The current CPL league table is a familiar sight. One week into The Island Games, Cavalry FC sits atop the standings as the only side so far to win twice.
Thursday night’s Al Classico with FC Edmonton, while fought tooth-and-nail by the plucky Eddies, left us with another familiar result, as Cavalry sailed once more to a clean sheet and a tidy 2-0 victory.
So, Cavs boss Tommy Wheeldon Jr. was a happy man upon returning to the CPL’s hotel in Charlottetown.
“It was a patient, surgical performance, we just had to find the time,” Wheeldon explained. “We had to wait for pockets to open, be patient on the ball. And then when they had it, just try and take their outlets away. We liked what (Erik) Zetterberg did to Forge in (Edmonton’s) first game with his passing range, and (Keven) Alemán and (Hanson) Boakai in the pockets, and we just tried to prevent it.”
Patient, indeed, were the Cavs, who struck late in both halves. Their first goal, a superbly-worked play toward the right flank before a Jordan Brown finish, looked like a move straight from the training pitch, with five players combining perfectly like cogs in a machine.
The whole play was a work of art, but Wheeldon had particular praise for Elliot Simmons, who was phenomenal in his first start for the club he joined this past off-season. The boss dubbed his 22-year-old central midfielder one of Cavalry’s top performers against the Eddies, and it’s a well-deserved title; Simmons made 75 successful passes on Thursday, with an accuracy of 90.4 per cent.
“Reason we brought him to the football club was, when you lose players like (Joel) Waterman, (Julian) Büscher and even (Mauro) Eustaquio that like to have the ball at their feet, you need other ones. What we’ve seen from when he was at Halifax last year, he was that,” Wheeldon said.
Prompted by another reporter, Wheeldon elaborated on the specific duties he’s put on Simmons.
“If teams are blocking up, which Edmonton did very well, you want to draw them in and you want players that are very comfortable on the ball. (Simmons) has almost got that Xabi Alonso, Toni Kroos type where he can receive it under pressure, but his range of passing is good. For us we call it the quarterback position, so what he’s able to do is slide passes through to Mo Farsi, but he was looking round the corner into Jordan Brown and Oliver Minatel.
“We like him there because he’s a deep-lying playmaker; the Italians call it the regista. He fits that mould for us very well.”
Another of those names above stood out in Al Classico (and no, it’s not Xabi Alonso): emerging star fullback Mohamed Farsi, who was impactful yet again for the Cavs out on the right touchline.
“It just shows you the recruitment’s been good in the off-season because now they’ve come in and made a difference,” Wheeldon said of his newcomers. “When you’re coming into a strong side like us, you have to if you want to get minutes.”
Their teammate, Jordan Brown — himself a standout on Thursday with his pair of goals — also had fierce praise for Farsi and Simmons.
“Mo Farsi, ever since he stepped in the door as well, we saw the talent he has, just the way he goes forward and the way he attacks relentlessly,” Brown said. “It’s not really any surprise to us, obviously it might be a surprise to you guys, but we knew that these guys can come in and be as good as the senior players.”
Now, Cavalry will be sitting pretty with four Island Games fixtures left. While they’re by no means guaranteed their place in the top four just yet, but they have breathing room.
Will that distance now between them and fourth place perhaps allow the Cavs to rotate the squad a little more, though? They’ve rotated pretty thoroughly anyway — Wheeldon has made plenty of changes, especially in the attack and midfield, for all three games, even in spite of injuries to Jair Cordóva, José Hernández and Sergio Camargo. It’s been part of the plan from the outset.
“We studied very much what was happening in the MLS bubble,” Wheeldon revealed. “You can’t go back-to-back when you’ve had a 10-month off-season. If this was a pre-season, I’d be doing the same ethos, so that’s how we’ve approached it. So far so good, it’s kept us fresh.”
He added: “I think what we’ll do is keep finding the rhythm and giving guys minutes, so if and when we get to the next round, we’ll have a good body of work to start choosing the strongest 11.”
Onward, then — and, if regular Cavalry service continues, upward — to Sunday night’s battle with HFX Wanderers FC.