Wheeldon lauds ‘next man up’ attitude from rotated Cavalry squad after win

The 2020 CPL season finally has its first winner, and who else could it have been but Cavalry FC?

Tommy Wheeldon Jr. fielded a starting 11 with five changes from the team’s opening 2-2 draw with Forge FC, handing four players their first start for the club. And yet, Sunday’s 2-0 triumph over Valour FC was dominant business as usual from the Cavs. Just four days, but two full matches, into their Island Games campaign, the Cavs have four points.

Mohamed Farsi, Marcus Haber, Bruno Zebie, and Robert Boskovic all thrived in the opportunities given them, with Zebie and Farsi combining to feed Haber for Cavalry’s first goal, and Farsi winning the penalty for their second.

“It’s next man up syndrome, you know?” Wheeldon Jr. said post-game.

“This is war; if you’re gonna win the war you’ve got to win all the battles. … We had the toughest turnaround. The game against Forge, no matter if it’s the first game out or the third game out, is always gonna take a lot out of both sides I’d imagine, because of what’s always on the line. To have the shortest turnaround, to then play again in the middle of the day, took a lot.”

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Wheeldon’s side managed to hold on for 58 per cent possession, despite going up 2-0 in the first half and taking a step back in the second half. They mustered eight shots — not quite the 14 they sent at Forge on Thursday — but really, the win came down to capitalizing on key chances and smothering Valour’s attack.

After a difficult 2019 at Pacific FC, Marcus Haber’s redemption tour began in earnest at Cavalry FC when he climbed over Arnold Bouka Moutou to head home his first goal with a new side.

“We saw that he couldn’t catch a rhythm at Pacific, and I think he had a niggling back injury,” Wheeldon said of his new striker. “It was taken care of in the off-season, and you see him, he’s leaner now, he’s a lot different than he was when he came back to Pacific.

“And I think he’s hungry. It wasn’t the first season he would’ve liked, and we brought him in, we know exactly what he could bring, and he’s delivered upon that.”

Farsi, as well, was a standout from the Cavs’ win, earning a man of the match nod in fan voting. His 90 minutes saw him hit five crosses, win a pair of interceptions, and make a direct impact on both goals. After coming to the CPL from PLSQ side Blainville, the 20-year-old fullback was as-advertised, according to Wheeldon Jr.

“We see things in training where we’re like, ‘That’s brilliant, that’s a brilliant addition for us,’ because he’s a modern-day fullback,” said the coach. “He’s comfortable in possession, he’s comfortable defending a 1v1, he wants to bring the ball out. And the way we’re playing in this tournament, we’ve altered slightly, to get him in higher areas.”

It wasn’t just the new starters with fresh legs that won the day for Cavalry, though. Defenders Dominick Zator and Mason Trafford, each having now logged 180 minutes in four days, were note-perfect in the clean sheet win. Both centre-backs played 63 passes, and both did so with an accuracy above 92 per cent. Aided by 22-year-old Robert Boskovic this time, the Cavs’ defensive trio was dominant.

“They’re physical beasts,” Wheeldon Jr. said of Zator and Trafford. “It’s what you do away from it. They train hard … It’s what they put into the body, how much sleep they get, nutrition. All those things, they take care of themselves.”

He added: “These are the marginal games. They’re terrific to have as part of the team.”

Now that win number one is accounted for, Cavalry must focus on recharging ahead of Thursday’s showdown with FC Edmonton. Wheeldon’s side, for their part, will be ready for a heated contest with their Al Classico foes.

“These players and coaches, we’ve all been sidelined for ten months, so I think every single game is gonna have passion,” he said.

“I think this is a cracking league. It’s a great advertisement for one that’s taken so long off.”

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