CALGARY — In a battle between two Canadian Premier League rivals who played each other tight all season, their eighth meeting on Saturday fittingly came down to a controversial close call.
An own goal in the 15th minute of extra time charged to Cavalry FC goalkeeper Marco Carducci was the difference as Pacific FC advanced to the championship game with a hard-fought 2-1 victory.
Getting to the ball just before it crossed the goal line, second-half substitute Kunle Dada-Luke powered a centering pass at Carducci, who was stationed next to the post with his arm up to call for what he thought should have been a goal kick.
The ball squeezed between the 'keeper's legs and dribbled into the net.
“You don't stop, you got to keep playing,” said Pacific coach Pa-Modou Kah. “We have the referees and we say that we cannot control them, they're going to make their decision and the boys that we put in, they could have an impact on the game and they had an impact on the game.
"So everybody stood up for each other and the fight and the desire that these boys showed was tremendous.”
As Cavalry players and the crowd of 2,927 at Calgary's ATCO Field protested the lack of a whistle for what they believed was a ball out of touch, Pacific celebrated the strike that sent the Vancouver Island club to the CPL final for the first time.
“It seems like every time there's a playoff situation, we're talking about these calls or officiating,” said Cavalry coach and general manager Tommy Wheeldon Jr. “Until the officiating improves in big moments, I'd rather focus on what we can control. That's the effort that we put in and the boys didn't stop and I'm proud of them for everything they've been through this year.”
Pacific meets the winner of Sunday's semifinal between top-seeded Forge FC and fourth-seed York United FC. Hamilton's Forge is the reigning league champion having won the CPL’s first two titles.
“We knew that coming in that it was going to be a battle,” said Pacific goalkeeper Callum Irving. “It was everything we thought it would be and the guys were up for it for the entire 120 minutes.”
Trailing 1-0 at halftime, Cavalry equalized two minutes into the second half.
Off a corner kick from midfielder Ben Fisk, six-foot-two defender Karifa Yao drove a header into the top right corner beyond the outstretched arms of Irving.
It was just the second goal of the season for Yao.
Calgary's best chance to take the lead came in the 60th minute on a similar-looking play from the same corner, again with Fisk sending a dangerous ball into the penalty box. But Daan Klomp's header sailed over the net.
“The dressing room did not feel good,” said Cavalry acting captain Mason Trafford. “We did what we set out to do, but we gave up two poor goals from our standard and we didn't score when we maybe could have.”
After a relatively tame first half, tempers fired in the second when Pacific forward Josh Heard trampled Sergio Camargo and sent the Cavalry midfielder flying.
That ignited a short melee near the sidelines in which coaches Wheeldon and Kah were also seen yelling. Heard received a yellow card for the foul.
“That was a great street fight,” said Wheeldon. “It was playoff football. It was intense. It had goal action, it had moments, tackles, and I think we played to the conditions – it was hard out there. So sometimes it wasn't pretty but my goodness, that was a great advert for Canadian football.”
Calgary dominated possession in the first half, but the chances were fairly even and Pacific authored the only goal.
On a perfectly executed sequence from the right wing in the 33rd minute, Heard swung a high, deep ball into the middle where Manuel Aparicio's header allowed Terran Campbell to fire into an open net.
While Cavalry took the season series 3-2-1, the team lost two of the biggest games – both at ATCO Field. Pacific blanked Calgary 1-0 in a Canadian championship quarterfinal in September.
“For the whole year we've battled against Calgary and it's always been a great battle. It had to come down to us against them again and we came out victorious,” said Kah. “We're happy to go to the final but also credit to Calgary for their whole organization is a top-class organization, the way they work and everything. It's a great rivalry.”
NOTES: The match was held under sunny skies and temperature was six degrees C at game time . . . Injured and unavailable for Cavalry were midfielders Nik Ledgerwood and Elliot Simmons… Pacific was minus midfielder Marcos Bustos due to injury while defender Lukas MacNaughton served the second game of a two-game suspension..
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2021.
Darren Haynes, The Canadian Press