Canadian Premier League Matchday 3 – Tactical Review

The Canadian Premier League continues to entertain, with 15 goals scored across the 4 matches in Week 3, Pacific continuing their unbeaten run, Forge ending Edmonton’s late equalizing steak, and Valour running riot over the previously undefeated Ottawa. Here is our tactical review of the Canadian Premier League’s third round of fixtures.


After two matches in which York felt they deserved more, the Nine Stripes finally got their full filling of James Sharman-esque pie, with a key win over Cavalry. If you thought Forge were dominant on Saturday, York were equally assured on Friday against Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s high-tempo team, but with a much more defensive approach. In fact, York’s defensive stance held so significantly strong that Cavalry couldn’t muster up a single shot on target.

Operating in a 4-2-3-1 formation for the third time in three matches, York utilized the pace and power of Diyaeddine Abzi up the left wing, pushing Oliver Minatel into central areas where he roamed and rotated with young guns Isaiah Johnston and Osaze De Rosario. Chrisnovich N’Sa held a more reserved role down the right, as the Nine Stripes built out from the back in a 3+2 set-up.

With this sound foundation in place, York’s front-four were able to work their magic further up the pitch, and the likes of Wilson and Thompson could use their passing range to break lines and find them closer to goal. Max Ferrarri motored like a ferrari up and down the pitch to create chances for his team, De Rosario and Johnston floated about the pitch as they pleased, and Abzi constantly ventured forward to create chances and crosses into the box for his team. It was the frilly haired left-back that created the second goal of the match for De Rosario, one of his three key passes in the match. With just 39% of the ball, York made a massive impression in the attacking phases of the game, through their direct, long-passing and vertical approach through the thirds. They found their way toward 17 shots in the match despite their limited possession, and never shied away from taking on chances from distance when all seemed unlikely.

While York had nice combinations of play everywhere on the pitch, Calvary looked out of sync, uncoordinated, and completely failed to generate anything of note. Niko Giantsopoulos had absolutely nothing to work against all game long, with the Cavs coming up with zero shots on target.

Cavalry’s five shots in the match – three blocked and two wide (credit to

Joe Mason struggled to get involved in the right areas of the field, while Ali Musse and Myer Bevan couldn’t win their 1v1 battles up against the excellence of Roger Thompson, as he covered in behind Abzi, and Chrisnovich N’sa on the other side. Wilson and Verhoeven dominated the midfield to stop Charlie Trafford and Victor Loturi from gaining adequate advantages in space, whilst holding their position in attack to contribute to York’s rest defense. From the front, they also pressed well against Cavalry’s attempts to play out from the back, with their 4-4-1-1 defensive base becoming 4-4-2 as Johnston and De Rosario went one-for-one up against Cavalry’s centre-backs.

At 61% of the possession, Cavalry had some bright moments in possession, passing the ball around in their 3-4-3 with simplicity and width. They used the same 3+2 build-up structure, but with more emphasis on Roloff as an extra number in their circulation. Isaiah Johnston played his part in stopping central penetration toward the defensive midfielders, with Daan Klomp opting for long passes instead (which he was successful in hitting 10/14 times).

Ali Musse looked lively on occasion in creating chances for his teammates through his dribbling power, and both Myer Bevan and Jean-Aniel Assi should have shot from chances he generated. Charlie Trafford found himself active but unsuccessful in possession, whilst Ben Fisk had a few positive moments of driving inside from left-wing-back to compound the potential for central overloads. Had they been able to take advantage of the space in behind Abzi as he ventured forward, Cavalry could have created more chances. Further, had Joe Mason looked to drop in deep and be a ‘Creative Link’ more than he managed with his 27 touches, Cavalry also could have achieved greater connectivity between the lines.

We suggested Mason to be the key in unlocking greater fluidity for Wheeldon Jr.’s side in our Tactical Preview of the match, and the 30-year-old was virtually non-existent in seeking space on either side of York’s defensive line. The only one who managed to was Jean-Aniel Assi off an excellent long pass from Elijah Adekugbe, which ultimately ended up hitting the post as he rounded Niko Giantsopoulos. From a defensive perspective, Yao and Klomp had their worst performances of the season, with all three Cavalry centre-backs failing to get a grip of York’s pace in behind and clever rotations as they floated around the pitch. Each picked up a yellow card as part of six combined fouls in the match, as York completely undid Cavalry’s 3-4-3 press through their long-passing game. In the end, it was a solid performance from the Nine Stripes, with each of the starting eleven ranking above a 7.0 in our CANPL Player Rating System for the first time this season.


After a couple of disappointing results to start the season, Forge found their flow in Week 3, achieving a comfortable 3-0 win over FC Edmonton’s stern defense. Not only did Forge live up to expectation from a performance perspective, but also from a tactical one. Bobby Smyrniotis changed shape away from the 3-4-1-2 / 3-4-3 formation utilized against Cavalry back to his favoured 4-3-3, only to reconstruct their ideologies in the second half to better take advantage of the wide areas.

Forge started the match in a 4-3-3, initially using Aboubacar Sissoko as a third member of their circulation out from the back, and then urging him on up the pitch as the match wore on. Kwasi Poku and Sissoko stretched the width to cause chaos to Edmonton’s defensive structures, with Tristan Borges and David Choiniere acting as inverted wingers as they roamed ahead of Edmonton’s defensive line. Many of their best moments of the first half came alongside incisive movement down the line from the likes of Choiniere and Campbell receiving in space, pulling defenders with them, and then reversing the ball to the other as the gaps widened. But the Hammers struggled to adequately progress down the wings as much as they would have liked in the first half, with Warschewski and Kacher doing their part to step on Forge’s midfielders and cut out their diagonal passing attempts. But more positively, Smyrniotis’ side completely dominated the half-spaces, particularly through rotations and positional play that pulled Edmonton’s defensive structures apart.

Kyle Bekker repeatedly sought space to the left of Garven Metusala to widen the left overload with Poku and Borges, even at times advancing beyond the left winger to open space for Choiniere or Borges (who switched sides after the opening goal) to drive inside. On Forge’s brilliant second goal, that’s exactly what the former TFC man did as he sprinted down the line, giving Choiniere a second of space to advance into, before playing a magnificent through ball to the rampaging Terran Campbell. The 23-year-old striker then unselfishly slid the ball across the line for Tristan Borges to tap in, with Edmonton looking completely out of sorts.

In the second half, Smyrniotis recognized the space Koch’s men were giving his team out from the back, and positioned Achinioti-Jönsson as a third centre-back, pulling the strings alongside Dom Samuel to advance the team up the pitch. This allowed Poku and Sissoko to stay firmly in the wide areas, where Borges and Choiniere continued to roam as inverted wingers inside. Hojabrpour and Bekker worked well as a holding duo in front of the back-three as the team adopted a 3+2 build-up, and Samuel had more direct lines to be progressive with his passing straight into the half-spaces for the inverted winger on his side. The change in formation, accompanied by a switch of side for Samuel and Metusala, allowed the 27-year-old defender two key advantages. First, it positioned Forge’s most robust defender closer to Warschewski – Edmonton’s first outlet in transition. Samuel won two fouls off of some fantastic defensive play against the German forward, and the 24-year-old struggled to make his mark on the second half before ultimately finding himself replaced.

But more importantly for Samuel and Forge, it allowed the former Sigma man more room to drive forward and spray progressive passes, knowing Achinioti-Jönsson was well positioned to sweep in behind. Samuel could then adopt not only more advanced positions, but a wider position to receive, allowing Forge to stretch the field against Edmonton’s compactness. As the Hammers amplified their control and boosted their possession toward 70%, Achinioti-Jönsson could then utilize his long passing range (3/3 accurate long passes on the day), and find Sissoko down the right. Chris Nanco played a massive part in the win following his introduction, linking up nicely with Sissoko down the line and using his pace to completely undo Edmonton as they tired.

Nanco’s clever back-heel following Jönsson’s long-pass into space allowed Sissoko and Hojabrpour to play another clever one-two, eventually opening space for Sissoko to play an incisive pass toward the poacher that is Terran Campbell for the third. But Nanco continued to look lively as the match wore on, creating more chances that Woobens Pacius should have buried, as Forge dreamt of a fourth.

Before moving onto Edmonton, Forge also deserve massive credit for what they accomplished from a defensive perspective, particularly after conceding twice in both of their previous matches. Aboubacar Sissoko won the vast majority of his 1v1 duels to completely tame one of Edmonton’s greatest threats in Marcus Simmons. Dom Samuel excellently swept in behind the back-line to clean up any messes. Achinioti-Jönsson again always found himself in the right place to make an interception or perfectly time a tackle (again 100% at 2/2).

Even high up the pitch, Forge limited Edmonton’s attempts to be progressive, pressing the likes of Luke Singh to stop the defender from having time to get his head up and spray diagonals. Moving forward, this has to be the way Forge play every single game. Campbell should start through the middle as a clear focal point to their attack, whilst still utilizing his ability to seek space in the channels and create chances from out to in. If Smyrniotis then sees something worth changing, it’s amazing to know that Achinioti-Jönsson can swap into the back-line so seamlessly, pushing other players ahead to create new mechanisms for magic. All and all, Forge pulled off the most commanding performance we’ve seen from any team so far this season, and could have won the game by a significantly higher score-line than just 3-0.

So now let’s talk about Edmonton. The Eddies struggled to get going in the match due to Forge’s dominance, but weren’t their normally resilient defensive selves. One contributing factor has to be the injury to Shamit Shome picked up on Jordan Wilson’s horror tackle in the previous match against York. Simon Triantafillou had the most difficult time on the pitch than anyone else, failing to adequately cover the holes in between the lines that saw Choiniere and Borges rip apart Edmonton’s left-half-space. Foolishly, he also gave away the penalty for the opening goal, booting Metusala in the face. But from a tactical perspective, Alan Koch also made a change worth discussing. Cale Loughrey, who had been excellent as the libero in the back-three for two matches in a row, played this one as a defensive midfielder, firmly ahead of the centre-backs.

We can only imagine that Koch must have envisioned Forge playing the same formation they utilized last time out, a 3-4-3 with a ‘number ten’ playing in the central role (as sort of a 3-4-1-2, even though that never really took form). In playing Loughrey as a defensive midfielder, he’d have more control over Forge’s attempts to penetrate through the centre (which Forge don’t generally look to do), and a clear man-marker for their supposed attacking midfielder. So quite smartly, Forge completely combatted that by constantly receiving on either side of him (in the half-spaces with their inverted wingers). They then advanced closer toward the penalty area through incisive passing and movement, where a third centre-back desperately would have helped situations like the Hammers’ second goal.

Cale Loughrey’s defensive actions against Forge, highlighting the hole in the spaces he covered.

In our Forge FC vs. FC Edmonton – Tactical Preview, we discussed at length how the likes of Campbell and Choiniere needed to take advantage of moments where one of Edmonton’s centre-backs stepped out of position. But Alan Koch solved that riddle for Forge all on his own, positioning one of his key centre-backs out of position. Around the 57th minute, Koch tweaked his team through adding Wesley Timoteo and Azriel Gonzalez, going back to the 5-4-1 formation that served them so well in both of their previous fixtures.

Although the day could be seen as a disaster, Edmonton can still look on the bright side and take away a sprinkling of positives from their performance. Luke Singh had a particularly strong first half against the Hammers, consistently selecting his moments to step out of line and challenge to perfection. Gabriel Bitar also danced his way around one of the best midfield trios in the league, switching play, overloading the left, and wiggling his way out of trouble for fun. Then you have Cale Loughrey, who had a relatively woeful time defending in a new position, but looked much more assured again upon returning to centre-back. At the very least, this showcase why Koch should stick by what he knows best, and persist with a more defensively minded 5-4-1. That said, without Shamit Shome, the gaps in midfield and the balance alongside Bitar need to be sorted out ahead of a clash against Pacific. Knowing Manny Aparicio’s exceptional ability to time his runs forward, in addition to the way of Alejandro Diaz magnificently drops to pick up possession and then switch play on a dime, Edmonton need to find the right balance before Wednesday night.

For Smyrniotis’ team, Forge can celebrate their first win of the season as they move into third, with one of their bitterest rivals in Cavalry rooted to the bottom.


Pacific FC came into Week 3 as table toppers, and finished where they started after a convincing 2-1 win over Halifax Wanderers FC. Without Joao Morelli for the first time this season, HFX’s quest to win the match was always going to be an uphill battle, particularly against a free flowing Pacific FC attack scoring goals for fun. Unfortunately for Stephen Hart’s team, that’s exactly how the match panned out.

Pacific FC set up in their usual 4-1-4-1 formation, deploying the same rotations that we’ve hyped up over and over again. Without Joshua Heard and Nathan Mavila, Pacific weren’t quite as rampant down the left-hand-side, but their rotations down the right continued in full flow, with Marco Bustos inverting, Jamar Dixon lowering, and Olakunkle Dada-Luke galloping on the overlap. Bustos had a quiet first half as a combination of Andre Rampersad, Obeng Tabi and Eriks Santos worked to ensure he always found himself double-teamed. But as Alejandro Diaz dropped in between the lines to receive, he perfectly found the wing wizard on a switch of play time and time again, eventually leading to the penalty kick combination that saw Wero Diaz bang in the winner. With Manny Aparicio driving through the middle, Diaz could also work the channels on occasion, including his exceptional movement for the opening goal where he clipped a cross back into the box to box midfielder.

HFX worked to combat Manny Aparicio’s marvelous maneuvers around the field through man-marking, with Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé tracking his adventures in deep, and Rampersad watching his runs toward goal. But like others before them, HFX couldn’t fully get a grasp on Aparicio’s apparatus, especially as Pacific’s wide rotations worked to pull players out of position. The speed at which Pacific attacked also caused HFX all kinds of issues, and Christian Oxner found himself required to come out of the box on more than a few occasions – including one where he completely clattered into his centre-back Peter Schaale. Eventually their sloppiness in transition and overzealous fouling caught up with the team, and Bustos’ driving run inside perfectly took the ball across Obeng Tabi to win that crucial spot kick.

From an attacking perspective, Halifax couldn’t quite get their bearings. Samuel Salter found himself a key outlet in transitions, and with Peter Schaale floating long passes up into the Pacific half, the 20-year-old played the role of holding the ball up and bringing others into the match. Unfortunately for Hart’s team, Salter’s on the ball ability and final touch were tremendously poor yet again, wasting key moments and completing just 70% of his passes. In central midfield, the balance yet again was also amiss, with Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé and Pierre Lamothe essentially both operating in the same ‘Deep-Lying-Playmaker‘ role. All three central midfielders operated low in Halifax’s initial builds, as the wing-backs roamed higher up the field. They lacked a genuine connective source from midfield that could drive the team on and break lines through something more than passing range, with Aidan Daniels rooted to the bench for the second week in a row.

Zachary Fernandez was their only major carrying threat as he overlapped down the right and looked to swing crosses into the box, with Obeng Tabi again less influential down the left. Cory Bent also had a relatively quiet performance within Pacific’s dominance, but made up for that shyness with one very loud moment when he banged in a free kick from just outside the box. Abdou Samake looked clumsy and susceptible at the back, and HFX could have utilized more moments to get the ball into Bent to work his magic 1v1 against the robust defender. All and all, Pacific claimed their third straight victory even despite not being their most brilliant selves, with Halifax looking out of sorts and out of ideas in the absence of Joao Morelli.


After a pair of brilliant performances to kick off the season, Atletico Ottawa were battered and bruised by a bulldozing Valour FC side, losing by a shocking score-line of 6-1. Carlos Gonzalez spoke post-match about how the team never recovered following the opening goal – a dubious penalty call that Moses Dyer won for himself and then converted. That much was true, but the goal had been coming beforehand, and Gonzalez made some questionable moves in his starting eleven that completely shook up the match in Valour’s favour.

Notably, Gonzalez omitted Ben McKendry and MacDonald Niba from his set-up, with Abdoul Sissoko playing out of position at centre-back. Both Niba and McKendry had made excellent starts to the season, and taking out both of the team’s defensively-minded warriors down the left-hand-side was a confusing move. To little surprise in hindsight, Dyer and William Akio ran riot down Atletico’s left, terrorizing the spaces that opened up in behind Maxim Tissot as he roamed forward in attack. This is the exact space that we suggested Valour look to hit in transition in our Tactical Preview, but Akio fulfilled that promise better than we could have ever imagined.

The dynamic dribbler constantly created chances for himself and his teammates, seeking space in behind Tissot as Dyer dropped in to receive, before playing him down the line. Alessandro Riggi then had an easy time gobbling up rebounds (and missed an absolute sitter), as the hard work of Dyer and Akio forced the ball into his path. But to compound matters all the more for Atletico, the movement of Sean Rea in and around the half-spaces, combined with his rotations with Matty Catavolo, left Cunha and Bassett completely shell-shocked in midfield. The 19-year-old created 4 chances for his teammates, accumulating 2 assists along the way. As Matty Catavolo buzzed up the pitch and Daryl Fordyce sat back and held down the barrel, the likes of Dyer and Rea could rotate in and out toward Valour’s centre-backs as they circulated the ball.

Phillip Dos Santos must also be commended for the positional tweaks following Andrew Jean-Baptiste’s disappointing first half exit. Not only did he bravely throw on an attacking midfielder in the form of Catavolo for a rock-solid centre-back, but he bravely changed Brett Levis to left-back, where he played once upon a time for Vancouver Whitecaps. The change ended up working as a complete hit all ends up, and Levis even scored one of the goals of the season through a barging run past several stern midfielders.

Carlos Gonzalez too tried his hand at changing the match via substitutions, with little to no impact. Vladimir Moragrega’s touch and pass let him down at crucial moments as he looked to grab a goal, and even the likes of McKendry and Niba couldn’t stop Levis’ flying strike. Ottleti had to settle for their only goal of the game coming from some incisive play down the left, with Maxim Tissot predictably overlapping Keven Aleman and then pumping a cross toward Jonathan Sirois that ended up in the back of the net instead.

Atletico’s solidity in possession also never found its way to full fluidity without Niba and McKendry onside, often being too quick to utilize long passes into the wing-backs. Ballou Tabla had some bright moments exploiting Levis’ lack of pace down the line, but again lacked with his final delivery. With Valour defending in a 4-2-4 high up the pitch, they also achieved a solid overload against Atletico’s back-three that Gonzalez’s team struggled to cope with – a potential contributing factor behind all those long passes. The best of those caused Rocco Romeo to receive a yellow card after hopelessly pulling the shirt off a Diego Espejo long pass into space. But for the most part, their long-passing attempts failed to deliver, and the likes of Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Rocco Romeo handled Malcolm Shaw’s channel running in the half-spaces well.

As the match wore on and Atletico only grew in their defeatist mindset, Valour utilized their 3+1 build-up again to position Catavolo higher. Fordyce dropped between right half-spaces and firmly in front of the back-line, as Jonathan Sirois found himself involved as the base of the diamond to increase the dominance.

Daryl Fordyce’s passing map out from the back against Atletico (

Their patience out from the back in circulating the ball and working the right areas adequately turned into genuine goal threat at the other end of the pitch, where their front five were in full flow all game long – creating 20 shots.

In the end, Valour might have just pulled off a new candidate for ‘most convincing win of the season’, despite us giving that title to both York and Forge this weekend already. It’s no surprise then that four Valour players made our Team of the Week, and the rest of the team were made up by Forge and Valour superstars.

So that’s it for our round-up of Week 3 in the Canadian Premier League. Be sure to comment below on your thoughts and favourite moments from the week in the comments below, and see how all of these players rank in our Canadian Premier League – Player Ratings.


This season TheMastermindSite will be covering the CPL from start to finish, with a multitude of Match Analyses, Player Analyses, Player Ratings and in-depth coverage of every single team and their tactics. Be sure to follow both @desmondrhys and @mastermindsite on Twitter to never miss an update. Thanks for reading this week’s tactical review, and be sure to check back in for our upcoming tactical previews for the week ahead. See you soon!

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