Canadian Premier League Matchday 5 – Tactical Review

This season in the Canadian Premier League, Rhys Desmond will be bringing you the tactical minutiae behind every single match, team, and moment. Here is our tactical review of the Canadian Premier League’s fifth round of fixtures!


After missing a week of action due to COVID protocol, this match could have gone one of two ways for Forge FC. Either they’d come out guns blazing, full of energy and verve; or they’d completely miss out on any potential momentum gains from their 3-0 thrashing of Edmonton, and capitulate to the misery of missing last weekend. Unfortunately for Smyrniotis’ side, the latter occurred instead, with the Hamilton club completely lacking in energy and attacking intent against a stern York defense. Smyrniotis and his staff will however feel aggrieved to have lost, given the momentum they could have gained inside the opening minute. Terran Campbell scored the opening goal of the game, wrongly convicted of an off-side crime he didn’t commit.

From there, Forge kept the ball and progressed through the thirds with an air of patience and composure. But they lacked the same fervidity they showed in the final third against Edmonton, and couldn’t generate genuine chances of note (only 2 shots on target).

Fullbacks would invert one at a time as Hojabrpour and Bekker pushed into advanced positions, with the Hammers looking to create wide overloads as they patiently passed the ball around.

These kind of rotations pushed Tristan Borges into central channels closer to goal to try and thread the needle through toward Terran Campbell. On that opening occasion, the two players combined tremendously well to get beyond York’s defense. But for the remaining 89 minutes, Borges had a relatively quiet evening.

Niko Giantsopoulos meanwhile had another excellent match, correctly assessing moments to sweep in behind his back-line. Arguably man of the match, Dominick Zator had an equally magnificent evening in stopping Campbell and Borges from gaining traction. The central defender’s strength in the air was met by 4 headed clearances, taking control of any situation Giantsopoulos couldn’t claim. Impressively, Isaiah Johnston also wonderfully converted into a defensively minded shuttler in this one, stunting Kyle Bekker’s passing progress and Forge’s wide overload attempts. In many moments, the Hammers needed to be quicker in switching play and utilizing their rotations to find progressive passes, rather than meticulously overloading one side and looking for the moment to play through that never came.

But even in moments where they were able to adequately identify gaps in York’s defense and play the perfect pass, the final delivery lacked the proper accuracy. As a direct result, after a strong start and an opening goal that should have stood, York grew into the game, generated better chances, and eventually found a winner.

While it’s true that Forge held the majority of possession, York were more efficient with the ball at their feet, and achieved greater connectivity between their units. Rather predictability but effectively, York built out from the back utilizing their goalkeeper in an initial diamond structure, particularly on recycles and re-builds.

One of York’s central midfielders would drop toward the ball ahead of Forge’s second line of pressure in their 4-1-4-1, as the other looked for moments of their own to drift toward the ball and evade the opposition. The likes of Noah Verhoeven and Jordan Wilson used the space that Forge allowed them to play long passes over the top of Smyrniotis’ high-line, where De Rosario just needed to time his runs into space half-a-second later. The son of TFC legend Dwayne De Rosario made himself a constant focal point for the attack, both in transitional moments and wider attacking play. His assist on the one-two with Sebastian Gutierrez for York’s late goal was magnificently played, and he made himself a menace up front in fighting for every loose ball up against Dom Samuel and Garven Metusala.

Alongside Diyaeddine Abzi floating up with attacks and delivering crosses into the box, York’s play for the majority of the match was predictable, and Forge defended relatively well throughout the ninety. But the incisiveness from Gutierrez was simply too quick and magical for the Hammers to handle, even in a condensed area, and the match slipped out of their fingertips right at the end.

Discouragingly from a Forge perspective, even without that piece of brilliance, the Hammers never looked likely to win. Their moments of slowness never quite materialized into rhythm and completely stunted their attacking play, and York held their own level of astuteness in disrupting the flow. In the end, York walked away happy victors, climbing up to second in the table.


After a difficult start to the season, Tommy Wheeldon Jr. has now found consistency in his Cavalry team over the past two matches, accompanied by a strong change in shape. The Cavs started the season in a 3-4-2-1 formation, suffering two embarrassing losses to York and Atletico, and a stagnant draw against Forge. After realizing the slow-moving car wasn’t quite motoring the way he wanted it to, Wheeldon Jr. was right to identify a new vehicle. Now in a flexible 4-4-2 shape, Cavalry have been utterly dominant in both of their matches since, both in and out of possession. On this particular occasion, they completely stunted Edmonton’s progress going forward, and massively exploited space in exactly the right areas through staggering their personnel across the pitch.

Cavalry’s command against Edmonton started right from their defensive line, which played a crucial role building out from the back. The fullbacks held relatively low positions, and so too did Elliot Simmons, as Victor Loturi and Ali Musse sought space further ahead. As part of their midfield balance, each of Cavalry’s midfielders held a different degree of height in build up to progression phases, creating the terrific triangle pictured above. This allowed ease of access for opening corridors in between the lines, and disrupted Edmonton’s own desire to hold their own. Cavalry recognized the gaps in between Edmonton’s line of five and midfield unit of four, and used the shifting heights of their central midfielders to wonderfully exploit that space.

Joe Mason then held a position more on the left, as Escalante frequented lower on the left than his opposite winger in Jean-Aniel Assi, who generally held a slightly higher role on the right. So not only did this offer Cavalry advantages in breaking lines, but it also positioned talented players in close proximity. Musse could create opportunities to receive in the right-half-space with his movement, pulling Singh with him, and potentially opening corridors for Mason to sprint behind, or others like Fraser Aird to get up with the play and compound the overload. This can be seen working in great harmony on Cavalry’s first goal of the evening – a masterful strike from Joe Mason. Ali Musse did all the hard work in breaking lines and playing a beautiful one-two with Aird, before the right-back slipped Mason through the middle in on goal.

Similarly to York’s goal against Forge, the narrow shape in this moment allowed the Cavs to quickly play one-touch passes against a flat-footed defense, with the ball travelling shorter distances before the next action – causing the need for quicker reaction times.

With 58% of the possession (69% in the first half), Wheeldon Jr.’s team never lost their dominance in the match. They even switched to a 3-4-1-2 midway through the second half, allowing Musse even greater ease of access for receiving passes in between the lines. The Canadian midfielder brilliantly found himself in acres of space time and time again in behind Edmonton’s double pivot as they threw numbers forward, and could continuously use his pace and timing of the pass to exploit Edmonton’s wide areas as strikers and wing-backs shifted wide to work in harmony.

This is exactly how Cavalry’s third goal of the game found its way into the back of the net, when Jose Escalante raced forward to receive Musse’s pass, and eventually careened the ball off Cale Loughrey for an own goal.

Out of possession, Cavalry lined up in more of a 4-4-2 shape, with Ali Musse joining Joe Mason in the first line of pressure. In specific moments, Musse magnificently recognized Gabriel Bitar’s potential to receive in space, and lowered himself in more of a 4-1-4-1, screening the dynamic midfielder.

Musse would then burst forward back into a 4-4-2 immediately following the ball making its way into Cale Loughrey instead, as the others in behind pushed up with the play.

As noted in our tactical recap of the matches last weekend, the Cavs again used a staggered pressing structure, with the wingers holding varying heights. Escalante held line height with the midfield two to make a lopsided three, where Assi pushed up further ahead and closer to Musse and Mason. The potential reasoning of this decision could lie within inciting the opposition to play passes down Cavalry’s right. In two ways, this would be Cavalry’s preferred side to defend. It’s where Fraser Aird, who is a slightly more competent and proactive ball-winner than their left-back, can push up with the play and win the ball. It also happens to be the side of Edmonton’s weaker winger. In theory, this entices the opposition into fewer passes down Tobias Warschewski’s side, similarly to last week where Marco Bustos pushed into central areas in order to find any room to receive the ball.

Simultaneously, their staggered and compact attacking shape benefited the Cavs in transition, as Elliot Simmons could immediately spring into action in covering ground laterally up against Edmonton’s best ball carrier and long-passing threat in Gabriel Bitar. Victor Loturi could cover ground more or less vertically, retreating back into a double-pivot. But Simmons’ exceptional ability to spring into action meant that the Cavs could immediately restart their attacks without Loturi and Musse having to travel too far back the other way. The effectiveness in this approach speaks volumes in the fact that I recorded my thoughts on it mid-match.

The tactic worked like a charm, and Wheeldon Jr.’s press again held together with a high degree of proficiency and pugnacity.

Further down the pitch, their overly narrow positioning from their full-backs allowed some level of room out wide for Edmonton to receive.

This occurred particularly in moments of transition, where Aird or Vliet tucked too far inside. With better switches of play and less verticality in transition (counter-intuitive, I know), Edmonton easily could have taken advantage of these wide spaces. In other instances, in fact in Edmonton’s most positive patterns of play, they utilized T-Boy Fayia to overlap Tobias Warschewski, and positional rotation to open further corridors of space. As the German drifted toward the ball to receive, Bradley Vliet often came with him. Escalante then had to track the movement of Fayia as he floated higher up the pitch, where the Honduran often had no choice but to let the full-back receive.

Nevertheless, with Karifa Yao and Mason Trafford winning everything in the air, Elliot Simmons and Victor Loturi throwing themselves into challenges, and even Marco Carducci playing a part in sweeping in behind, Edmonton had no mechanism whatsoever for generating clear-cut chances. It shows in the stats – with 0 shots on target throughout the ninety for Alan Koch’s men, an embarrassing performance in a momentous derby occasion.

valour fc 0-0 hfx wanderers fc

In a slightly more entertaining defensive affair than York v Forge, two sweeper keepers came out on top as clear standout performers, leading to a 0-0 draw.

Despite having less of the possession, HFX provided the greater gusto on the day, constantly playing with pace on the break and troubling Jonathan Sirois. The young Canadian keeper had to come out of his net on several occasions (we counted six), and handled his own magnificently well in doing so. Apart from an almost disastrous slip-up at the end of the game where he completely over-committed himself, Sirois correctly assessed when to leave his posts and stop HFX in transition. That, combined by a solid 4-4-2 defensive structure and excellent reading of the game in central areas, allowed Valour to stop HFX from gaining a proper foothold and scoring a goal.

But going the other way, HFX were equally brilliant, with Andre Rampersad again standing out for his ability to anchor the midfield line and track the movement of an opposition striker. Moses Dyer had one of his quietest matches in recent memory, failing to escape the simultaneous shackles of Eriks Santos and Rampersad ahead of him. Stephen Hart’s men also pressed magnificently from the front, with Cory Bent leading the aggressiveness and kickstarting attacking moves. In his first start of the season, Colin Gander tamed William Akio and bossed the wing wizard in the air; while Kieran Baskett completely commanded his penalty area.

Valour found greater consistency as the match came to a close, after Brett Levis switched to left-back. Phillip Dos Santos’ team could then use the pace and left-footedness of their left-back to advance up the pitch as Sean Rea drifted inside to receive, trying to pull the strings and generate chances for his team.

Up against HFX’s intense press, Valour also opted for long passes, and did so fairly successfully – completing 53 total on the day (58%), according to FotMob. But they could never quite turn those excellent long passes from the likes of Romeo and Fordyce to generate further magic, and Halifax defended the width of the eighteen extraordinarily well.

With solid defensive structures in place, it was then up to Halifax’s midfield to get the game going. Aidan Daniels failed to find the same level he showed on the opening day against York, and Pierre Lamothe completely changed the dynamic after entering the pitch at half-time. The 24-year-old midfielder found himself with two great opportunities to score inside the first ten minutes of the second half, both of which were smartly stopped by Sirois. As Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé excellently lobbed passes from left to right and switched play with poise and precision, Andre Rampersad took his moments to venture forward and contribute to the attack. Both even combined on a few set-pieces, where JGL continuously found the noggins of players like Rampersad and Peter Schaale – another area in which HFX required just half-a-degree more precision.

In the end, a 0-0 draw was an unsurprising result given the quality of chances, and keeps both teams within a good standing in the table.


In the final match of the weekend, Atletico Ottawa battled it out with Pacific and were far and away the superior team. But Callum Irving held strong in between the posts, and helped James Merriman’s team claim the victory that their possession warranted.

Atletico Ottawa built out from the back in their typical 3-2-5 shape, but this time attacked with more of a true 3-4-2-1 appearance, as opposed to the sort of inverted winger lopsidedness of previous weeks.

Deployed on the left wing, Malcolm Shaw performed well in defensive phases to track Olakunkle Dada-Luke going forward, and bulldozed his way around the fullback in attack. As more of a natural left winger than his predecessors from previous weeks, Maxim Tissot found himself underlapping more than overlapping during Atletico’s best attacking moments, and helped to create some of Callum Irving’s best saves on the day.

Shaw’s positioning also allowed Ballou Tabla to play up top alongside Brian Wright – in a more advanced role down the right that completely allowed him to showcase his talent. It was these two players that Atletico often looked to in transition, and both often exploded away from Pacific’s slower back-line to generate quality chances. Ollie Bassett pulled the strings from deep and contributed with a few nice set-pieces, to which the likes of Drew Beckie could have easily converted on another day. Miguel Acosta also dazzled upon his introduction in the second half, playing a few beautiful long passes over the top as Tabla situated himself in between defenders. We’ve made it no secret how highly we think of Thomas Meilleur-Giguère as a footballer, but Tabla ran riot around the Canadian defender, and excellently combined with his teammates in creating notable chances in the final third.

Out of possession, Atletico also fared well in their quest to track and screen Alejandro Diaz, who had another quiet match in the attacking third. The big man up top scored a rebound goal off Aparicio’s outside of the box wonder strike, but otherwise had very little to do with the overall evolution of the match. He shifted wide to allow Josh Heard inside and participated in Pacific’s rotations, but Atletico wonderfully tracked his movement and limited his ability to play facing the goal rather than with his back to it. With all three of Sissoko, Beckie and Niba completely commanding crosses into the box and bossing their aerial duels, Diaz had little room to breathe. Right at the very death, Gianni dos Santos found room to breathe of his own and escaped Chris Mannella, but Nathan Ingham stood strong and came up with arguably the save of the game to stop Pacific from claiming a second goal. But for the most part, Atletico defended resolutely in a 4-4-2, and stopped Pacific from capitalizing on their wide overload attempts.

Speaking of saves of the game, Pacific can thank Callum Irving’s safe hands for their win, after the Canadian keeper made 10 stops in the match. While only a select few were genuinely well-hit shots, Irving’s performance was still nevertheless impressive, and even earned himself our Player of the Week. Amer Didic and TMG sometimes struggled for pace up against Tabla, Shaw and Wright, but handled aerial duels up against them well and they too had a reasonably successful evening defending in front of goal.

Out from the back, Pacific built up in a 3+2 shape, with Dixon dropping into the back-line more regularly than what we’ve seen from Baldisimo in the anchor position. Sean Young and Manny Aparicio then roamed ahead, as Marco Bustos shifted inside and Dada-Luke galloped on the overlap. Joshua Heard also randomly rotated with his teammates at different moments, looking to attract the ball and find his footing. But the real threat again came down Pacific’s right, where Marco Bustos and Olakunle Dada-Luke often combined magnificently to create chances. Tissot couldn’t cope with Dada-Luke’s pace going forward, and Pacific could have done more to isolate the Atletico fullback 1v1 more often. Merriman’s team had a few nice moments in using their wide overloads to open gaps in between Atletico’s defense to play into, but they lacked in the final ball into the box.

In the end, they relied on a bit of a “sweaty goal” to win the match, with Irving having to pull off miracles at the other end to secure victory. However, after claiming the win, Pacific go five points clear at the top of the table.


See more details into our Team of the Week and Player Ratings here: Canadian Premier League – Player Ratings, and don’t forget to check back again soon for more tactical reviews!

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!

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