Cavalry hoping home field advantage brings them three points this Sunday
(Photo Credit: Pacific FC/Sheldon Mack)
Pick your cliché.
Home sweet home… Home is where the heart is… There’s no place like home.
Whichever you go with, it’s how Cavalry FC’s players, staff, and fans will be feeling when they make their long-awaited return to Spruce Meadows this Sunday for the club’s 2023 Canadian Premier League (CPL) home-opener against Valour FC.
After three consecutive games on the road – rendering two draws and a penalty-shootout loss in the Canadian Championship – Cavalry will hope having their own fans behind them will spur the club to their first competitive victory of the 2023 season.
Head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. seemed to be channelling Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz on Friday, during the pregame press conference.
“There’s no place like home, as Dorothy once said,” the fifth-year bench boss of Cavalry FC told the media. “We’ve always had a good home record, largely because it’s a phenomenal pitch, it’s a great stadium that our owners have invested into, and the fans just bring the noise.
“We can give the guys all the tactics they want, but the psychology of playing at home is immense, so we’re delighted to be back here.”
Sunday’s sunny outing will mark the first time Cavalry has played at Spruce Meadows since Oct. 15, 2022, when they tied Forge FC 1-1 in the first leg of their two-legged playoff semi-final. (Forge triumphed 2-1 in the ensuing fixture in Hamilton to book their berth in the championship final, which they subsequently won against Atlético Ottawa).
As pointed out on the CPL website, Cavalry boasts the best home record of all eight teams in the league dating back to the inaugural 2019 season. The Cavs have compiled a 26-6-6 record when playing on ATCO Field over the last four years, which bodes well for Saturday’s contest against Valour.
Speaking of their opponent, Cavalry will likely be keen to play the Winnipeggers, who are possibly still reeling from their against-all-odds cup-set defeat to League 1 BC club TSS Rovers in the first round of the Canadian Championship. While Valour is currently top of the CPL table with a 1-0-1 record, their elimination to TSS showed some defensive frailties that Cavalry will look to exploit on Sunday.
Cavalry has tended to have the upper hand over Valour over the years, and their overall series against the Manitoba club has been quite one-sided since 2019. Since the CPL’s inaugural campaign, Cavalry has compiled a 9-2-3 record against Valour. That might tip the scales psychologically in the Calgarians’ favour.
However, Wheeldon Jr. seemed in no mood to take Phil dos Santos’ side lightly, as evidenced by his positive remarks about Valour’s league performances to date in Friday’s presser.
“They’re good – we saw it last year when they were in the hunt [for a playoff spot],” he said. “Phil dos Santos has done a good job; he’s a very good coach, they play an exciting, attacking brand of football, they’ve recruited well, and it’s no surprise they’re going to be in the mix.
“We’ve certainly taken them seriously in our preparations, but we’ve got to play to our strengths.. and see if we can nullify theirs.”
When it comes to Cavalry’s strengths, at least so far this season, that seems to be that they’re a tough nut to crack. Despite playing on the road against two of the CPL’s perennially strong teams thus far, Cavalry has managed to hold off Forge and Pacific over 90 minutes on three consecutive occasions. While Pacific triumphed in the cup game in a shootout, that does come down to a bit of luck, at the end of the day.
Their unbeaten start is impressive given that Cavalry’s defence is admittedly quite new-look, considering the transfers of centre back Karifa Yao and left-back Bradley Vliet, and the retirement of former captain Mason Trafford. Newcomers Udoka Chima, Bradley Kamdem, and Callum Montgomery will look to fill in for those defensive departures this year, helping out the likes of mainstays Daan Klomp and Roberto Alarcón.
So far, the new defensive additions have slotted in nicely, as Cavalry hasn’t been beaten over 90 minutes yet this season.
Ahead of the defence, Cavalry has added former FC Edmonton and Montreal Impact player Shamit Shome and Australian A-League alumnus Jesse Daley to shore up the centre of the park.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Wheeldon Jr. touted the positive play of Shome already, highlighting the player’s intelligence on the ball, and his ability to keep possession and find space.
Wheeldon Jr. noted he is actually no stranger to Shome, having coached the Edmonton native nearly a decade ago when he was with the Alberta U16 provincial team.
Unfortunately for Wheeldon Jr., he won’t be able to call upon Shome this Sunday, as he mentioned the midfielder is still recovering from an injury he sustained in the second match against Pacific last weekend. That suggests Daley could get the call to start in Cavalry’s midfield instead.
Up top, Cavalry has seemed to form a budding striker-partnership between Joe Mason and Myer Bevan, who have already shown like they’ve been playing together for years. Bevan in particular is off to a hot start in 2023, having added two well-taken goals to his account already.
Bevan was another player Wheeldon Jr. praised on Friday, adding the Cavalry staff believed in the New Zealand international – who registered six goals last season – enough to present him a two-year contract extension.
According to Wheeldon Jr., Bevan has repaid the faith shown in him by the club admirably.
“He was hampered a little bit with innocuous injuries and muscle injuries, and he’s had a really good offseason, which is credit to him and our sports science team,” the coach said. “We just believed in him and told him he’s our number nine, so for him knowing that and having that faith, you get a better version.
“Not only does he know where the goal is, but he runs his socks off and he leaves everything out on the pitch. That’s what we want. He epitomizes the character of our team.”
Kick-off for Sunday’s encounter will be at 3 p.m. at Spruce Meadows. With temperatures forecasted to be the low-to-mid 20s Celsius, fans couldn’t ask for much better conditions to watch a football match.