It was a cold, wet and windy evening that greeted the Vancouver Whitecaps in Calgary as they took Cavalry FC in a 2-1 for the first leg of the quarter-final of the Canadian Championship.

A first half with little to enjoy until the last minute, the second half brought a more expansive match, with both teams fighting to get the upper hand.

 “Cavalry is a very intense team. They play a very vertical system that puts you under pressure, and they try to win the second ball. It was hard in the beginning to do our way of playing,” head coach Vanni Sartini said.

Sartini put forth a heavily rotated squad given the rules for this Canadian tournament. Whitecaps starters Ali Ahmed and Ryan Raposo were joined by Levonte Johnson and Ralph Priso, creating an all-Canadian midfield.

Isaac Boehmer was also given the start in goal, rounding the full Canadian contingent in the starting XI.

With experience in the back 3 and Brian White leading the top, it was a mix of strength and depth for Vancouver.

Cavalry came out of the gate playing like they were the home side, fuelled by their fans and pressing the Whitecaps deep in their half. For the first 10 minutes, Cavalry was the team on the front foot but found it difficult to get any dangerous control.

The Whitecaps slowly played themselves back into the match. But the uncertainty in their squad was apparent, with a few of the newer additions to the lineup showing signs of not having played much.

Priso, in particular, stood out for the wrong reasons. A messy backpass in the 15th minute was bouncing and difficult for Mattias Laborda to handle, getting past the centre-back and going just shy of the post and out of bounds.

And the first half seemed like it was going to have a lacklustre end, if not for Johnson at the last gasp.

The Canadian striker jumped on a loose clearance and hit the ball hard and high over Marco Carducci from about 25 yards out. The ball hit the inside of the far post and bounced into the net behind the Cavalry goalkeeper.

You could imagine both head coaches ripping up their halftime notes with that goal.

“I’ve got to be honest, the first half Levonte scored a fantastic goal. But the real result for the first half should have been 0-0,” Sartini said.

The second half started more open as Cavalry fought to get back into the match and the Whitecaps fought to put it to bed. A couple of changes for the visitors gave Vancouver some much-needed strength in the midfield.

“Because we scored [at the end of the first half], they probably had to press a little higher more. And they left a little more space, and we found more space in between the lines in the second half. I thought we played better.”

The number of shots for both sides far outpaced what either team had in the first. But neither could create much danger with the opportunities.

Except Johnson. 

The Canadian striker grabbed himself a brace, the second coming in the 79th minute. A long ball over the heads of everyone found Johnson high up the pitch. His control was excellent as he got around Callum Montgomery and passed the ball into the net behind Carducci.

But to make things tricky in the second leg, Cavalry did pull one back in stoppage time. Malcolm Shaw found space to run in between Ranko Veselinović and Bjørn Inge Utvik and got on the end of a smart pass by Lucas Dias.

Boehmer was unable to get a hand on it as the ball beat him on the far side to give the home side a bit of encouragement as the game ended 2-1.

“We are very happy that we are away from here with a win, and we are ahead on the tie. And the next game is [at] home, so there’s a lot of things to take away from here that are positive,” Sartini said.

A night for Johnson

Double goalscorer Johnson was pragmatic in his post-match comments.

“Coming in, we knew it was going to be a hard game,” Johnson said. “We haven’t won here. This was our first win, and getting a goal right before halftime was huge for us, going into the half on a high and being able to control the game a bit more. Going up two goals gave us a bit of a cushion. They scored a late goal, which put us under pressure for the last couple minutes, but we were able to get the win in the end.”

The striker said in the first goal, it was a matter of reading the clearance and being first.

“I focused on the strike and made sure I got clean contact on it.”

Johnson credited Cavalry’s passion and intensity and said it was the knowledge of having to meet their levels in their home pitch that drove them on.

Up next

The Whitecaps are back in action this upcoming weekend as they travel to Los Angeles to take on LAFC. That match is on Saturday, May 11.

Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.