Canadian Premier League Matchday 4 – Tactical Review

We may be four matches in now, but the Canadian Premier League continues to show no signs of slowing down. Here is our tactical review of Week 4 inside the Canadian Premier League.


Why did a midweek game take place between Edmonton and Pacific? We’re not quite sure. Unfortunately for fans of both teams, and even the neutrals, neither side ever got up to full speed. Heavy rotations caused disruptions to the normal tactical set-up of Pacific in particular, and Edmonton continued to go about their defensive ways, holding on for dear life and looking to hit Pacific on the break.

Edmonton set up in their usual 5-4-1 formation, with Mamadi Camara holding down the middle and Bitar playing as the more adventurous man in the double pivot. Tobias Warschewski played up front for the first time, as we’ve been crying out for, and Cale Loughrey returned to his normal role as the sweeper in the side, after a failed experiment against Forge.

Despite holding down just 29% of the possession, Edmonton had more shots and generated more opportunities, growing into the game through their vertical approach in the second half. The team used their long passing and aerial strength to float passes into the path of Warschewski throughout, without mitigating the width they were able to achieve via Simmons and Timoteo down the touch-line. Bitar and Camara actively switched and circulated the ball side to side, without ever being bothered by Pacific’s midfield overload. Out of possession, the Eddies continued that approach, with Camara bouncing between the movement of Aparicio forward, and the wandering of Marco Bustos in deep. Cale Loughrey wisely picked his moments to step on the heels of Alejandro Diaz, while also remaining key to covering long passes in behind. Andreas Vaikla too had a decent evening when sweeping danger away, but on two occasions came far out of his goal when holding position may have been the better approach. On one occasion he completely clattered a teammate, and on the other occasion he needed bailing out from Loughrey on the line. It was a staunchly defense from Alan Koch’s team, but one that easily could have been exposed had Pacific’s been more clinical.

Pacific FC on the other hand dominated the match with 71% of the possession, but failed to generate the same quantity or even quality of chances as FC Edmonton. Operating in their typical 4-1-4-1 formation, Manny Aparicio and Sean Young took turns venturing forward into the attack, balancing out the movement of the other in their quest to break lines and explode through the middle.

Pacific had two extraordinary chances to score in the match, both of which were missed by Marco Bustos. Their other attacks failed to produce fruitful verve and zest, again missing the running power of Joshua Heard in behind the left-half-spaces. They also missed Dada-Luke’s effervescent energy down the right, pushing Young forward in the attack as opposed to the energetic wing-back that has linked up so magnificently with Bustos at the start of this season. Merriman made an attempt to change that around at half-time by taking off Thomas Meilleur-Giguère, potentially saving him for the second match of the week still to come. Regardless of strategy, the move was strange, and completely failed to pay dividends. The 24-year-old had been far and away the most progressive defender in the side, and evidently the one most capable of unlocking Edmonton’s stern defense with his long-passing ability. It was his pass that set Marco Bustos on his merry way toward goal on Pacific’s best chance in the match, combined with an exceptional decoy slide in deep from Alejandro Diaz to pull Cale Loughrey out of the way. The halftime substitution should have likely been for the erratic Abdoulaye Samake instead, who had made no attempt to gallop up the right wing in any sort of resemblance to Dada-Luke. Unfortunately for Pacific, even after the addition of Georges Mukumbilwa, Edmonton continued to dominate the left, with Simmons, Singh and Camara combining nicely to limit Pacific’s penetration down the right half-spaces, even pushing Bustos over to the left. Fortunately for Pacific, their defensive structures held in-tact going the other way. They defended in a compact 4-2-3-1 formation, which could shift into a 4-4-2 or 4-1-4-1 depending on the moment. Matthew Baldisimo held his own in combating Edmonton’s quick transitions, and Pacific often broke up play through tactical fouling, before restarting upon the subsequent wayward set-piece. Pacific’s thirteen fouls in the match presents a slight case of hooliganism, having kept 71% of the ball. Had they been able to bring the same assertiveness to their attack, Merriman’s team could have easily troubled Vaikla. Instead, it was far too slow and simplistic, with the likes of Baldisimo rarely looking to drive, some of the better progressors either sitting out or missing completely, and Bustos completely tamed by the Edmonton structures around him. In the end it was a fairly dull 0-0 draw, and one that unfortunately for Edmonton, only took the steam out of their second match of the week.


As far as tactical battles go, this was a particularly peculiar one. York’s 2-2 draw with Atletico was full of stop-start play, strange refereeing decisions, awful mistakes that gave goals away for fun, and absolutely everything you could want from an entertainment perspective. From a tactical perspective, we’re still not quite sure what to make of the match.

With just 36% of the possession, Atletico Ottawa sat back, defended, and let York United maintain control over the match. York couldn’t adequately progress through the thirds to take full advantage, instead being patient out from the back in their circulation, and opting for horizontal switches of play from side to side and width via their fullbacks up the wings. Upon regains, they took the cautious approach of recycling play to their goalkeeper, and then restarting through a diamond build-up of keeper and Verhoeven combining with the two centre-backs.

Compounding the diamond in more of a pentagon, both central midfielders shifted wide to receive away from Atletico’s compactness, with Verhoeven constantly feeding the ball into Abzi’s path.

Wilson’s first look forward in movement patterns like this elucidated York’s desire to to increase ease of access into Abzi down the wing. However, with Tabla tracking back and Shaw applying pressure, York often instead quickly switched play to the other side, where Zator could carry the ball forward into space and take advantage of Johnston’s sound movement in between the lines, or N’sa’s high position down the other side.

As their fullbacks roamed high, one winger advanced centrally at a time – typically Sebastian Gutierrez on the left as Mouhamadou Kane held the width and Abzi roamed forward. The frilly-haired left-back dominated a large percentage of his 1v1’s, delivering five crosses into the match.

Uninspiringly, only two of those crosses found a teammate, and again Abzi overhit his whipped deliveries into the penalty area on more than one occasion. Without a natural focal point up front to challenge against the aerially dominant MacDonald Niba, York’s quests to feed the penalty area were typically fruitless. In fact, it took a unpropitious faux pas from Ollie Bassett straight into the path of Mouhamadou Kane for York to claim their goal – moments after De Rosario rounded Nathan Ingham and won a spot kick. For the most part, York struggled to generate sound chances of note, and were incredibly lucky to score both of their goals.

Defensively, the Nine Stripes had moments of brilliance, and moments of pure disarray. They pressed decently well in their 4-2-3-1 shape, handling the long passes into right-half-spaces extremely well. While they allowed Atletico to pass out from the back in their 3-5-2 shape, De Rosario wasted no time in attaching himself to Niba’s attempts to dribble through the centre, amplifying his pressure to stop the defender’s carrying power up the pitch. They counter-pressed with far more velocity and ferocity, with the likes of Abzi, Gutierrez and De Rosario again excellently chasing back to regain possession. Zator and Thompson handled the hold-up play of Malcolm Shaw expertly well, constantly shepherding him away from goal and ensuring he’d have a difficult evening in front of goal. Chrisnovic N’Sa meanwhile balanced the tough responsibility of handling Zach Verhoven’s movements inside, mixed with moments of shifting wide to cover Tissot’s adventures forward. Unfortunately for the Nine Stripes, they hit themselves across the head with two brutal mistakes leading to Ballou Tabla’s goal, and momentarily lost shape on Atletico’s first. Giantsopolous had his most difficult game of the season so far, unable to truly make his mark from either a sweeping or shot stopping perspective for the first time this season.

Atletico Ottawa on the other hand have been the most tactically consistent team in the league, and performed the exact same functions and principles we’ve seen over the course of the first three games. In defense, their shape became a 4-4-2, with Acosta tucking alongside the right of the defense and Tissot racing back.

In attack, Tissot raced forward as Acosta shifted inside, with more of a 3-5-2 structure holding true. With a mix of sound long passing into the half-spaces, wide overloads, and the driving power of players like Verhoven and Tabla, Atletico Ottawa have had several mechanisms for scoring goals in the opening match. That was no different in this one, but it took a positional change of Ballou Tabla into a forward role for Gonzalez’s team to regain their second-half lead. While he’s struggled to truly make his mark from right wing, Tabla will likely make for an excellent centre-forward should Gonzalez opt for the move again. He can then use his electric pace in central areas to exploit opposition defenses closer to goal, and potentially up the goal tally that he evidently has waiting to burst out of his boots. Brian Wright also took his second goal of the season well, after a fantastic progressive pass down the channel from Ollie Bassett. Verhoven played a phenomenal role in the match in breaking away from N’Sa, causing chaos to the overload as Tissot roamed higher, and his assist on the day was exceptional – driving inside and letting his body shape on the dribble pull Dominik Zator away from Brian Wright, giving the Atleti striker all the time he needed to finish.

Defensively, it goes without saying that Atletico looked more relaxed, organized and solid than the 6-1 defeat against Valour, particularly with MacDonald Niba and Ben McKendry restored to the eleven. Both men handled their 1v1 situations well, and made their opposite number quiet for the majority of the match. McKendry solidly screened or covered Isaiah Johnston as Ollie Basset stepped up in the team’s static high press, while Niba won everything in the air up against De Rosario. Within their 4-4-2 defensive structure, they allowed York to take advantage of the wide areas and horizontality, as Gonzalez’s team took a far more vertical approach of their own in possession. This allowed York to deliver 17 crosses in the match, 8 of which found teammates. Atletico on the other hand, through their incredibly vertical, long-passing game, attempted and completed just 1 cross.

But despite conceding the wide areas and the bulk of the possession, Gonzalez’s men defended excellently well for long spells and shouldn’t have conceded either goal. The first came from an inexplicable mistake, and the second came from a foul that wasn’t a foul, followed by a foul that most certainly was a foul (if you’re catching my drift). Ingham swept in behind the back-line nicely (other than his unfortunate penalty give-away), and their 4-4-2 low-block completely limited central penetration. With a 3+2 box-like structure in place for their rest defense in response to York’s transitions, Atletico were also well set-up to handle the pace and power of De Rosario in behind – who took quite some time to grow into the game and get going.

In the end, the match finished dramatically with a late equalizer, red card, and silliness all around, culminating in a 2-2 draw. Both teams clearly have much to sort out heading into Matchday 5, and cannot afford to give away any more sloppy goals.


Following their midweek tiredness, Edmonton had arguably their worst performance of the season, self-destructing against a Halifax Wanderers side that never needed to get up to full speed and full fluidity.

Still chasing that elusive first win of the season, FC Edmonton set up in their typical 5-4-1 formation, and as per usual, kept just 37% of the possession. They made a marked approach to keep more of the ball in the opening ten minutes, and it immediately paid off. After a bit of stellar play in midfield and Gabriel Bitar driving the team on through their wide overloads, Kairo Coore won a penalty off the back of Obeng Tabi’s shoulder grab, and Julian Ulbricht smoothly converted the spot kick. From then on, the Eddies failed to find top gear again, resorting to their defensive stance. Despite the solid presence of Camara and Bitar in midfield, HFX completely took control of central areas through their 3v2 central midfield overload.

Each of Halifax’s midfield three men were exceptional on the day, taking turns venturing forward into the attack. Even Andre Rampersad joined in on the fun for a change, with both Pierre Lamothe and long-passing wizard Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé pulling the strings from deep. Halifax continued their trend of completing more long passes than any other team this season, hitting 24 of their 50 attempts (48%). Santos and Restrepo each had their moments of nice passes out from the back, and both took opportunities to carry the ball forward against Edmonton’s lackluster press. But it was Lamothe and Gagnon-Laparé who dictated the tempo of the match, with the Montreal man completing 4 key passes, and Lamothe spreading a delightful ball over the top for Fernandez to assist Samuel Salter on the go-ahead-goal. Speaking of Salter and Fernandez, they were two of the major difference makers for HFX on the day.

The 20-year-old has made a serious case for best right-back in the league to start this season, and had an exceptional time getting forward down the right wing to receive progressive passes and deliver into the box against Alan Koch’s team. His headed assist for Salter was sublime, and his noggin again came into effect when he headed the ball beyond Andreas Vaikla, after a brilliant forward run to get on the end of Restrepo’s high-ball. Obeng Tabi also had a fine afternoon down the left-hand-side for Stephen Hart’s team, with both Timoteo and Mohammed struggling to handle the wide presence of Halifax’s fullbacks. When Joao Morelli first tore his ACL, this is exactly how we suggested Halifax progress moving forward, increasing their emphasis on the high-flying wing-backs. It worked to perfection on this occasion, overloading the wide areas that Edmonton have masterfully dominated throughout the season.

Stephen Hart not only deserves credit for this tactical recognition, but for his ability to change the match in his favour with an inspired second-half substitution in the form of Samuel Salter. The 21-year-old made himself an utter nuisance down the right wing in ways that Alex Marshall completely failed before him, allowing the adventures of Fernandez to take centre-stage through his tidy ball control and solid hold-up play.

Floating between a 4-4-2 and 4-1-4-1 pressing structure, Cory Bent buzzed around down the opposite side, helping his team regain possession and immediately go on the hunt for goals. With this collective pressing mentality, Halifax’s 3v2 midfield overload only continued to take control, as Rampersad stepped up to limit Gabriel Bitar’s time on the ball. As Edmonton sat back and soaked up the sun, Hart’s team were also afforded room to take away additional numbers out of their rest-defense, with the 2+2 shape often becoming an audacious 2+1, and Restrepo and Oxner working together to sweep long-passing attempts in behind. With a staggering 31 interceptions in the match, Edmonton too had their moments of defensive solidity, but they self-destructed time and time again, with the first and third goals of the game completely preventable.

In the end, Halifax claimed their second win of the season, and Edmonton floundered toward their worst performance of the season.


After weeks of disappointment, Cavalry finally secured their first win of the season on Sunday, claiming an impressive 2-0 win over possession-heavy Pacific. The Cavs kept just 39% of the possession this time around, most of which was passed around the back without progressiveness toward their effervescent front-line. Nevertheless, Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s team capitalized on their moments and came out the other side as impressive victors.

Pacific, under all the rotation of their previous couple of fixtures and a midweek clash thrown into the mix, stumbled and fumbled their way throughout the ninety. They looked leggy and immediately out of ideas, without much of their normal tactical set-up and free-flowing fluidity in place. Deprived of Olakunkle Dada-Luke’s pace out wide, Pacific again lacked the same firepower and panache down the right wing. Marco Bustos operated centrally, creating room away from David Norman Jr., but Georges Mukumbilwa rarely took full advantage of attacking moments and couldn’t find the necessary room to generate anything of note for his team. The returning Josh Heard and Nathan Mavila also performed poorly after being left out in successive matches from the start, whilst Alejandro Diaz looked a shadow of the man we’ve become accustomed to since the start of the season.

In truth, much of that was down to Pacific’s own inability to progress through thirds toward the big man, with Cavalry’s high-flying press and combative double pivot working tirelessly to stunt Pacific’s progressive attempts. The big men at the back also banged their heads at everything that came their way over the 5’10 Diaz, who failed to cope with the physicality and strength of the likes of Karifa Yao and Mason Trafford. That quest was made all the worse by the poor long passing of Abdoulaye Samake and Nathan Mavila, completing 18% and 23% of their long passes respectively. They missed Thomas Meilleur-Giguère‘s exceptional progressive ability out from the back, with Amer Didic instead needing to be the man to carry that weight with a less equipped toolbox.

Operating in an unorthodox 4-1-4-1 set-up throughout the season, this time the formation felt more like a 4-2-3-1, with Aparicio firmly ahead of the double pivot. In some ways this stemmed from the 26-year-old’s less frequent ventures toward the back-line in build-up phases, but in other ways it stemmed from Dixon’s central role and positioning alongside Baldisimo. The normal right-sided rotations rarely took form with Dixon dropping into the right, and Mukumbilwa failed to adequately assess when to time runs forward against when to hold position.

Pacific could have done more to create this kind of bowl-like build-up structure, pushing Nathan Mavila forward and creating chaos withing Cavalry’s high-flying 4-2-4 press. Instead, they played into Cavalry’s hands in moments like these, playing long passes right onto the cushioned noggins of Cavalry’s defenders.

As Bustos and Aparicio both operated inside and Mavila held more of a reserved role than his opposite side fullback, Pacific’s 3-2-4-1-esque attacking set-up often looked lopsided as they sought space in and around Trafford/Simmons and Loturi in the Cavalry midfield.

The quest to find Aparicio and Bustos through the thirds, or use their individual quality to get the team up the pitch all on their own became the team’s only two methods for creating chances, neither of which ever allowed for full fluidity. Carrying the weight of being the only driving forces against the stern Cavalry knightship, only Bustos mustered up a genuine chance of note, and Marco Carducci pulled off one of the saves of the season in stepping up to the plate.

For Cavalry, despite the limited possession, it was the first time that Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s team truly showed what they could be capable of this season. This “capability” stemmed almost entirely from their defensive work, winning the ball back high up the pitch and then breaking immediately toward goal.

As we’ve been crying out for, they used Joe Mason’s channel running out wide to the benefit of the entire team, with Ali Musse operating through the middle almost like a hybrid number 10-number 9. Jean-Aniel Assi struggled massively in any moments he had with the ball at his feet, but pressed and tormented Nathan Mavila for fun down Cavalry’s right. It was the young Canadian’s tireless work ethic to toe-poke Nathan Mavila that led to Joe Mason’s exceptional finish for the second goal of the game. Completely substandard in any moments to wiggle his way out of pressure of his own, or pass the ball with any degree of nicety, Assi stood out for completing all 4 of his tackles, and pressing like a machine at the front end of the pitch. With Musse and Mason carrying on that same mentality, and the double pivot taking their moments to read the situation and regain possession, Pacific had their worst day of build-up play so far this season. Pacific could have done more to change their fortunes around and return to the state of being that served them so well in the opening games, but Wheeldon Jr.’s men deserve immense credit for their role in stopping Pacific having fun.

The best part was in Cavalry’s comfortability despite a host of changes for the match. Playing with a back-four in a sort of 4-4-2 shape, Cavalry correctly took away the potential for Bustos and Heard to exploit space in the gaps between wing-back and outside-centre-back. The inclusion of Jose Escalante down the left made for an excellent choice, doing a phenomenal job to press and probe against Pacific’s switches of play. Fraser Aird also performed admirably as a bona fide right-back, whilst David Norman Jr. frustrated Marco Bustos to play more inside – in the gaps that allowed him at least some air to breathe. From selecting Escalante to changing formation to bringing Marco Carducci into the fold, every single choice Cavalry made on the day completely paid off – and paid off in a big way with an impressive 2-0 win against first place Pacific.


Special shout-out to Zachary Fernandez for earning himself our Player of the Week and a player score of 8.6, after his influential role down the right in Halifax’s 3-1 win over Edmonton.

With the postponement of Valour-Forge, that’ll be all for this week in the CPL. Be sure to check out our Player Ratings this week, and all of our previous tactical reviews for the season.

MORE TO FOLLOW next week!

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!

Success! You're on the list.


Initial thoughts on a professional women’s league in Canada

Last night, news circulated that the long wait for a women’s professional league in Canada may soon be on its way. News has circulated in the past that some traction may be developing in this area, but never with the evident backing of people like Christine Sinclair and Diana Matheson, or clubs like the Vancouver…

Alessandro Hojabrpour – Player Analysis

Alessandro Hojabrpour has been one of the standout performers of the past two seasons in the Canadian Premier League. Playing in an understated defensive midfield role where he’s required to proactively participate in all phases of the game, Hojabpour has also been a name that has gone relatively unnoticed when compared to some of his…

Canadian Premier League Scouting Database – Attacking Midfielders

We tracked every single CPL game over the course of the season to come up with our unique rating system. We compile that information alongside each player’s defensive, attacking and possession rankings. We present the players that are more than ready for that next step, whether that be playing in the MLS or somewhere in…

4 thoughts on “Canadian Premier League Matchday 4 – Tactical Review

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s