Nate Mavila scored on a stoppage-time penalty to lift Cavalry FC into a 2-2 tie with defending CPL champion Forge FC in Thursday’s opening match of the Island Games, marking the start of the Canadian Premier League’s pandemic-delayed second season.
The 94th-minute penalty was a controversial call with Mo Farsi’s shot appearing to hit more of Dominic Samuel’s side than arm. But referee Yusri Rudolf pointed to the spot.
Forge FC captain Kyle Bekker’s diving header in the 71st minute had looked like the winner.
Bekker split two defenders and launching himself like a missile to get his head to substitute David Choiniere’s cross. Bekker rewarded Choiniere with a kiss on the top of his head at the subsequent hydration break.
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Bekker, a 29-year-old midfielder who spent five seasons in the MLS with Toronto, FC Dallas and Montreal, came close again in the 88th minute but his shot from distance was saved by Marco Carducci.
The contest was frenetic and a little sloppy to start, not that surprising given the on-and-off training camp and lack of warmup games. But there was no shortage of resolve with several no-holds-barred challenges.
Anthony Novak also scored for Hamilton’s Forge, who grew stronger as the game wore on.
Dominick Zator had the other goal for Calgary’s Cavalry.
Forge lived dangerously in the first half, with more than a few giveaways. Cavalry pressed early and went ahead in the 11th minute when Zator got some separation from his marker and headed in a Nik Ledgerwood corner.
The six-foot-two defender managed just one goal in 2,425 minutes of CPL play last season but it was the first in team history. He added two important strikes in the Canadian Championship.
Forge pulled even in the 26th minute when the Cavalry defence, despite having numbers, failed to clear a Johnny Grant cross and the deflected ball went to Novak who acrobatically poked out a foot to guide the ball over Carducci.
Cavalry outshot Forge 7-3 (2-1 in shots on target) in the first half and had 57 per cent possession.
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A Forge set play off a corner came close early in the second half when Bekker’s blast deflected off a body in front and bounced off the crossbar.
Triston Henry saved Cavalry substitute Marcus Haber’s effort in the 81st minute.
The game, the first of 35 matches on the artificial turf at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) Alumni Field, was a rematch of last year’s championship series. Forge FC became the first to lift the North Star Shield trophy after a pair of 1-0 wins in the home-and-away final.
Cavalry finished first overall in the 2019 regular-season standings, with a combined record of 19-4-5 over the spring and fall campaigns for an overall record of 19-4-5. Forge was six points behind at 17-6-5.
The trophy comes with a bonus this year. The Island Games winner will advance directly to the final of the Canadian championship against MLS opposition. The MLS finalist will be the team that earns the most points in the upcoming all-Canadian stretch of the Major League Soccer schedule.
The Charlottetown winner also earns a berth in the 2021 CONCACAF League, a feeder competition for the CONCACAF Champions League.
Top 4 clubs advance from 1st phase
The 28-game first phase of the tournament will see each of the teams play each other once. The top four clubs will then advance and meet in the second round. The top two clubs will meet in the championship game.
Some 276 players, staff, officials and broadcast personnel have converged on Charlottetown, where the CPL has formed its own bubble inside the Atlantic Canada bubble.
Charlottetown won the right to serve as host for the Canadian league’s second season over Langford, B.C., and Moncton, N.B.
The CPL’s original schedule was to have started April 11 and conclude on Oct. 4 with teams playing a 28-game schedule. The regular-season winner was to advance to the championship game, with the second- and third-place teams to face off to decide the other finalist.
On Saturday, expansion Atletico Ottawa makes its debut against York 9 FC and HFX Wanderers FC faces Pacific FC.
Forge and Cavalry are back in action Sunday against FC Edmonton and Valour FC, respectively.