It’s fair to say that Tommy Wheeldon Jr. will probably remember his 40th birthday better than any that came before it.
A day after the head coach and general manager of Cavalry FC turned the big four-oh, his team made their Canadian Premier League debut on May 4, earning a 2-1 win over travelling York9 FC, in the first-ever competitive game at ATCO Field at Spruce Meadows.
Cavalry’s goals came from English striker Jordan Brown and local product Dominick Zator.
Wheeldon Jr. had said during preseason that his team would strive for an attacking style of play with an emphasis on keeping possession. That proved true against York, as Cavalry lined up with a 3-5-2 formation. The strategy allowed the home side to boss the midfield, with wingers Dean Northover and Jose Escalante providing plenty of depth to attack down the flanks.
After a cagey start, Cavalry FC managed to take control of the match, with Elijah Adekugbe, Nik Ledgerwood, and Julian Buescher pulling the strings in midfield. Northover and Escalante kept wide, and their runs down the flanks allowed Cavalry plenty of opportunities to get passes and crosses into York’s 18-yard box.
The home team’s efforts paid off in the 26th minute, when Brown wrote himself into Cavalry FC history by scoring the club’s first-ever CPL goal. Buescher fired in a corner kick from the left side, which centre back Jay Wheeldon headed towards net. The ball fell to Brown’s head just outside of the six-yard box, and the 22-year-old was able to nod it past York9 goalkeeper Nathan Ingham.
Here's another look at the first half goal from Jordan Brown.
— Cavalry FC (@CPLCavalryFC) May 4, 2019
Cavalry’s dominance in the first half was reflected in the statistics. The home side registered 70 per cent of possession, nine shots and three corner kicks, while limiting York9 to just a single corner kick and zero shots on goal.
But whatever York9 manager Jim Brennan told his players at half time proved effective, as the visitors came into the second half with renewed energy. They started to win the ball back and create chances of their own.
The second half was also marked by worsening weather, as snow flurries started to dust the pitch. You’d think it was May in Calgary.
A key moment in the match came just after the hour mark. A York9 cross into Cavalry’s box resulted in a goalmouth scramble, eventually falling to striker Cyrus Rollocks. With ‘keeper Marco Carducci on the ground, Rollocks had plenty of net to aim for, but his shot was cleared off the line by Jay Wheeldon.
Sensing a need to make some changes, Wheeldon Jr. swapped in attacking midfielder Sergio Camargo for Buescher, and later brought on Oliver Minatel in place of Brown.
The substitutions paid off in the 78th minute, with Cavalry’s second goal coming from yet another corner kick. Escalante sent in a near-post cross, and Zator was able to leap up and forcefully head the ball past Ingham’s left post.
With a two-goal lead and just over 10 minutes left to play, the onus was simply on Cavalry FC to kill off the remainder, but York9 had other ideas.
Five minutes after Zator had doubled the home team’s lead, York9 scored their second goal of the season.
The wonderfully-named midfielder Emilio Estevez played a nice ball to Swedish signing Simon Adjei just inside Cavalry’s box. Adjei sprung the offside trap and placed a right-footed shot past Carducci’s far post.
— York9 FC (@York9FC) May 4, 2019
It marked the first time Cavalry have conceded in seven games, if you count preseason fixtures.
York9 continued to press for the equalizer for the remainder, but Cavalry was able to weather the storm defensively, ensuring their first CPL fixture ended a success.
FINAL SCORE: Cavalry FC 2 – 1 York9 FC
TOMMY WHEELDON JR. (Cavalry head coach)
On his team’s performance:
“I thought we were exceptional in the first half. It was a really good advert of possession football. The second half was a case of Jimmy rolling his dice, making some changes and putting us on the back foot. He’s a good coach with a good club, so we knew at some point we would have to weather the storm. We did that and got the insurance goal that put us through.”
On the fans:
“They surpassed our expectations, because if they’re gonna brave these types of elements, can you imagine a nice sunny day in June, when you know it’s going to be [warm] and more and more people are going to come. Hopefully, they’ve enjoyed it enough and they’re going to tell their friends.”
On local product Zator scoring the winner:
“Professional football, to get to this level, it’s only one per cent. And this is a lad who was never selected for his province, was never selected for any national programs or any pro academies until after university. He could probably earn a ton more being an accountant than he can being a professional footballer but he does it because it’s what he believes in. Credit to him because he’s made history. It’s great for him and a great example for the rest of the young players growing up.”
On scoring the first goal in Cavalry FC history:
“It’s just an honour. If it wasn’t me, it was going to be someone else. I’m just glad we got the win – that’s the most important thing. Obviously, in years to come, you can remember that I scored the first goal, but the main thing is we got the win today.”
JIM BRENNAN (York9 head coach)
On his team’s performance:
“It was a tale of two halves. Our first half, we were shocking. We did not play as well as we wanted to, gave the ball away way too easily and we didn’t have the work ethic. In the second half, we made a few changes and started to control the game a little more. We created more chances, got ourselves forward and started pressing a little more. You could see the game was starting to swing our way a little bit.”
“We were not happy to concede two goals off of set-plays. For the size of team we have, that’s not good enough.”