Wheeldon Jr. heralds injury-riddled Cavalry as brave in elimination loss to Forge

Despite injuries and fatigue, Cavalry FC went down on their terms.

Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s side saw their 2020 Canadian Premier League season come to an end with a 1-0 defeat to Forge FC on Tuesday. The Cavs needed to win to clinch a CPL Finals berth.

Tuesday’s result set up a Forge vs. HFX Wanderers FC matchup in Saturday’s Island Games finale (2 p.m. ET/3 p.m. AT, OneSoccer/CBC).

Cavalry attempted to take Tuesday’s game to their Finals 2019 opponent despite a depleted bench, and looked good value to get a result.

“It was brave,” Cavs coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. said. “We knew there’s a way to play them but it came at the expense of leaving ourselves open to the back… but the best version of ourselves – being on the front foot, and going man-for-man in a defensive structure, and picking up the pieces and playing in their half.

“We did it, and credit to Forge – they had one chance on target, and they scored.”

A high-press, man-to-man combination by Cavalry put Forge’s tail up. But, as the case with Forge, all they needed was a moment of magic to find the net. Mo Babouli’s brilliant first-half chip over goalkeeper Marco Carducci against the run of play eventually sunk the Cavs.

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Cavalry generated a handful of chances but nothing substantial, as a couple looping Marcus Haber headers were as close they came to saving their season. Cavalry outshot Forge 11-9 (3-1 on target), but Forge produced the lone quality chance of the match, something midfielder Elijah Adekugbe lamented.

“We wanted to start the game on the front foot and make it uncomfortable for them,” Adekugbe said. “I think the goal was a bit of a surprise to us… but there was the chance that Jordan Brown had at the near post… we had a couple other half -chances.

“We didn’t create and they got the clean sheet.”

Oliver Minatel, Sergio Camargo, Nico Pasquotti and skipper Nik Ledgerwood were all unavailable Tuesday, while Jonathan Wheeldon served a red card suspension, which meant just six players were on the bench. Wheeldon Jr. used four of his five changes, leaving only backup goalkeeper Niko Giantsopoulos and team manager-turned emergency substitute Tofa Fakunle unused.

Tuesday marked Cavalry’s ninth match in 34 days in PEI, a tiring run coach Wheeldon Jr. looks back upon with fondness.

“They’ve gone injury after injury, we’ve got five players out, and they’ve just kept on going, going, and going,” Wheeldon Jr. said. “What we lacked in quality we made up in attitude and a refuse-to-lose mentality.

“Sometimes you just run out of time, and that’s that’s how I feel. They would have kept playing until midnight, and the boys would have had to be dragged off.”

Cavalry departs Prince Edward Island with a record of 5-1-4, including a 1-0-2 run in the second round. Of course, losing to Forge, of all teams, must sting for Cavalry fans.

While many will focus on Cavalry’s failure to go stride-for-stride with their rivals, Wheeldon Jr. keeps his focus with his group and the upcoming off-season.

“When we’re asking them to do certain things, change our formation because of injuries or whatever – they did it with class and dignity,” Wheeldon Jr. concluded.

“If you want to be a champion, you’ve got to take your chances and Forge has done that to us, and they’ve done it again this year and all credit for them.

“That’s why they’re in the final again.”

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