If mindset, magic, and mistakes will decide The Island Games, Cavalry FC is still searching for the right formula.
Back-to-back penalties gave HFX Wanderers FC all three points in a 2-1 win over the Cavs on Saturday in the penultimate round of the second group stage.
Cavalry could have clinched a spot in the 2020 CPL Finals with a victory. Instead, they’ll head into their group stage finale on Tuesday vs. Forge FC with a berth in the championship on the line.
Coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. talked about the three “Ms” – mindset, magic, and mistakes – in the lead-up to this match. He felt his team accounted itself well when it came to those three categories against HFX.
“I thought we were very good mindset-wise, we created a bit of magic near the end to score, and open play when they didn’t,” Wheeldon Jr. told reporters after the game. “And we got capitalized by our own mistakes so that’s football.”
Those mistakes came from Wheeldon Jr.’s brother, Jonathan. Already on a caution, the centre back hauled down Golden Boot leader Akeem Garcia inside the box in the 11th minute. The Wanderers striker scored his sixth goal at The Island Games, and the Cavs were down 1-0 and down a man.
Goalkeeper Marco Carducci gave up a second penalty in the 41st minute when he tripped João Morelli up on a one-on-one breakaway. Morelli converted the spot kick and put Cavalry in a hole they failed to climb out of despite a bright second half.
The Cavs enjoyed nearly 60 per cent possession and lots of space to push forward. Jair Cordova gave Cavalry hope in the 80th minute when the Peruvian smashed home a loose ball inside the six-yard box.
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“We don’t lie down – you saw that in the Finals last year when we left everything out there,” Wheeldon Jr. said of his second-half team talk.
“At halftime, we weren’t pointing fingers – we looked at each other and said ‘Geez, we got ourselves a hill to climb but let’s push them back 15 minutes at a time and try to make this the greatest comeback ever.
“We were spirited, and I think when you play like that you give yourself a chance to keep going.”
Captain Elijah Adekugbe agreed. The 24-year-old combined with Elliott Simmons for a solid match in the centre of middle, despite being outnumbered.
“When I looked at my teammates at the end of the game I felt pride,” Adekugbe said. “In those circumstances, against a team of Halifax’s quality, I thought we made it a game.”
Cavalry nearly equalized in second-half injury when with, of all people, team manager-turned-emergency substitute Tofa Fakunle skied a wide-open chance from 10 yards away.
When asked why Fakunle, who was a last-minute add-on to Cavalry’s roster, was brought on, Wheeldon Jr. pointed to his side’s injuries. Sergio Camargo, Nik Ledgerwood, and Nico Pasquotti were unavailable for selection.
“It was relationship-based,” Wheeldon Jr. said of turning to Fakunle. “We felt he could give us something, playing off [Aribim] Pepple and he’s developed a relationship with Cordova… and we also wanted to use it as an opportunity to freshen the deck.”
Cavalry rested several veterans, including Mason Trafford and Marcus Habe – and you can’t blame Wheeldon Jr. for limiting their time with a massive final group stage match looming.
“You’re putting in some older bodies, more experienced heads in a tough situation and asking them to cover a lot more distance than they would,” Wheeldon Jr. said of conserving his veterans for a season-defining match against Forge.
“Why do that when we’ve got another bite of the cherry on Tuesday.”
Saturday’s result sets up a crucial match for Cavalry against Finals 2019 rivals Forge FC on Tuesday (1pm ET/2pm AT, OneSoccer). A loss would see Cavalry go home.