Cavalry FC beat Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 in the Canadian Championship (Voyageurs Cup) third round second-leg match in Vancouver Wednesday to advance to the national knockout tournament’s semifinals. Goals by Jordan Brown and Dominick Zator helped the visitors advance to the semifinals.
The victory is a major milestone for Calgary’s new professional soccer club and the Canadian Premier League, and is already considered by many to be one of the most significant moments in Canadian club soccer history.
Here are some talking points about the series and the return to Canadian Premier League action this weekend:
1. Self belief key to Cavalry FC victory over Whitecaps
Cavalry FC manager Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s approach to preparing for a match is simple. He looks for his opponent’s strengths he hopes to nullify and tries to spot any exploitable weakness.
And the Whitecaps, who are currently wallowing at the bottom of the MLS Western Conference, had plenty of weaknesses for Wheeldon Jr. to hone in on Wednesday.
“I’m a big believer in psychology and I think what you can see now is they’re going through a tough time,” said Wheeldon Jr. post match. “We know they’re vulnerable on transition because they overplay. We caught them with that goal. And we know our set plays. We know we had a chance that as soon as it went wide our tails went up.”
Cavalry FC’s captain Nik Ledgerwood directly compared the two clubs’ current state of minds in his post-match comments.
“I honestly believe that the biggest difference between both teams tonight was that every player on our team believed that we could win the game,” said Ledgerwood Wednesday. “And I don’t think that was the case on the Whitecaps. I honestly do.”
Ledgerwood admitted he and and the rest of the squad felt like the underdogs going into the first-leg two weeks ago, but something changed midway through the series.
“We gained a lot of confidence from the (first-leg) game in Calgary and I think our game talk, our motivational speech before the game was, we’re no longer underdogs,” said Ledgerwood. “We’ve got something to prove, we’re hungry. Everybody in the locker room thought and believed in ourselves that we could actually pull it off today.”
Cavalry FC likely won’t be short of confidence going into the Canadian Championship semifinal against Montreal Impact.
The first-leg goes Wednesday, Aug. 7 in Montreal with the second-leg in Calgary a week later Aug. 14. Tickets for the second-leg at Spruce Meadows go on sale to the general public Tuesday, July 30.
And expect the second-leg to be a hot ticket.
2. First-leg 0-0 draw perfect platform for victory
First-legs are often the forgotten matches of a two-legged series, for understandable reasons. A two-legged tie’s climax comes in its second act.
But the scenes of collective jubilation shared between Cavalry FC’s players and those admirable Cavs fans who made the formidable trek to BC Place would not have happened Wednesday without the hard yards put in during the first-leg match in Calgary two weeks prior.
The importance of that evening’s 0-0 draw at home, in front of the boisterous partisan support, cannot be overstated. Not allowing the Whitecaps a precious away goal was key to Cavalry’s eventual success. The intricacies of the first match, not just the general result – a win, tie or a loss, have implications on the series at large. It’s one of the appeals of a two-legged series.
On July 10 after the first-leg, Wheeldon Jr. may not have been as giddy as he and his captain Ledgerwood were while taking their seats for the press conference in Vancouver two weeks later. But after the first-leg draw in Calgary there was a wry smile on the gaffer’s face while addressing the media at Spruce Meadows suggesting he knew the tie was there for the taking.
“The tie is wide open, isn’t it?” said Wheeldon Jr., with a glint in his eye. “That’s what we wanted – to make sure that when we went (to Vancouver), we could have a go.”
And, have a go they did.
3. Cavalry FC returns to CPL action against Valour FC Saturday
It’s a quick turnaround for Cavalry FC as the Calgary club returns to its CPL commitments with a visit to Winnipeg Saturday to play Valour FC.
Valour FC currently sits bottom of the Canadian Premier League fall table and have yet to earn a victory in the league’s second session. The Winnipeg club needs to right its ship soon or its inaugural season may be a bit of a failure. Valour will be hoping Cavalry’s players will be short of energy after their midweek heroics.
But don’t expect Cavalry FC to arrive in Manitoba with a Canadian Championship hangover. Wheeldon Jr. will be utilizing Cavalry FC’s deep squad, as he’s done all season.
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The likes of Dominique Malonga, Elijah Adekugbe and Oliver Minatel will be fully rested and available for Wednesday. Also, Cavalry FC gets a 10-day break following the Saturday’s match, before taking the field against Montreal Impact August 7.
So, Wheeldon Jr. may not sit out his top performers just yet, knowing he can give them a well-deserved rest over the following week and a half. He’ll probably ask some of his top boys to hang in there for 90 more minutes Saturday, before allowing them to put their feet up for a spell.
4. Saturday’s game to be televised on CBC
Tommy Wheeldon Jr. and Rob Gale, Valour FC’s manager, will pick their teams and strategies knowing Saturday’s game is being televised on CBC. It’s one of only 10 CPL matches being broadcast on mainstream television this season – CBC is showing 10 other matches on CBC Gem, CBCSports.ca, while fledgling streaming service OneSoccer is presenting all matches.
There should be more pressing priorities when choosing your tactics. But knowing the match is available nationwide in the mainstream will likely factor in to each coaches’ pregame decisions.
Both managers have embraced their responsibilities to the league and its growth, and both have acknowledged its success is linked to the growth of the game in this country.
As a result, they’ll want to put on a good show Saturday. Strong squads and positive tactics will likely be deployed.
Valour FC vs Cavalry FC will be shown on CBC television 11 a.m. MDT (1 p.m. ET) Saturday July 27.