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CALGARY — Heads held high.
That’s the takeaway message from Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. after his side bowed out in the 2019 Canadian Championship semi-final at the hands of the visiting Montreal Impact in front of a boisterous capacity home crowd at Spruce Meadows on Wednesday night.
“I’m immensely proud of this group of players,” he said post-game. “We talked about it in the locker room: We’re going to give everything we have. We’ve given everything we have.”
The Canadian Premier League squad has already set an incredibly high bar, winning the inaugural spring session with an 8-2-0 record and continuing that momentum into Fall play, currently perched second in the standings (3-1-2) with a game in hand on leading FC Edmonton.
On top of that, the club has turned heads across the country, marching to the final four of the Canadian Champion, a journey that began in mid-May with a 2-0 victory over Pacific FC at Westhills Stadium. From there, the team went on to beat Forge FC and made history by defeating the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 in the quarterfinals at B.C. Place.
“We’ve played four games against MLS established clubs, and they’ve been one-goal games,” Wheeldon Jr. explained. “That shows the strength of where we are, and we are less than 100 days old. Give me another 100 days and see where we are at.”
For the players, it’s about showing they consistently belong in the conversation of formidable Canadian talent, collectively as a team, as individuals and representing the CPL. That was no different against the Impact.
“On another night we might’ve got a couple,” captain Mason Trafford stated. “We were ready, we were eager, we were hungry, and we had a lot of belief that we were going to turn the tide.”
If there’s something Wheeldon Jr. would pick out as a negative talking point after Wednesday’s performance is his team’s lack of killer instinct on set pieces, something that’s been the bread and butter of Cavalry’s success this season.
“It was a tale of a set play either way because if we scored it and they didn’t, we’re going through,” he said of the Cavs’ 12 corner kicks versus Montreal, just a fraction of the total number of set pieces Cavalry had over 90 minutes. “There were probably about 12 long throw-ins and free-kicks in and around the halfway line (too). We threw everything at it. It was a game of inches.”
Looking at the final stats sheet, Cavalry also led the way in shots (18), possession (60%), passes (373) and pass accuracy (73%).
Unfortunately, the only column on said stats sheets that matters is the score line.
So, after a commendable showing in the Canadian Championship, what’s next for Wheeldon Jr. and his lads? Well, a date against their Albertan rivals on Friday night at Spruce Meadows for another edition of Al Classico is the perfect opportunity to bounce back stronger. Even though they have already booked a spot in the CPL championship later this fall, there’s no taking the foot off the gas for the team from Calgary.
“We always put up a fight,” Wheeldon Jr. concluded. “We’ve just got to keep playing and worrying about our business.”
And he added, with a chuckle, “We’d love an Al Classico final.”