For Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s Cavalry FC side, a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Impact in Canadian Championship action at Stade Saputo would, in any other circumstance, provide his players with little to celebrate in the locker rooms after the final whistle.
But, in this particular case, a 2-1 defeat comes with a few caveats, as Steven Sandor points out in his piece breaking down this Leg 1 result between a CPL and an MLS outfit. Namely, that this Cavalry team – 10 men on the night after Nik Ledgerwood’s red card midway through the second half – goes into Leg 2 at Spruce Meadows with a key away goal, having defied the stat sheet and come away with a silver lining – the sort Wheeldon Jr. relished in his post-match talk.
“We’re still in the fight,” the Cavs coach told reporters in Montreal after the match.
“We had to come here, first game in this fantastic stadium and a fantastic pitch against some highly-technical players, and I think it was important we had to stay in the game. We’ll be disappointed to gift the first goal, because I think Montreal are good enough to create their own. Even when we went down to 10 men, it showed the spirit of this group and why we’re having a good season is, we don’t give up. All we need is one or two chances.”
He added: “When things got tough today, our character stood tall. That’s what this group has in abundance.”
For Cavalry, this result sets up the fascinating prospect of defeating not one, but two MLS outfits en route to the battle for the Voyageurs Cup, where one of the Ottawa Fury or, more likely, Toronto FC (who won the first leg 2-0 at TD Place in Ottawa) await.
The Cavs already dispatched the Vancouver Whitecaps in the earlier stage of this competition, holding their MLS opposites to a 0-0 draw at Spruce Meadows before turning it around with a 2-1 win over the Caps at B.C. Place.
For defender Mason Trafford, this first leg loss may be “a bit bittersweet,” but, as he points out, “in this sort of tie, it’s actually only half-time. We’re only down 2-1 at half here.” ”We’re going back to Calgary where we’ll have a bit of altitude on our home pitch and hopefully make it difficult for a good team (like Montreal),” Trafford explained.
They’ll have to do so without captain Ledgerwood, but Wheeldon Jr. affirmed his team will “adapt and overcome,” regardless. His team is deep, and players like Elijah Adekugbe and Mauro Eustaquio are ready to step into that midfield.
And, having felt out the Impact, Cavalry will be raring to show some finer form at home, too.
Luckily, motivation won’t be hard to find for Wheeldon Jr.’s ranks.
“I don’t think we were as good as we wanted to be in the first half, and that showed with the goal we gave up,” Wheeldon Jr. reflected. “But, even when the second goal went in, I looked around, and I didn’t have to rally the boys, c’mon, let’s go’ because we knew, if we took one goal, it’s a whole different ball game in the second leg.
“And, I’ll tell you, we knew it was a big pitch, a quick pitch – it was like playing on ice there for our boys – but come to Spruce Meadows; it’s a different circumstance at Spruce Meadows. Our fans are phenomenal, right on top of it. It’s a slower pitch, and it’s a tough one to play on. We look forward to that second leg.”