As two-legged cup-ties goes, this one has the classic set-up. Higher-level club just one goal in front travelling to lower league opposition, knowing they probably have to score to progress. A 1-0 verdict will do for the outsiders, sure to be backed by a small but passionate crowd, that will sound more populous to visiting ears, than it actually is.
Montreal may be ruing the opportunity missed last week at Stade Saputo to put this one away. A gilt-edged chance missed by Ignacio Piatti of all people, preceded a defensive lapse that allowed Sergio Camargo to steal a precious away goal, halving a deficit that moments earlier could have been three.
But far from feeling fortunate, Cavalry coach, Tommy Wheeldon Jnr said, “We don’t feel lucky. We worked for that result.”
The Englishman is very much a coach with a great deal of belief in his players, perhaps normal in a team that’s just won a Championship, winning 8 from 10 matches. Without any hint of disrespect towards Montreal, Wheeldon is confident his team can cause problems, and possibly prevail in the second-leg.
He talks about he conditions that the Impact will face at Spruce Meadows.
“We knew it [Stade Saputo] was a good pitch, a quick pitch. It was like playing on ice there, for our boys. When they [Impact] come to Spruce Meadows, it’s a different circumstance. Our fans are phenomenal and right on top of it. It’s a slower pitch and it’s a tough one to play on, so we look forward to that second-leg.”
What Wheeldon omitted to mention was altitude, all 3,500 feet of it, and we know how poorly the Montreal side performed during it’s last rendezvous with the thinner air.
“I didn't think we were as good as we wanted to be in the first-half [at Stade Saputo] and that showed with the goal we gave away. But even when the second goal went in, I looked around, and I didn’t have to rally the boys. Because they knew, we take one goal and it’s a whole different ball-game in the second-leg.”
Cavalry are without experienced Canadian international Nik Ledgerwood, after his red card in the first-leg, but will take heart from the Impact’s lack of rigour and robustness in recent MLS games, which has seen the defence pierced on set-plays too easily and too often for comfort.
Remi Garde understands and is familiar with the dynamic that surrounds his team’s task, and is equally confident despite poor MLS road form.
“For sure in this kind of competition when we play an away game against a team that is supposedly lower division, of course everything is gathered to be tough.
“But we are professional and this is the job that we want to do, and sometimes when it’s difficult, when the environment is not yours, you can find resources that you didn’t expect, and this is what we will need for the next game.
“We go there with a narrow victory and of course I would have preferred not to concede a goal. But I feel we have the weapons to score as well in the second-leg.”
Cavalry’s line-up in their match at Halifax Wanderers (0-0) at the weekend showed 5 changes from the side that faced the Impact, suggesting some players were being rested with tomorrow night’s semi-final at the forefront of management’s mind.
That’s unlikely to be the full story however, as there is also the not so small matter of a potentially decisive, table-topping meeting with Edmonton FC for the CanPL Fall Championship on Friday, barely 48 hours after taking on Montreal.
The sides are level on points at the top, with Edmonton having played a game more.
Difficult to fathom how the CanPL could schedule that game so soon after the Canadian Championship semi-final, but that’s the program Cavalry are faced with.
For Montreal, Remi Garde, half-way through a busy 17-day period in which they will play 5 times, continues to rotate the squad and is grateful for recent additions, even if they haven’t yet had a chance to settle in.
To meet the lowest of expectations, his team needs to come out of the current five-game sprint with a place in the Canadian Championship Final secured, and be well-enough placed to launch a serious bid for post-season soccer for the first time in 3 seasons.
Line-ups (Projected) -
Cavalry: - Carducci - Zator, Wheeldon, Trafford, Mavila - Pasquotti, Buscher, Adekugbe, Escalante - Camargo, Brown.
IMFC: - Pantemis - Sagna, Camacho, Raitala, Lovitz - Piette, Bojan, Taider, Lappalainen - Urruti, Okwonkwo.
Match Officials - Not yet announced ...