That’s the message from Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. ahead of Leg 2 of the Canadian Championship Finals in Calgary.
“We’re confident in our performances at home,” he said after his squad’s final practice session of 2019. “Everyone this week is saying, ‘Oh, they’re already putting the Forge ribbons on the trophy’. We don’t see it as so.”
Trailing Forge FC 0-1 on aggregate, the Cavs have returned to Spruce Meadows — their home, one that’s embraced them with open arms all season. It’s a pitch that has seen everything from snow, sleet and rain and hosted visitors from coast-to-coast, including Major League Soccer clubs during the Canadian Championship.
“We stood there as a team before the stand was built,” Wheeldon Jr. recalled of early 2019 when ATCO Field was just coming together. “Then the stand got built, and we stood there, and it reminded us of a Roman amphitheater, and they’re like gladiators coming out because it’s sunken into the ground.
“For us, that does give us a home-field advantage.
“When the fans are behind us, are making it loud, it’s an intimidating atmosphere because they’re right on top.”
The players, too, say the relish suiting up in front of such an intense audience and unique setting.
“We’ve created a culture here in southern Alberta that any soccer fan would love to come out and experience,” captain and Lethbridge product Nik Ledgerwood stated. “Anyone who is on the fence about coming to the big final, it’s probably going to be the best game they’ll see live in some time. That’s hats off to Spruce Meadows, the fans, all the supporters’ groups and us as a team.”
“Just looking back, I think we’ve lost two games at home,” defender Nathan Mavila said. “It’s a big confidence boost. Nothing’s better than home, especially with the Foot Soldiers and the fans, family around you. It makes the occasion ten-times easier being at home is great for us.”
Through all competitions, Cavalry has 13 wins at home, with many of those victories proving to be of the dramatic kind, whether it was a point-blank save by Marco Carducci or a late game-winning goal.
“If you look at the last five home games that we’ve had, we’ve scored 12 out of 15 goals in the last 15 minutes, and they come in bunches,” Wheeldon Jr. said. “Teams can compete with us as long and as often as possible, but as soon as we score one, we score more.
“Our last five games at home, we’ve won quite comfortably. Forge’s last five games on the road is not so. That plays into the factor. That’s what we know going into it. It’s a different ball game coming home.”
No doubt an early goal Saturday versus Forge will not only even up the two-leg finals, but it will also erupt a crowd that’s been boisterous and incredibly passionate from the get-go in May.
“They are going to make for an intimating atmosphere,” Wheeldon Jr. previewed. “As soon both teams walk out on to the field, you’ll hear them.
You’ll hear from for non-stop for 95 minutes or however long the referee wants to play the game. They’ll be there. They’ll be forceful. They’ll give the players the extra lift they’ll need. They are going to have a say in this game.”
The weather forecast for Saturday looks promising. There’s a slight chance of showers. Otherwise, it will be a mix of sun and cloud for kick-off.
But, it’s been chilly in Calgary most of the week leading up to the match, making for what Wheeldon Jr. calls “frosty conditions” on the grass field.
“It’s not going to be a clean game,” he said. “It’s going to be will over skill.”
“It’s not an easy pitch, especially with the wind and stuff like that,” Mavila explained. “Home is home, however, the pitch is. We’re always comfortable with ourselves and our environment.”
Wheeldon Jr. also confirmed all of his players are healthy, other than those with season-ending injuries, and will be available for selection.