York United vs. Cavalry FC – Tactical Preview

Just two weeks into the Canadian Premier League’s fourth season, one thing is clear. The talent on the football pitch, from both a playing, and tactical perspective is extraordinarily high. So much so, that much of the punditry and commentary surrounding second-place Atletico Ottawa has continuously failed to truly nail down Gonzalez’s complex team shape in and out of possession. So much so, that Pacific FC are pulling off attacking rotations that most teams wouldn’t dare to try. As the league now heads into its third set of matches, optimism and attention over the league has never been higher. So with that, we take a tactical glance at each and every match in week three. We begin with the tactical battle between Martin Nash’s York United and Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s Cavalry FC, who currently sit level on points and goal differential. Here is our analysis.


York United’s start to the season has failed to be as fruitful as the Nine Stripes would have liked, but Martin Nash’s team showed marked improvements against FC Edmonton in providing more attacking thrust than the opening day against HFX. Developing a sense of identity with fullbacks pushing high up the pitch and attacking rotations between their striker and attacking midfielder, York’s 4-2-3-1 formation should contain two crucial elements required for breaking Cavalry down.

The Cavs don’t tend to allow space in between their defensive and midfield lines, with Victor Loturi and Charlie Trafford magnificently screening and compacting central areas. Instead, the space tends to be on the outside of the centre-backs, where Karifa Yao is often asked to step out of position and sweep up the mess.

But York’s rotations could disrupt their sound positioning and central compaction, forcing Cavalry’s defense into a difficult decision. That is the classic – stick or twist? Or in football words – follow movement in deep or hold position? If they persist in stepping up to defend, like Edmonton did at the weekend, they will leave gaps that can then be exploited. As both Nyal Higgins and Luke Singh found out on Friday, stepping out of position can become detrimental if the ball is not recovered, and the gaps are not immediately condensed by teammates closest to the situation.

York didn’t create many clear-cut chances of note against Alan Koch’s defense, but their best moments always came when they pulled at least one centre-back out of position.

In disrupting the defensive structures all the more, York’s movement up front between Johnston and De Rosario could also cause Cavalry into fouls, such as Forge’s use of Terran Campbell to bully both Karifa Yao and Daan Klomp into yellow cards.

Additionally, utilizing N’Sa and Abzi to get high up the pitch and deliver crosses into the box will be imperative. York should target overloads down the wing and look to go 2v1 against Cavalry’s fullbacks, before seeking space in between outside-centre-back and wing-back. Neither Johnston or De Rosario could be described as a “focal point” up front, and so York need to provide greater execution to their deliveries than they managed against a stern Edmonton defense. Their most troublesome cross on the day came from a low-driven delivery, again as a centre-back (Nyal Higgins) stepped out of position. Given the aerial dominance of players like Karifa Yao and Daan Klomp, using low-driven deliveries or cut-backs could be the best approach as opposed to those overhit crosses they pumped toward the back-post. Regardless, having played against a back three in Edmonton on Friday, York should be bursting with ideas as to how they can break down a 5-4-1 defensive structure. Then it’s just about execution, and the small tactical tweaks based on the evolution of the match, and how well Cavalry work to combat their game-plan.

Cavalry on the other hand haven’t quite clicked from an attacking perspective, despite scoring 2 goals against Forge. It’s their defensive solidity that’s been more impressive, limiting Forge to two worldies, and completely stunting the Hammers’ penetration through the thirds. In getting more out of their attacking quality, Joe Mason should be asked to run the channels more, and adapt his game to become more than just where we have him classified right now – as a “Fox in the Box“. Between his two matches so far, the Mason has only accumulated a combined 40 touches. To bring that into context, Forge’s Achinioti-Jönsson had 104 touches in this weekend’s match alone. Confusingly from a Cavalry perspective, one of their best passages of play against Atletico occurred when Daan Klomp floated a long pass into the channel, that Joe Mason excellently brought down before being fouled by Diego Espejo.

Ali Musse meanwhile is an exceptional dribbler who could easily benefit from being able to bounce one-two’s off of a man who clearly has the capacity to play as a target, link, and channel runner all wrapped in one. There’s a clear discrepancy between the evident quality Joe Mason has in his locker, to what he’s being asked to do in possession phases – essentially stay central, push the opposition’s defensive line back as others magic instead, and poach goals. This is of course an over-simplification, but on statistics alone, you’d probably guess that he played fifteen or so minutes in both games, rather than 176.

Importantly from a tactical perspective, there’s a noticeable difference in threat level between the two centre-forwards York’s defensive line have faced so far. On the opening day, Joao Morelli’s meticulous movement pulled Dominick Zator and Roger Thompson out of position and out of sorts. Morelli constantly worked to create room to strike from range, pick up the ball and drive forward, and crucially to creating chances, he combined excellently well with runners from midfield. Against Edmonton, Zator and Thompson had an easier time dealing with the more stagnant Julian Ulbricht – who rarely ventured out of central attacking areas. As a consequence, Joe Mason simply needs to get more involved, bringing out the best in players normally asked to work their magic instead (like Ali Musse). If he can make himself a nuisance, win fouls for his team and provide greater attacking connectivity in the attacking third, York United will have a difficult time handling Cavalry on the night.

So there it is! Our quick-take tactical analysis of the upcoming match between York and Cavalry in the Canadian Premier League. Be sure to check out more of our CPL articles, and don’t forget to check back in a few days time for the remaining previews. Also be sure to follow on social media to never miss an update @mastermindsite! Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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