Had the chance to catch a word with Cavalry FC head coach, Tommy Wheeldon Junior this afternoon in advance of this evening’s semi-final first-leg.
He’s in confident mood going into the game, but that’s down to the faith he has in his own squad, rather than any signs of misplaced expectation, for he clearly understands where the dangers lie in facing Montreal.
“If I can quote Vince Lombardi, ‘winning’s a habit’, and for us that’s really all we’ve known. Even the two games we lost [we probably shouldn’t] and we’re getting close to 20 games now. Even before that in pre-season we had seven or eight games and won them all. There’s just a great chemistry and culture about the boys. They love to play for each other and with each other and keep defying the odds.”
Having beaten the Whitecaps, Cavalry have lost that element of surprise. It’s unlikely given what happened in the previous round, the Impact will take them lightly, but with their impressive run of form and the Vancouver success behind them, does the Englishman feel under a little more pressure than usual to keep the run the run going?
“Even had we not defeated Vancouver, we’d have carried on, no problem, we weren’t meant to. We’re not meant to beat Montreal either, so when that’s put into the mix, I think the pressure stays off us.
“We just need to go out and put in another good performance against a very good team.”
Wheeldon Jnr was not surprised that things went so well against Vancouver. He likened building Cavalry FC up to raising a family, where you want and expect the best for your kids and believe in what they can achieve.
“We’ve built this team up from scratch and believe that we can beat anyone on our day. And it just so happens that we’ve had many days to validate that.
“We knew going into the Vancouver games, take the salary cap out of it, psychology in football is huge. They’re having a tough, tough season and are suffering. We’re having a really good season and we’re confident. So when you put the two [conditions] together that became a leveller.”
Confidence grew after the first-leg, a 0-0 tie at Spruce Meadows.
“We felt we could have won the first game, and that gave us confidence going to BC Place. And at Vancouver, even if the Whitecaps had possession of the ball, which they hadn’t a ton of in their regular MLS games, they wouldn’t be used to it, or in picking teams apart, so we grew in confidence and obviously it helped when we caught them on the two things we worked on: attacking transition and set-plays.”
Marc dos Santos had praise for his conquerors in the last round going on to say there were a few players in the Cavalry side that could play in MLS.
Even though no names were mentioned, Wheeldon has four 22/23 year-olds who may have been in the former Impact coach’s thoughts when making his statement. Goalkeeper Marco Carducci has kept 8 clean sheets this season, top-scorer Sergio Camargo has a playing style similar to his namesake, the Argentinian, Aguero, then there’s speedy wide man, Nico Pasquotti and clever defender Dominick Zator, who shocked the Caps with his 72nd minute winner.
And Wheeldon has modern thoughts on potentially losing star players ...
“I’m not concerned about losing players. You take away the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A, every single, other, national league is an export league. Look at Brazil, Holland, Belgium. Even the players from their big clubs, like Ajax, Santos and all these great teams, end up leaving for one of the big four.
“The Scandinavians have been masters of it [this model] for a long time. I think for Canada to keep growing, we have to recognize our place in the global landscape and say, ‘Look, we’re going to have players who will move on to bigger salaries with more established clubs’. And when the money comes in for these players, of course it helps regenerate our own clubs.
“I’d be happy to see at the end of this season if we pick up some silverware and a couple of the players move on to more established clubs, then great, we’ll have done our job for the Canadian game.”
Getting back to tonight’s encounter, Wheeldon hopes his side can repeat the BC Place game-plan, by being meticulous in defence and ‘on them’ from the start to try generate scoring chances whether from open play or set-pieces.
“Remi Garde has mentioned our adaptability, but funny, we’ve noted the same things about them. They play various different formations. We’ve a ton of respect for what Remi Garde has done with Montreal. Against Philadelphia they were happy to give up possession in favour of hitting them on the break, and they did it four times.
“So we know whether they have the ball or not, they’re dangerous.”
Calgary’s coach, an Evertonian, likes his team to press the opponent early and possess the ball in the opposition half, but realizes with Montreal’s speed on the flanks his side may have to defend deeply at times to win possession back. “But we’ll adapt to whatever we have to do. And if we have to defend deep, we have pace to play on the break.”
And a special plan around Piatti if he plays?
Wheeldon laughs. “Just keep the ball away from him.
”Actually, nothing special, we respect what he is. But we can’t be drawn into focusing all our attention there, because if we do that we take our eyes of the pacy wingers and whomever else is playing in midfield. But we must make sure Piatti has a quiet night whomever the centre-back or defensive midfielder is closest to him.”
Tommy Wheeldon will not be pinning Daniel Lovitz’s comments to the locker room door to spur his side on. The Impact defender had alluded to his team scoring plenty of goals tonight against a lower division club.
“He [Lovitz] doesn’t really know who we are. But, no, this is a group that really doesn’t need too much of that. But I’m sure if the comments have floated around on social media and the boys have seen them, yeah absolutely it does spur them. If people disrespect us, it’s up to us to gain their respect.”
After tonight’s game, Wheeldon feels there will still be all to play for when the second-leg comes around in a week’s time.
“We’ve a good game plan. The boys are excited. Stade Saputo is a beautiful stadium. We’re going out there playing a very good club who are having an interesting season. They’ve got some quality players, but it’s a night when we get to test ourselves. And when you have that for players, who are already confident and have nothing to lose, then we’re playing with house money, so we can go all-in.”
“We’ve studied how Montreal defended set-plays at the weekend. We’ve scored 32 goals this season and I think 10-12 have been off set-plays, so it’s a strength of ours and a weakness of their’s. Absolutely we’ll go in there with confidence and hope to cause a problem for them.”
Tommy Wheeldon Jnr was talking to Paul Vance.