‘Woke us up’: Cavalry emerge from 1st-half slumber to earn Whitecaps tilt

Cavalry FC was in trouble early on Tuesday night at Spruce Meadows.

Kyle Bekker put Forge FC ahead in the 14th minute, highlighting an impressive first portion for the visitors in their 2019 Canadian Championship second round, second leg tilt with the unbeaten Cavs. The match’s uneasy, attacking beginning hinted more markers would come, which would lend Forge an away goals advantage.

“That didn’t look like us, the first 20 minutes,” admitted Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. “We just were slow, sluggish on the back foot. We don’t play like that. I think the goal woke us up.”

It sure did something for Wheeldon’s side, who advanced to play Major League Soccer side Vancouver Whitecaps in Qualifying Round 3 with a 2-1 second leg victory over Forge FC (3-2 on aggregate) at Spruce Meadows’ ATCO Field Tuesday night.

Cavalry FC finished that shaky first half well, with Dominique Malonga heading an equalizer in the 42nd minute on a cross by José Escalante. Sergio Camargo gave the hosts the lead after halftime, something they wouldn’t relinquish after some strong work on the left wing by Nico Pasquotti.

And for Cavalry FC’s coach, it was a matter of his players needing a simple reminder of what they’re capable of producing on the pitch.

“For the boys, it just takes a few stern comments from me and they jeer them themselves back up,” said Wheeldon Jr. “There’s a spirit in this group that’s never say die.”

But Wheeldon Jr. also had special praise for the Cavalry FC supporters, who were lively throughout the match – even chanting “we want the Whitecaps” in the second half as a date with the MLS side became closer to reality.

“I have to give credit to the fans,” he said. “The fans played a big part in this. As we started getting on the front foot again, they rose. And they rise, our guys rise and their chests puffed out. And we showed who we really are. A large credit goes to our fans for that performance.”

Cavalry FC’s captain for the night, Mason Trafford agreed that the Cavalry FC faithful played their part.

“The atmosphere here at Spruce Meadows is such a special place to play,” said Trafford. “And the players, we feel that… It took us a little bit to wake up,” continued Trafford. “But the group of guys we have in this team, we’re fighters.”

Meantime, Forge FC head home after dropping another result to their recent competitive rival and, in turn, are now eliminated from their first CanChamp campaign.

“Cavalry has been brilliant this year,” Bekker admitted. “They are still unbeaten so credit to them.

“Unfortunately, we took our foot off the pedal a bit and let Cavalry back into the game… They did great.”

Forge head coach Bobby Smyrniotis was forced to experiment up top as Forge was without Emery Welshman, who has joined Guyana’s national team as they prepare for the upcoming Gold Cup. Also without striker Anthony Novak, early season standout Tristan Borges, traditionally a winger or attacking midfielder, stepped in at centre-forward.

“We changed things around tactically, moving Borges up top and moving Kwame Awuah, who is traditionally a left back, to the wing to give us a spark,” Smyrniotis said. “I thought that was very good and it showed in the beginning, being able to get behind Cavalry’s backline which we saw in the gameplan.”

Cavalry FC will now face Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps in the third round of the Canadian Championship. The first leg is slated for Spruce Meadows July 10, with the second leg in Vancouver July 24.