Cavalry thriving under pressure at grueling Island Games: ‘They kind of enjoy it’

If you’ve listened to a Tommy Wheeldon Jr. press conference, you may have heard him use the phrase “adapt and overcome.” He’s brought it out many times when speaking to the media, trying to explain the mindset he’s preached to his Cavalry FC players when faced with challenges.

The challenges of the 2020 CPL season have been seemingly endless. The four clubs left at The Island Games have now each played eight unforgiving contests in PEI after very little time to prepare, and so it’s naturally been a taxing experience.

For their part, the Cavs have suffered key injuries, they’ve had off nights, and yet they were top of the table in the first round. They’re top of the second group stage right too, having convincingly defeated Pacific FC to win 3-1 on Wednesday.

“We’re certainly sharpening our axe, aren’t we? We’re getting closer,” Wheeldon told reporters after the game. “It’s a war of attrition, I say that all the time. It’s about being the best version of ourselves in the current circumstances we’re in.

“Credit to the guys, they are just resilient when it comes to performing under pressure, and they’ve done that. I think they kind of enjoy it, it’s getting better and better.”

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Cavalry entered this match with a new look to the lineup, with usual right winger Nico Pasquotti dropping into the No. 10 role behind an old-school dual striker setup of Marcus Haber and Jordan Brown. Wheeldon explained that he felt Pacific were prone to leaving gaps in the middle, and with players such as Sergio Camargo and Oliver Minatel — more traditional number 10s — out to injury, he called on Pasquotti.

The new tactic was working like a charm early in the game, with both Pasquotti and Brown finding scoring opportunities sprouting from central play. In the 30th minute, though, a tackle that tweaked Pasquotti’s right knee put a wrench in those plans.

So, it was former FC Edmonton midfielder Bruno Zebie’s turn to step up.

“We looked across, and we know Bruno Zebie,” Wheeldon said. “The great thing about Bruno is I’ve worked with him before, and even at Edmonton he played in a wide position, he’s played in a midfield position, he’ll play wherever you put him. He’ll play in goal if we needed him to.”

And so, the Cavs soldiered on. They continued to press Pacific hard and attack the gaps quickly, adjusting on the fly to the major changes needed in the game plan (and doing so again just after halftime, when captain Nik Ledgerwood’s injury brought eventual goalscorer Elijah Adekugbe onto the pitch).

“I’m delighted,” Wheeldon said. “The game changes, they’re really stepping up when it counts.”

One player that stood out for all 90 minutes (and has done at many points in PEI) was 20-year-old Mo Farsi. The wingback has had a well-deserved share of praise since making his Cavalry debut a few weeks ago, and he earned some more on Wednesday by winning a penalty and then scoring the insurance marker with a wicked strike.

The Cavalry coach was asked, simply, how far he thinks Farsi can go: “Up and down the touchline, often. And a lot.”

In all seriousness, Wheeldon asserted that the sky is the limit for the young Farsi. Wheeldon used the example of James Rodriguez (who recently signed for Wheeldon’s beloved Everton) as someone who earned a big move after making a major impact at a short tournament — although in his case, it was the 2014 FIFA World Cup rather than The Island Games.

But still, there’s a similarity in how a top showing on the right stage can do wonders for a career.

“This is like a World Cup setting,” Wheeldon suggested. “He’s one of those players that is here because of the Canadian Premier League. He was lost in the shuffle, lost in the deck. He survived, he went out to Algeria to try and play, he’s played in the PLSQ, and he’s just hungry.

“He can go as high as he wants to because he’s humble enough.”

We’ll see how high Cavalry FC can go, as a group, beginning on Saturday when they face HFX Wanderers FC.

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