Forge FC versus Cavalry FC isn’t the only rite of fall in the Canadian Premier League.
Bad luck befalling the Calgary professional footie crew in the playoffs is up there, too.
And it happened right on cue Saturday in the CPL’s 1-v-2 post-season matinee — a frustrating 2-1 loss to visiting Forge in front of 4,385 fans at ATCO Field.
“They were sullen,” said Cavalry GM/head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. of his charges after yet another tough break cost them a playoff game. “They were a little bit just looking at it and going, ‘What got away from us today?’”
The game, for one, after a first-half corner kick for Forge turned into an own-goal by Cavalry.
A bye straight to the final was lost, as well, with the decision.
And host status for the CPL’s championship match later in the month also fell from their clutches.
Not exactly what the home side envisioned from the ’seeding’ game at Spruce Meadows, with that 29th-minute goal — credited to Forge’s Alessandro Hojabrpour but seemingly in off Cavs midfielder Jesse Daley’s back — doing most of the damage.
“The lads hated that first goal,” Wheeldon said. “That’s the one that changed the game.
“We’re just disappointed in the manner of the first goal, especially after we’ve had the breakaway with (Ali) Mussi and a couple of chances and that we started really well,” the gaffer continued. “But momentum in playoff games … that’s what it’s all about.”
Indeed, the momentum shifted fast with the opening strike — a rough one that was set up when Cavs midfielder Shamit Shome lost his footing trying to control the ball coming back toward his end-line and was forced just to knock it long and out or risk putting Forge on a breakaway. It meant a corner kick for the visiting side, which was knocked in tight, where Cavs goalkeeper Marco Carducci punched the ball away. But it immediately hit the back of Daley and ricocheted into the net.
A surprise, to be sure.
“The first goal is definitely something that can’t happen to us, especially the way we’ve been playing the last few months,” said Cavalry star defender Daan Klomp. “Especially the way the set-play happened, it’s frustrating. Shamit Shome got clipped on the heels, and there’s no foul.
“Of course, we’ve got to handle the situation better.”
Trouble is, the Cavs didn’t really shake off the shock of the goal, which didn’t help their situation.
“And then you have Kyle Bekker’s quality with that second (Forge) goal,” said Wheeldon of a 50th-minute strike crushed with authority from the middle of the box that Carducci had no chance of stopping. “That second goal gives you insurance, and usually these are one-goal games (with Forge).”
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“I think we dominated the game up until the first goal, and it took us too long to react to get back to ourselves again after the goal,” explained Klomp. “We started pretty good, and then had one moment (against us). And then in the second half, we created enough chances to get back into it.”
The best came when a ball fell to dynamic midfielder Sergio Camargo, who rocketed a shot off the crossbar that stayed out.
That 70th-minute opportunity came not long after Musse banged a free kick from outside the penalty area just wide of the net.
Joe Mason, coming on as a late-game substitute, finally found the mark in the 80th minute for the Cavs, with a great header off one of Musse’s many corner kicks.
“It lifted hope for all the fans in the stadium,” Klomp said. “It’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t get the equalizer in the last five, 10 minutes.”
“We’ve come back and had a right-go,” agreed Wheeldon. “If Sergio’s is an inch or two the other way, it’s in, right? If Ali Musse’s (shot) is an inch or two, it’s in. Same with if Marco punches that ball away. It’s a game of fine margins.”
But fortunately for Wheeldon & Co., it wasn’t an elimination game.
Because of their 16W-7D-5L success over the 2023 28-game schedule to give them the regular-season championship, they earned two chances to make the playoff finale — and now need the second one after the 1-v-2 drop.
That comes next week with a host of Pacific FC in the CPL semifinal at ATCO Field (2 p.m., OneSoccer, OneSoccer.ca), with the winner moving on to play reigning champ Forge — which, with the 1-v-2 win, earns host status in Hamilton — a week later in the title tilt.
“Would we want to host the championship game?” Wheeldon said. “Absolutely … that was our goal. We didn’t get it. So we have to recalibrate, and we have to adapt and overcome the scenario that’s ahead of us.
“But the response by our lads was exceptional. We have to do that again if we want to still complete our mission of winning the ‘double’.”
They know they’re not dead yet in their quest for that double — claiming the playoff title after winning the regular-season crown.
“Definitely not,” added Klomp. “We just have to trust our system. We’ve been doing that, especially heading into the playoffs — we only lost two in 18 games. I think we should be confident. Maybe it was a bad day at the office, but — of course — it’s frustrating to lose in front of our fans. But we can’t throw our system out the window, all of a sudden. I think we just have to stick to our principles.”
Pacific earned its spot in the semifinal with a 1-0 win over host HFX Wanderers FC in Saturday’s 3-v-4 match in Halifax … The Cavs’ Starting XI was: goalie Carducci; defenders Klomp, Eryk Kobza and Bradley Kamdem Fewo; midfielders Daley, Camargo, Shome, Charlie Trafford; and attackers Musse, Myer Bevan and William Akio … The club’s subs were: goalie Joe Holliday; defenders Callum Montgomery; midfielders Ben Fisk, Fraser Aird and Mael Henry; and forwards Mason and Gareth Smith-Doyle … Cavalry scratches were: goalie Sterling Kerr; defenders Tom Field, Michael Harms, Udoka Chima and Roberto Alarcón; midfielders Tate Asante and Niko Myroniuk; and forward Ethan Beckford.