By Dan Clubbe.
After a long 295-day wait for Canadian Premier League action, fans finally saw the 2020 season get underway on Friday with a repeat of the 2019 final between Forge FC and Cavalry FC.
The old saying ‘good things come to those who wait’ hasn’t let down the fans expecting entertaining football as attackers have reigned supreme across all of the opening fixtures of the Island Games, despite the notable absence of some key international players due to travel restrictions.
With all Canadian Premier League teams now back underway, here’s how all the opening round of Island Games fixtures went down.
Forge FC 2-2 Cavalry FC
With the University of Prince Edward Island ground adorned in support of Black Lives Matter, the 2019 final rematch got top-flight Canadian action underway once more and in some style.
It took little over 11 minutes to see the first goal as last season’s runners-up went ahead through Dominick Zator who headed home from a corner. That lead didn’t last long as Anthony Novak acrobatically equalised after the ball seemed to hang in the Cavalry penalty area, the striker went up with it to volley home over his head.
With the game now level, both teams exchanged chances before half-time, Forge captain Kyle Bekker came closest as his effort cannoned off the bar just after the break. With 20 minutes remaining, Bekker popped up again, this time in the six-yard box where he made no mistake to put his team in front. This goal brought about the introduction of new Cavs’ signing and former Crewe Alexandra striker Marcus Haber, who almost made an instant impact with a powerful header.
But it was deep in stoppage time when the Calgary club got their opportunity to draw level, Mohammed Farsi’s shot from the edge of the area was judged to have been blocked by Dominic Samuel’s arm, controversially as replays showed it may have struck his ribs. Englishman Nathan Mabi-Mavila stepped up and fired his spot-kick straight down the middle to make the score 2-2 with only seconds remaining. An entertaining if somewhat controversial start to the 2020 action, four goals, five yellow cards, plenty of chances, and a questionable penalty, Canadian Football you have been missed.
York9 2-2 Atletico Ottawa
Next on Saturday, it was expansion side Atletico Ottawa’s turn to play its inaugural match under extraordinary circumstances. The La Liga giants Atletico Madrid’s owned club, Ottawa, who are managed by former Spain international Mista, opened the scoring in this match and, therefore, notched their first-ever competitive goal despite the best chances falling to York9 — former HFX Wanderer Mohamed Kourouma with the opener on the brink of half-time.
Shortly after the break, Atletico doubled their advantage as Francisco Acuna got to the byline to pull back for an easy tap in for striker Malcolm Isaiah Shaw. Two-nil down and seemingly out of it, York9 were gifted a route back into the match when former West Ham United full-back Vashon Neufville bundled, picked up his second yellow card and was dismissed.
With their numerical advantage, the Nine Stripes took control and halved the deficit through teenage sensation Lowell Wright, the 16-year-old unsurprisingly became the youngest goalscorer in the Canadian Premier League’s short history. The Ottawa club wasn’t finished handing out gifts yet, though, as Jarred Phillips brought down Joseph Di Chiara for an obvious penalty. The 28-year-old midfielder picked himself up to successfully take the penalty to level the score at 2-2.
Full-Time | Fin Du Match, History Made 📚
— Atlético Ottawa (@atletiOttawa) August 15, 2020
Despite late dominance from the Ontario based club, they couldn’t find a winner as Ottawa clung on for their first point in their history.
HFX Wanderers 2-2 Pacific FC
Halifax Wanderers had two penalty-taking debutants in João Morelli and Ibrahima Sanoh to thank as they and Pacific FC made it three consecutive 2-2 draws at the start of the Island Games. Pacific goalkeeper Nolan Wirth’s poor first touch allowed HFX to press before Wirth duly brought down Cory Bent for the first penalty. Brazilian Morelli coolly slotted his penalty into the corner as Wirth tried to appease for his mistake.
— CanPL (@CPLsoccer) August 15, 2020
The lead last over an hour before 21-year-old midfielder Zach Verhoven levelled in the 68th minute with a smart finish. This goal gave Pacific the impetus as just seven minutes later, they took the lead through star man Marco Bustos. However, in the 86th minute, the Wanderers were awarded their second penalty of the match as Akeen Garcia got to the ball ahead of Lukas MacNaughton, who could only find the back of Garcia’s calf with his attempted clearance.
Guinean striker Sanoh stepped up to powerfully tie the scoreline as he netted his first goal for his new club since joining from Holland Hurricanes, where he scored a staggering 101 goals in 70 matches.
Valour FC 0-2 Cavalry FC
Back in action after opening night, the Calgary Cavs’ certainly looked the sharper of the two here having already played. This time from the starting lineup, the 27-time Canada international Marcus Haber scored just before the half-hour mark as he arrived at the back post to meet a Mohamed Farsi cross to head his side in front.
Moments later it was a sublime Sergio Camargo run which led to a shot on goal, a shot which was deflected wide by the arm of Valour defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste. Columbian midfielder Carmargo took the responsibility himself as the showman doubled the lead with an outrageous Panenka — carrying on where he left off from 2019 where the 26-year-old was pivotal in Calgary’s successes.
In truth, the Cavs’ controlled the match from this moment on and perhaps would have been disappointed not to score more. For Valour, they didn’t manage an effort on target throughout the 90 minutes and will need to improve moving forward.
Forge FC 2-0 FC Edmonton
Finishing off the first round of fixtures, Forge were back in action once more, this time facing FC Edmonton. Following their opening day draw, Forge made no mistakes this time around as left-back Kwame Awuah scored what is undoubtedly the goal of the tournament so far with his long-range effort.
Edmonton flexed their muscles at times in this match and almost gained parity on numerous occasions, Costa Rican-born Canada international Kevin Aleman the pick of the Eddies’ players as they tried in vain to find a route back into the contest.
Forge were made to wait for their second but, eventually, it came in stoppage time when Kareem Moses’ attempted clearing header glanced into the far corner of his own net to confirm the points for Forge, who move to joint top with last year’s final rivals, Cavalry.
What a comeback for the Canadian Premier League, plenty of goals, penalties and controversy in an action-packed opening round of fixtures.
It all begins once more on Tuesday as Pacific FC and York9 kick off the second round of fixtures, both in search of their first win of the campaign.