It might not have been as comfortable or definitive as they would’ve hoped, but Cavalry FC are moving on to the second round of The Island Games.
The Cavs beat York9 FC 1-0 on Saturday, which means they’re certain to finish top of the table after round one. Their performance in, essentially, a must-win game was fairly comprehensive: They took more shots, had more possession, and hit more passes than their York Region opponents.
After Oliver Minatel’s heartbreaking injury in the first 15 minutes — the Brazilian attacker was stretchered off after a hard tackle by York9’s Roger Thompson — the Cavs rallied around their teammate to secure their second-round qualification.
“Oli’s not only a teammate, he’s a close friend of everybody on the team,” Cavs captain Nik Ledgerwood stated. “He’s an exceptional guy in and around the locker room, so whenever anything happens like that it’s just natural to say we’re doing this for him.”
Cavalry coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. confirmed post-game that the injury was serious; although they don’t yet know the full extent of it, Minatel underwent immediate surgery at the hospital on Saturday.
“To have to respond after a horrific injury even speaks to the power of the mentality of this group,” Wheeldon said. “Honestly, I know we’re called the Cavalry, but it is like a team of soldiers. They’re a band of brothers, they really are, and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Marcus Haber, who came into the game in relief of Minatel, scored the winner for Cavalry. After celebrating with his teammates, he beelined for the Cavs’ bench to kiss Minatel’s jersey, which had been left behind with the team.
“Marcus, he’s turned into a bit of a cult figure for us,” Wheeldon stated. “He came over after he’d celebrated with the lads to kiss the jersey. I think the lads appreciate that because it’s a fallen soldier.”
Having lost two in a row before Saturday, the Cavs weren’t as sure of themselves as they’ve been in the past. Still, the response Wheeldon saw from his players was much more like the Cavalry he was accustomed to seeing in 2019.
With York9 ceding possession to their opponents while the score was 0-0, the Cavalry unit worked methodically to try and move them from side to side, searching for a breakthrough.
“We laid it down and said, ‘How do we want to go about this?'” Wheeldon explained. “And all the guys said, ‘Look, let’s give it everything. Let’s make their life uncomfortable, let’s be in their half, pressuring them, asking questions, probing passes, getting shots in.’
“So once the lads started like that in the first 10 or 15, I thought, this is my team again. This is my team. And they went on to do that.”
Really, Wheeldon said he was never particularly nervous about his side on Saturday. Although one misstep could’ve seen them eliminated from The Island Games, he became increasingly confident as things wore on that their goal was coming.
“The leadership group of this team, your Nik Ledgerwoods, Jonathan Wheeldons, Mason Traffords, Marco (Carducci), Elijah (Adekugbe), they just talked about it prior, and said, ‘Leave your clothes on the hangers. We’re not going home,'” Wheeldon revealed.
“So we take it into our hands, we don’t want to be reliant on other people’s results. Let’s play this game to win it.”