had died of colon cancer.
Stuff like that has an effect on the way we play. This is an emotional game, and nobody need apologize for that. I can understand why the Eddies came out low, and I can totally understand why they staged one of the best fight backs in CanPL history.
That doesn’t change the fact that fight has been almost completely missing thus far in CanPL. Whether it’s a talent thing or a mentality thing or both I don’t quite know. It’s got to be a concern. They have had a tough opening schedule, but they also haven’t been at the races for all but seven minutes in this tournament.
Except for Connor James, who remains the best goalkeeper in CanPL.
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) August 21, 2020
I don’t know where things go from here for the Eddies. Six or seven points against Valour, York, and Wanderers might put them in the top four. And it wouldn’t be beyond possibility for this team to get inspired by Kooy and go on a run. The club’s done it before, and nobody will ever say the Eddies don’t work hard. Kooy embodied that and so has ever player to come after him.
Tactically, though? Jeff Paulus finally moved Keven Aleman inside, which is probably a good move but Aleman’s a creator (and maybe not even as much that as a good two-way player, at this point). He also disappeared Erik Zetterberg at half-time against Ottleti, and the Swede has been nowhere near good enough yet. They need more of the running Hanson Boakai provided off the bench, which caused Ottleti problems, albeit some of those problems were of the “not really defending variety”. It can’t all come down to one guy in attack for Edmonton, whether that guy is Boakai or Easton Ongaro.
Up next: v. Wanderers on Aug. 26; v. Valour on Aug. 29
(L 0 – 4 v. Valour; D 2- 2- v. Edmonton)
Expansion team is expansion team.
— The Merchant Sailor (@merchant_sailor) August 23, 2020
There have actually been all kinds of things to like for this team. Even against Valour, they actually more than hung with them for 60 minutes, but the nature of a Canadian expansion team is that Milovan Kapor is your most important player, and yeah….
Now, really. Their most important player is obviously Francisco Javier Acuna. He is, without a doubt, the best player to ever play in CanPL, and if he was doing this on a team that hadn’t been assembled from lost luggage on an Air Canada flight, he’d be even better. A lot of Ottlet’s fortunes for the first couple real seasons are going to be tied up in how long the 32-year-old can keep this up.
They’ve started experimenting a bit more, too, after the first couple games, which I like. Ben McKendry went off injured against Edmonton but was tremendous for the first 30 minutes playing as the accounts man beside Acuna’s free-form art show. In that span he won three tackles, lost only one, recovered the ball twice, and did a tonne of off-the-ball work to open space and draw defenders. He’s not a young player at 27, but he is the kind of piece that can stick around for a while in Ottawa.
The back-line, however, is going to need work. It’s way too rash and way too undisciplined. Brand new teams tend to have a lot of turnover, and it’s hard not to think, after three games, that Malyk Hamilton might be looking for a fifth club in five years in 2021. Both Edmonton goals are largely on him and Ajay Khabra. Up 2 – 0, the shape and structure has to be tighter, especially through the middle.
Some of the shape issues can be solved with time and familiarity, but a centre-back who can organize would also be a big help.
On four points, they’re not necessarily out, but I doubt any team will be sleeping on Ottleti now and they’ve got two very difficult defensive tasks coming up. Gulp.
Up next: v. Cavalry on Aug. 27, v. Pacific on Aug. 30
(W 2 – 0 v. Edmonton; W 2 – 1 v. Wanderers)
Another Alberta win for Cavalry, this time on Prince Edward Island. They made that one look easy. Against Wanderers, they needed a lot more guile and determination, in large part because they’re very much walking (riding?) wounded, without Jair Cordova and Sergio Camargo, who both carry the creative load for this team.
In both games this week, rather than outright dictate the game, Cavalry waited for a mistake. In both games, they got one fairly early, and once they led, there was no way back. They sat in a fairly deep back three, kept the ball out of the danger areas for the most part, and managed the match.
It’s smart to play this way in CanPL and it’s sometimes essential to play this way when you have a lot of injuries. This is the same old CanPL: way too many games way too quickly, even if it’s Covid enforced this time. As we saw in 2019, Cavalry are built for that kind of competition, not least because teams in this league tend to make mistakes. The technical level is not that high. When that happens, Cavalry win.
Up next: v. Ottawa on Aug. 27, v. Pacific on Aug. 30
Encouragement of the Week
It can be tough to play your first ever professional game. But soccer, especially Canadian soccer, is, in general, a pretty supportive community. Veteran players look out for younger players.
So when Gabriel Balbinotti, having just missed a good chance, gets called for a tough foul just as Forge were hanging onto a 1 – 0 lead against Pacific, veteran defender Lukas MacNaughton understood what it felt like. As referee Matt Souaré is giving Balbinotti a proper lecture, MacNaughton spares a moment for a pat on the back.
Twenty seconds later, off the free kick Pacific haves the ball in the back of Forge’s net, because that’s football.
Balbinotti had, of course, absolutely been giving it to MacNaughton both physically and verbally for the past three and a half minutes, and that’s football too. You love to see a young striker learning his trade with some good mentorship.
What I’m Watching Next Week
This is a big week for Wanderers, and they’ve also played some of the more watchable, energetic soccer thus far, so if you’re not a Wanderers fan but want a game to watch as a neutral, I’d guess the York outing will be a good one. Those games tended to deliver last year, with York’s midfield causing problems for Wanderers, but this is a very different Wanderers team.
It’s actually more interesting for York. Like Wanderers, they also have a pile of draws, and only one more point. But they’ve played Ottawa, Pacific, and Valour–the exact teams you need points against if you want to make the second round. York will also be coming off a derby match against Forge on Wednesday (that one could also be a lot of fun) and the Wanderers match Saturday will be the last chance for York (and possibly Wanderers if they drop points against Edmonton).
There could be quite a lot of pressure on Jim Brennan this week.