TORONTO – How do you solve a problem like Cavalry FC?
Very few teams have managed to do it – beat them, that is. In fact, the Calgarians lost just four matches in 2019 CPL action, with Forge beating them three times in regular season play, and Pacific getting just the one win. Clearly, Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s side is effective and efficient – which explains why Cavalry claimed both the Spring and the Fall titles.
So, how do you actually beat Cavalry?
Valour FC’s Rob Gale figures you’ve got to do battle with the “hydra” – as Cavalry, whose high-press has been dubbed the ’90 minutes of Hell’ by pundits, can attack in many different ways, across many different parts of the field.
“Well, they’re very clear in what they want to do, and that’s to overload wide areas. They don’t like going direct down the middle, so you have to deal with that; you have to deal with third-man runs and the overloads of the fullbacks and the wingers,” Gale told CanPL.ca.
“I don’t think it’s ’90 minutes of Hell’ by any means – I think that’s an exaggeration of the team – but the key is that pressuring the ball is a big part of their game,” he continued. “You have to be able to keep the ball and bypass their press.
“I would say the biggest thing is you have to be able to hold their press, and make sure you’re not giving the ball back to them cheaply in your own half, don’t concede in your own half. The other key is you can stop it at the source; you know that if you sit off them in a medium block, they’re going to get impatient and go long and direct.
“I think Tommy said it in the first game we played them, they couldn’t go through or around us, so they try going over you. They try and find different ways to win, and you have to be prepared for it.”
Seems fairly straightforward; keep the ball, avoid the press. Can Forge pull it off in Finals 2019, when they meet on Oct. 26 (Tim Hortons Field) and Nov. 2 (ATCO Field, Spruce Meadows)?
“No,” Gale replied, bluntly. “Honestly, I don’t think so. I think Cavalry has their number.”
“Forge can use the ball, so they might be able to keep possession and bypass some of the pressing tactics, but I think they’ll have to be at their best,” Gale added, after a pause.
Indeed, whatever Forge attempts, they’ll need to be in tip-top form to take on and defeat Cavalry over two legs, a feat that becomes problematic when considering that defenders Dominic Samuel and Bertrand Owundi are suspended for Leg 1 at Tim Hortons Field. It’s an advantage that Gale figures will be hard to overcome for the home side.
“You need your full team, which we didn’t have in that one game where we had three fit defenders. Clearly, we paid the price,” Gale said, referring to Valour’s 8-0 loss to Cavalry during the regular season.
“They’ll have to adjust their game plan, probably. Maybe they can go more counter-attack, and that’s sometimes worked for Forge this season. But, I think it’s going to be a challenge without your full squad. I don’t think Tommy’s had hardly any injury problems, so they’ll be at full tilt.”