Soccer, Alberta and weather are the words of the week in Canadian sports. But following the Canada victory over Mexico in World Cup qualifying in frigid Edmonton on Tuesday, the weather will be decent today in Calgary for the Canadian Premier League semifinal game between Pacific FC and host Cavalry FC (noon PT) with partial sun and a high of 4 C and low of -8 C expected. The conditions shouldn’t be a factor.
There has been little to choose between the sides this season. PFC went 3-3-1 against Cavalry, including a 1-0 quarter-final win in the Canadian Championship, which advanced PFC to the semifinals against Toronto FC of Major League Soccer.
“It will be the little margins that decide it,” said PFC head coach Pa-Modou Kah, in his pre-game news conference.
After seven games against each other, there will be no surprises in terms of tactics.
“There is nothing we do that they won’t expect. And there is nothing they do that we won’t expect,” said Kah.
Cavalry FC (14-6-8 in league and 15-7-8 overall) appears, however, headed into the game on the front foot with PFC (13-9-6 in league and 15-10-6 overall) on the back foot. PFC stumbled down the stretch in placing third after leading the league for much of the season, losing its last two league games and three of its past four in going 3-6 in the past nine games. Cavalry FC, meanwhile, surged into second place and has lost only once in its past eight games.
“We were expecting our dips, but I expected it right after the Whitecaps game [victory over the MLS club in the opening round of the Canadian Championship] but we kept going from there,” said Kah.
The dip instead came at the end of the season.
“People are saying we’re not in the right moment. But the playoffs are the playoffs and it’s one game,” said Kah.
“We’re a very resilient group that rises to the occasion. We are where we have to be. We have gone places this season we have not gone before [after Whitecaps win a tight loss to Toronto FC of MLS in the Canadian Championship]. It’s been a European-type season. It’s been amazing. We are focusing on the process, not the outcome. We trust in the process. Our players are super excited and have been buzzing in training with smiles on their faces.”
Win or lose, Kah said he keeps things in perspective: “Hard is what’s happening to people in Abbotsford and those trying to get over the Malahat. I’m living my dream.”
Even if the weather won’t be that much of a factor, Calgary is still happy to be hosting today.
“It’s always better to play at home on our field with our atmosphere and at Calgary altitude,” said Cavalry FC attacking-midfielder Mo Farsi, a member of the Canada U-23 team in Olympic qualifying for Tokyo.
Kah, however, noted PFC has outscored Cavalry FC 8-6 in Calgary this season in going 1-1-1.
“We know we can score goals there,” said Kah.
Injured PFC midfield star Marco Bustos will be a game-time decision today, according to the club. PFC top defender Lukas MacNaughton is out on yellow-card accumulation.
PFC must be wary of Cavalry FC striker Joe Mason, who has seven goals over 14 league games and another in the Canadian Championship for a total of eight goals in 16 games played. The former Ireland U-21 international and Plymouth Argyle, Cardiff City, Bolton Wanderers and Wolverhampton pro scored the lone goal, on a dissecting pass from Farsi, in the 1-0 victory the last time Cavalry FC and PFC met.
The other CPL playoff semifinal game is Sunday at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton between the first-place and two-time defending league champion Forge FC and fourth-place York United.
The winner of today’s semifinals advance to the CPL championship game. That will be played next weekend in either Calgary or Starlight Stadium in Langford if York United upsets Forge FC. If Forge FC beats York United, the Hammers will host the championship game against PFC or Cavalry FC. That could be pushed back to Dec. 5 at Tim Hortons Field if the Hamilton Tiger-Cats host a CFL playoff game next weekend.