‘Miraculous team spirit’: Forge left baffled as Cavalry staves off loss

HAMILTON – “It’s no fun being alone at the top of the table.”

Those were the words of Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. following his side’s (latest) last-gasp result. Is this the first crack in the Cavs armour? Or is Wheeldon Jr. simply welcoming the competition?

On a 7-match winning streak heading into this match, Cavalry was finally held to a non-victorious result.

A 1-1 draw against Forge FC in the first leg of the second round of the 2019 Canadian Championship came off the back of a 94th-minute red card that left the Hamilton-based side with no goalkeeper to defend the Cavs’ equalizing penalty goal.

Back on May 12th, it was Nico Pasquotti who played hero for Cavalry, stealing a 2-1 victory from Forge FC in the 95th minute.

Tonight, it was Dominque Malonga who got to spoil the taste of victory for the crowd at Tim Hortons Field, as his equalizer on the penalty beat … Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson.

Yes, Forge midfielder Achinioti-Jonsson, who had to put on the gloves after Quillan Roberts was sent off, with no substitutes left to replace him, after a late challenge drew a straight red card from the referee.

In the rarest circumstance to end a match we have seen this season, Forge FC assistant coach Peter Reynders was left baffled by his team’s late fall-apart. It’s an understandable reaction when the drama comes late and tensions boil over after the final whistle.

“I really don’t know what happened,” Reynders told reporters after the match. “The game was nearly finished, it was in a lost moment where we were struggling … it’s crazy, I didn’t see what was happening. I can’t tell you what even happened.

“Was it a penalty, was it not a penalty?” he continued. “I guess it was because the official made a decision, gave the red card. (But) we didn’t know if it was a penalty or not.”

Forge FC captain Kyle Bekker shared similar sentiments as his coach, telling reporters: “It is what it is. It’s tough, the ref made a call, I didn’t know you could do a double punishment anymore. It’s tough to have the game end like that.”

For the second straight game against Forge, Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s group has pulled off a miracle in the final minute. This time it was in the first leg of the 2019 Canadian Championships second round, where a crucial away goal gives the Cavs a slight edge heading into the second leg at Spruce Meadows (June 11, 9:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. MT, available on OneSoccer).

Wheeldon Jr. figures his team’s bond may have something to do with the consistent late-game heroics.

“We’ve just got miraculous team spirit,” Wheeldon Jr. said after the match. “There is a togetherness about this group that no matter what’s going on were always together, doesn’t matter if the game is dead and buried.

“These games are very tough, a lot of wind and they’re a very tough team. But there is a great spirit about this team, and that togetherness will take us a long way this year.”

Regardless of this result, though, one storyline has emerged: There is a new rivalry budding between these two heavyweights.

“It’s wonderful, innit?” Wheeldon Jr. posed. “I think it’s a good rivalry because of an element of dislike in what happened at the end.”

While Wheeldon Jr. revels in the moment, Bekker certainly didn’t.

“This is now two tough games we’ve had against them (Cavalry FC) that have come down to the last minute,” Bekker offered. “So I think it’s a lot of ammunition and a lot for us to take into the second leg and go get a result. There is still a lot to do. We can’t get caught up in all this. We have to move on and get a result in Calgary.”

Wheeldon Jr. on the other hand, expect his high energy to continue all the way through until next Tuesday.

“We’ve got this never die spirit, and we got the away goal,” Wheeldon Jr. concluded. “Now we’re heading back to Spruce Meadows, which will be rocking, I can guarantee that!”