For some people, a journey is worth more than the destination. Tommy Wheeldon Jr. is not one of those people.
The Cavalry FC coach, holding court with the media on Tuesday ahead of his side’s group stage opener against Pacific FC on Wednesday, asserted that it no longer matters how they got to the second round — just that they did it. Nor, really, does it matter how they get the job done here in the next stage.
“We’re in the final four; win and advance, that’s all that matters,” he said of his approach. “How you do it, how you get there is irrelevant. Whether it’s pretty and you’re scoring the goals like we did against Edmonton where we’re slicing them open with about 20-odd passes, or whether it’s a second-phase goal on the rebound, or whether it’s a penalty, it doesn’t matter. Just win and advance.”
It’s been an up-and-down tournament for the Cavs at The Island Games, having lost two on the bounce to Atlético Ottawa and Pacific, while still emerging in first place with four wins.
Wheeldon explained that, in those two contests his team lost, they didn’t look at all like themselves; they failed to cut off attacking moves in midfield, leaving their back three exposed.
“If you have a leaky tap, or you have a burst pipe, you don’t turn off the tap,” he quipped. “You stop the source. We didn’t do that, and we allowed (Pacific) to get balls into (Marco) Bustos and Victor (Blasco), when actually we should’ve stopped the source higher up the pitch.”
The Cavalry coach offered a lot of praise for Pa-Modou Kah’s Pacific side, suggesting that the front three of Bustos, Blasco, and Alejandro Díaz (or Terran Campbell) is probably the best in the CPL on their day. Still, he’s insisting that his team is capable of shutting them down by preventing the Pacific midfield and fullbacks from providing service.
“If Marco Carducci has to make a save it’s because the 10 men in front of him haven’t done their job,” he said, adding as well that Cavalry still boasts the best expected goals against statistic in the league despite the loss.
“If you wanna win the war, sometimes you’ve got to lose a couple of battles to learn something about yourself, and we did that,” Wheeldon added.
His team has now been tested in battle, having gone through some difficult moments in the first round. The coach pointed out that the spotlight has, perhaps rightly, been shifted away from Cavalry to shine on Pacific and HFX Wanderers after they captured many hearts with their first-round performances.
Apparently, CanPL.ca’s controversial Week 3 power rankings served as decent bulletin board material for the Cavs. That, along with the way Wheeldon’s squad rallied around Oliver Minatel after his horrific injury against York9, seems to have galvanized Cavalry moving forward.
“Within the space of a week we went from being the best team, to ‘Oh my God, they’re not.’ Ranked seventh in the power rankings, questioned about that,” Wheeldon recalled. “And then suddenly you have a horrific injury like that to a terrific young man, and the players come in at the water break and say, ‘Let’s effin’ win this for Oliver.’ And as soon as they said that, their mindsets shifted. They’re new beasts.”
Heading into this group stage, Wheeldon indicated that he’s probably going to shorten his bench a little, no longer needing to get everyone engaged. The first round, he said, required a little feeling out, considering the Cavs (like the rest of the league) had only trained with full contact for two weeks before The Island Games.
Pretty much everyone’s been involved now, though. Wheeldon is hoping that his side can continue to look like the team they were in 2019, although he offered that it’s been difficult at times without attacking catalyst Sergio Camargo, whose injury status is “touch and go” ahead of Wednesday.
“People talk about what Bustos does for Pacific, what Kyle Bekker does for Forge, and Akeem Garcia for Halifax. Sergio Camargo is that for us, he’s a difference maker,” Wheeldon said. “We’ve been able to manage without him which shows the group’s mentality.”
Aside from Camargo, the Cavs are getting healthier, apparently. Jair Cordóva and José Hernández have returned to full training, meaning they could be in the mix in the group stage.
In the war of attrition that is The Island Games, no club is going to be fully healthy. It’s nice to have as many options as possible available, though.
“Everybody’s got bumps and bruises, it’s playoff football,” Wheeldon said. “If you’re not hurt, you’re not trying.”