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

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 through 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.

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.

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.

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.

Ralph Priso caused some anxious moments for the Whitecaps in the 15th minute when his errant back pass rolled just wide of the Vancouver goalpost. An unmarked Montgomery flubbed a header off a Cavalry free kick in the 38th.

The game opened up more 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.

In the 54th minute at the other end, a diving Lleyton Brooks header was off-target. And Boehmer made a fine save to deny Brooks’s downward header off a fine Fraser Aird cross in the 60th.

Aird had to leave in the 73rd minute after being bowled over by Vancouver substitute Luis Martins, who was booked on the play. Centre-back Ranko Veselinovic came on in the 75th to help preserve the Whitecaps lead.

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, Vancouver coach Vanni 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 with Martins coming on for Priso. Cyprian Kachwele, a Whitecaps 2 forward who signed a short-term agreement for the game, replaced Johnson in the 84th minute.

Australian teenager Giuseppe Bovalina came on for Vancouver in the 88th minute.

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

Cavalry coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. 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 on May 7, 2024 

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