It’s not often that Cavalry FC feels the sting of defeat in the CPL — and yet, their 2-0 loss to expansion side Atlético Ottawa on Thursday isn’t the story of the day from The Island Games.
Certainly, it was a fascinating football match; Ottawa turned their season on its head with two quick goals in the second half, and they rightly earned plenty of credit for the manner in which they notched the first win in club history (and handed Cavalry their first loss of 2020).
“They played a very good game, sat deep, trying to hit us on the counter, and they did,” Cavs coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. conceded. “Credit where it’s due, we’ve won a lot of games in the past, we know what it’s like to feel that first one. They’re a welcome addition to the league.”
He added: “To have gone through an undefeated first round would’ve taken some doing, given the amount of games that there are, the shortened turnover, the rotation of the squad and the strength of the opposition. … We’re here, we’ve got to more games to play and we’re sitting at the top of the table.”
Still, players on both sides had more than just football on their minds on Thursday. With the entire league joining together in solidarity against racism, kneeling both before kickoff and at the 8:46 mark of the game (in tribute to George Floyd), it was an emotional afternoon.
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“You have to remember, at the same time as being football players, we’re still human beings,” Cavalry fullback Nathan Mavila said. “We have a lot on our minds. I can say myself, I had a lot on my mind today, with all the tension that’s going on around the world, and at times it can be tough to separate the two – to separate the world and separate your work.
“And at the end of the day, this is my work. I missed two chances today in which I should’ve scored. No excuses from my behalf.”
Wheeldon added his two cents, in agreement.
“That’s what puts this game into perspective,” he said. “The result is irrelevant to what’s going on in the world. There’s a lot of sadness out there, there’s a lot of hate that needs to be brought to justice, there’s a lot of social injustice and prejudice that’s not being addressed in parts of the world.”
The issues of racism and police brutality were certainly at the forefront of Cavalry’s post-game press conference. Mavila, in particular, had plenty to say on the matter, opening up despite being just minutes removed from the loss.
“It helps you not feel alone,” he said of the league’s players joining together.
“At times you do feel like it’s a massive world, and you’re not understood. You feel like no one understands what you’re going through. And to be honest, no one will ever understand. But to be honest, the fact that you’ve got support helps. The fact that this morning, all the players got together, met up with the commissioner (David Clanachan) and really said what was in their hearts.
“We’ve done something that was so powerful, and I couldn’t be more proud of the players and the league.”
Mavila added, explaining the players’ choice to play Thursday’s game and protest together, that they’d decided it would be best to use the platform they have, particularly with CPL matches now broadcast in Africa and India.
The 24-year-old fullback concluded the conference with a message to fans, both back home in Calgary and across the country.
“The message to fans, of everything that’s gone on, is this is 400 years of pure oppression, in every different way,” Mavila stated. “It started up pure, straight-up slavery, right up to systematic racism, and all that is happening today is just us saying, we’re not having it anymore. We’re not gonna take it anymore, we’re gonna stand up for it…. It doesn’t matter where people are in the world, if you can stand up where you are and educate someone where you are, that is a person’s mindset changed.
“And I can just speak to people of other ethnicities, white people, it’s just educate yourself. Educate yourself in what’s going on, what’s happened, and how you can make your change and how you can help things to be better going forward.”