Cavalry set for must-win thriller vs. Forge: ‘I’d bet on this being a hell of a game’

Surely we should’ve predicted that the 2020 CPL season would give us an elimination game between Cavalry FC and Forge FC.

For the third time in the clubs’ short history, these two sides will play on Tuesday in a game that will (in most scenarios) send the loser home empty-handed. Cavalry, having lost to HFX Wanderers FC on the weekend, march into their final group stage tie knowing that nothing short of a win will be enough for them to qualify for the CPL Finals.

The way coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. sees it, this all-or-nothing clash will, in a way, complete the trilogy of Forge-Cavalry showdowns. His Cavs side triumphed in their Canadian Championship matchup last year, and Forge got the better of them in Finals 2019.

With Forge having struck back in the trilogy’s second installment, Wheeldon is hoping for the return of Cavalry this time around. He also pointed out that the first match they played at The Island Games, way back on August 13, featured a late equalizing penalty kick for Cavalry — just like leg one of their Voyageurs Cup tie last year.

“It’s gonna be a great game,” Wheeldon told reporters on Monday. “They always are with us and Forge. They’re never short on quality, they’re never short on controversy. I would highly doubt a boring 0-0 game. If I was a betting man, I’d bet on this being a hell of a game.”

RELATED READING: Cavalry FC vs. Forge FC: Cavs face must-win, Champs on brink of spot in CPL Finals

The Cavs have truly taken a beating at The Island Games, with a laundry list of key players sidelined to injury — Oliver Minatel, Sergio Camargo, and Nico Pasquotti will all be unavailable on Tuesday, and skipper Nik Ledgerwood is a game-time decision. Plus, centre-back Jay Wheeldon will miss out, suspended after taking a red card on Saturday.

Still, Wheeldon is brimming with confidence about his bench. He mentioned that five of Cavalry’s eight games have seen a goal created by a substitute (whether they won a penalty or scored themselves).

“What pleases us as coaches is we’ve actually got game-changers, whether they’re on the field or off it,” Wheeldon said. “We’ll just pick 11 guys that’ll go out and do the first bit, and then whoever comes off the bench second half, we’ve got a good record of that.”

Cavalry seem to be relishing the high-stakes matchup with Forge; they’re a club that seems to play best when faced with adversity, playing some of their most dangerous football when under pressure. It’s likely that Tuesday’s game will be a fascinating tactical competition; Cavalry’s pressing strategy is well-documented, as is Forge’s possession play, but both managers surely have tricks up their sleeves.

Take, for instance, Bobby Smyrniotis’ out-of-the-blue choice to play Jonathan Grant, freshly back from injury, at left wing rather than right fullback against Pacific FC. Wheeldon had a lot of praise for his opposite number.

RELATED READING: Forge not settling for draw with Cavalry as place in CPL Finals draws closer

“He’s got a good side there that are very savvy,” Wheeldon said. “They remind me a little bit of Jose Mourinho’s good teams, where they’re very good in transition. That’s where they really hurt you. If you give them time and space they’ll move the ball around in nice triangles. If you don’t, they’re okay giving it to (David) Edgar and (Daniel) Krutzen who’ll play direct, and they’ll pick off second balls and try and beat you that way…

“Even Bobby Smyrniotis’ demeanor is very Mourinho-esque. We’ve got a lot of respect for them, they’re a tough team to beat.”

This final matchup on Tuesday is certain to be appointment viewing, as the CPL’s two heavyweights slug it out for a spot in the Final. Wheeldon, anticipating a complex, cerebral contest with plenty of animosity as well, can’t wait.

“It’s one for the fans,” he concluded. “Because if we’re gonna grow games, we’ve got to have this fierce rivalry where you know the players and when that whistle goes, it’s a bit of a war. But in there, there’s a lot of chess that’s going on between both teams.”

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