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Johnson scores twice as Whitecaps open cup defence with win over Cavalry FC

Vancouver Whitecaps Levonte Johnson - The Canadian Press

CALGARY — Levonte Johnson scored twice to help the Vancouver Whitecaps open defence of their Canadian Championship with a 2-1 win over Cavalry FC in the opening leg of their quarterfinal Tuesday.

Johnson's first goal was a spectacular strike in first-half injury time. The second came off a Cavalry error in the 78th minute.

Substitute Malcolm Shaw pulled one back for Cavalry in second-half stoppage time, taking a deft Lucas Dias pass and slipping away from two defenders before poking the ball past Vancouver 'keeper Isaac Boehmer.

It was a chilly, wet and windy evening at ATCO Field at Spring Meadows, with a temperature of 5 C feeling more like zero. The conditions did not help the quality of football to start.

Vancouver's XG (expected goals) was a paltry 0.04 and Cavalry's 0.06 in a first half that saw each team manage just one shot on target.

The Whitecaps scored on theirs, however.

Johnson broke the deadlock with a moment of brilliance in first-half stoppage time. Defender Mathias Laborda took a quick free kick from inside his own half that was headed away by Callum Montgomery but only as far as the Vancouver winger, who hammered a swerving left-footed shot in off the goalpost from outside the Cavalry penalty box.

"A fantastic goal," said Whitecaps coach Vanni Sartini.

Another long ball from Vancouver defender Bjorn Utvik led to the second goal. Montgomery misplayed the ball, allowing Johnson to take a shot from the edge of the box that beat Marco Carducci.

Sartini said the first goal forced Cavalry to open up in the second half, allowing the Whitecaps to find and take advantage of space.

The return leg is May 21 at B.C. Place Stadium. In the event of an aggregate tie, the team with the most away goals wins with a penalty shootout the final decider if needed.

Sartini lamented conceding the late goal.

"But we're very happy that we get away from here with a win and we are ahead on the tie and the next game is home," the Italian added. "There's a lot of things to take away from here that are positives."

Cavalry coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. was buoyed by his team's more aggressive second-half performance.

"It's halftime, isn't it?" he said of the series. "The reality is we've got to score two goals at their place and we've done that before. So it's nothing to fear and everything to gain."

Vancouver is looking to win the cup for a third straight year.

CF Montreal drew 1-1 at Forge FC in quarterfinal play earlier Tuesday. On Wednesday, it's Toronto FC at CS Saint-Laurent and Pacific FC at Atletico Ottawa.

The Cavalry-Whitecaps winner will face either Pacific or Ottawa in the semifinal.

The Whitecaps and Montreal, the 2023 tournament runner-up, had first-round byes in the 14-team tournament. Cavalry defeated Vancouver FC 1-0 in the preliminary round.

Tuesday's game opened up in the second half and Cavalry made it interesting in the dying minutes.

Whitecaps wingback Ali Ahmed, who hit the crossbar in the 53rd minute, was a danger man during his 63-minute shift dribbling past Cavalry defenders at will.

Cavalry defender Fraser Aird had to leave in the 73rd minute after being bowled over by Vancouver substitute Luis Martins, who was booked on the play.

Cavalry and the Whitecaps have history.

The Calgary side defeated Vancouver 2-1 on aggregate in the third qualifying round of the 2019 cup competition, before falling to eventual champion Montreal (3-1 on aggregate) in the semifinal.

The Whitecaps avenged that loss by dispatching Cavalry 5-3 in a penalty shootout in the 2022 quarterfinals. Cavalry was at the wrong end of another penalty shootout in the 2023 preliminary round, losing 5-3 to Pacific FC.

Vancouver, which stands fourth in the MLS Western Conference at 5-3-2, had lost just one of its previous six games (3-1-2).

Cavalry, fifth in the CPL standings at 1-1-2, is unbeaten in three games (1-0-2) since dropping the season opener 2-1 at Forge.

With a game at Los Angeles FC looming Saturday, Sartini made eight changes from the starting 11 that drew 0-0 with visiting Austin FC in the Whitecaps' 50th anniversary match on the weekend. Only Utvik, Ahmed and Brian White retained their spots with White serving as skipper.

Ryan Gauld, the Whitecaps usual captain, replaced White to start the second half.

Cyprian Kachwele, a Whitecaps 2 forward who signed a short-term agreement for the game, and Australian teenager Giuseppe Bovalina came on for the Whitecaps in the dying minutes.

Vancouver was without the injured Sam Adekugbe, who grew up in Calgary, and Damir Kreilach.

Cavalry made three changes with Jesse Daley, Diego Gutierrez and Montgomery coming in for the injured Tom Field and Ali Musse and suspended Shamit Shome.

Cavalry plays at the Halifax Wanderers on Saturday.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2024