‘We’re top of the CPL for a reason’: Cavs’ Wheeldon Jr. savours Forge matchup

Cavalry FC’s British head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. sounded like he referring to a 120-year-old English derby after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with Forge FC in the Canadian Championship’s second round.

“It’s wonderful, innit,” Wheeldon gushed moments after the two table-topping CPL sides renewed hostilities in tight, rough-and-tumble matchup at Tim Hortons Field.

“There was a healthy degree of respect. It is a good rivalry,” Wheeldon said. “The tie is wide open now that we got that away goal.”

Yes, “that away goal” came at the death, same as it did when these two teams played each other last in league play.

Cavalry won a penalty kick as Forge ‘keeper Quillian Roberts came in with a high boot on a challenge in the box. Roberts was sent off, and midfielder Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson stepped in his place. Cavalry’s Dominique Malonga smashed home that away marker, giving the visitors a dramatic equalizer with almost the last kick of the ball.

That equalizer didn’t look like it would come for long stretches against Forge, who took the lead on an Emery Welshman tap-in in the 48th minute – a chance that came following an awkward giveaway from Cavalry.

So, just like that, Wheeldon Jr.’s side was trailing in a match for the first time in the club’s inaugural season.

“We’re top of the CPL for a reason,” Wheeldon said.

“I think we were still on Calgary’s time zone when we kicked off… we were behind the eight ball. But once we started playing our game, winning the ball higher up, and beating their press I thought we got into it.

Mason Trafford and Jose Escalante both returned to competitive action following injury troubles, with Trafford making his first appearance for Cavalry and wearing the captain’s armband.

It was a so-so return for Cavalry’s rock of a centreback. Some of his good work – such a lovely touch to control a nearly-chest-high cross in the first half – was overshadowed by a costly second-half giveaway that nearly gave Forge a second goal.

“I don’t think it was necessarily a vintage performance,” Trafford admitted. “It was good to shake the rust off there, I’ve only been back in training for a week.”

There was a bit of anxiety on Trafford’s shoulders, too, as his side came into the match undefeated across both competitions.

“A little bit of anxiousness knowing how well our team is doing and I want to keep that run going.”

The Cavs head home to Calgary for the second leg (Tuesday, June 11/9:30 p.m. ET, 7:30 p.m. MT, on OneSoccer) with an advantage on away goals and a chance to best this new competitive rival in Forge and advance to play Vancouver Whitecaps in the next round.

“These have been heated and emotional games at the end,” Wheeldon Jr. said, referencing Nico Pasquotti’s winner in a Sunday afternoon match in May

“With the away goal headed home, Spruce Meadows will be rocking, I can tell you that.”