Cavalry preparing for penultimate road game against HFX Wanderers on Tuesday

Cavalry preparing for penultimate road game against HFX Wanderers on Tuesday

(Photo Credit: Scott Strasser/AFTN)

With just five games left in the regular season, Cavalry FC are hoping to end a three-game road swing in fine fashion, setting themselves up as the favourites for the Canadian Premier League’s 2023 regular season title, which would see them secure the number one seeding for the playoffs and book a berth in the 2024 CONCACAF Champions Cup.

The Cavs will take on HFX Wanderers in Halifax on Tuesday night, capping off a five-day road trip that also included a stop in Hamilton and a goalless draw against Forge FC on Saturday.

They’ll be hoping for a better result than the last time they travelled to the Wanderers Ground. Back in mid-June, HFX beat Cavalry 3-1 when the two sides faced off in the east coast city.

But approaching the homestretch of the CPL regular season on the back of a four-game unbeaten run, Cavalry head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. feels his players have peaked at the right time, and they’ll be ready to take on HFX on Tuesday night.

“I think we’re enjoying the challenges,” he said during a pre-game press conference on Monday. “We always knew this was going to be a key part of the season.”

Though Cavalry are seven points ahead of Halifax in the league table, no one expects Tuesday’s match to be a cakewalk. As Wheeldon Jr. alluded to in his pre-game comments this week, HFX have been one of the CPL’s strongest teams when playing at home this season. Under new head coach Patrice Gheisar, the Haligonians have won seven of their last nine matches at home.

“[They have] a really terrific fan base here, and I know Patrice will have the guys all fired up,” Wheeldon Jr. said. “He’s rested a lot of guys, so we know we’re going to be getting their best version.

“But we like that. We don’t want to see watered down teams coming at us. We want to play a team’s best team, because if we are going to be the best, we have to beat the best. That’s what we’ve been seeing over the last couple of games, so it’s raised our level of intensity.”

A high level of intensity has certainly been the case for Cavalry in recent weeks. The Calgarians have gone 4-1-1 in their six games since the beginning of August, helping them establish a bit of breathing room at the top of the CPL table.

The Cavs are currently four points clear at the top of the standings, with 40 points compared to second-place Pacific FC on 36 points.

In terms of their most recent matches, Cavalry enters Tuesday’s battle with HFX after drawing Forge 0-0 on Saturday. The week before that, they finally secured their first win in Ottawa thanks to a dramatic, last-kick-of-the-match winner from Willy Akio to down Atlético 2-1.

And before that came a 1-0 win over Pacific and a 2-1 victory over York United – two matches that rounded off a strong overall August for Cavalry.

Strong defence

A main reason for Cavalry’s fine form as of late has been their revitalized defence.

While the team was liable to let leads slip earlier this season, the back line has looked reinvigorated as of late. Led by Daan Klomp at centre back, Cavalry have produced some strong defensive showings in the second half of the season.

That’s evidenced by Cavalry’s clean sheet against Forge on Saturday and their impressive defensive performance against Atlético, during which they limited the Ottawans to nine touches within their 18-yard box and one shot on target.

Cavalry also won 60 per cent of their duels against Ottawa, including two-thirds of all aerial duels, and intercepted eight passes.

Of course, with only two days to prepare for their tussle in Halifax, (even less if you consider travelling time, as Cavalry headed straight to Halifax after their match against Forge), Cavalry will have a tough task ahead of them tomorrow night.

Asked to touch on the team’s level of preparedness in Monday’s press conference, Wheeldon Jr. assured that his players will be ready – even if he doesn’t know for certain yet which players will be starting.

“We’ll know where we’re at and have an idea of how we want to play with and without the ball, but the personnel will probably be as late as possible as we can leave it,” he admitted, referencing the lack of recovery time since Saturday’s outing against Forge..

“But I think what we’ve found this season is we’ve got very versatile and adaptable players, and really great finishers in terms of those who start the game and those who finish the game. It’s certainly a strange scenario to be in. It’s only the second time this season we’ve had to do this short swing, but we’re as ready as we can be at this time.”

(Photo: Scott Strasser/AFTN)

Cavalry still short of U21 minutes

Something Wheeldon Jr. will have to consider as he plans out his starting lineup on Tuesday will be the team’s need to generate more U21 minutes.

The CPL’s rules stipulate each club must generate at least 2,000 minutes of playing time by domestic U21 players throughout the regular season.

After 23 games, Cavalry is only at the 1,503-minute mark in this respect. That means with five matches left, they’re still nearly 500 minutes short of the league’s mandatory minimum, meaning they’ll have to average roughly 100 U21 minutes per game from here on out.

That could be made difficult by the recent departure of left winger Goteh Ntignee to FC Annecy. Up until his transfer to the Ligue 2 club at the end of August, Ntignee was Cavalry’s main generator for U21 playing time, racking up more than 880 of those minutes single-handedly.

With Ntignee no longer available to call upon, Cavalry’s coaches will have to make sure their remaining U21 players – Maël Henry, Gareth Smith-Doyle, Michael Harms, and possibly reserve goalkeeper Joseph Holliday – are seeing plenty of the pitch in the remaining weeks.

When asked on Monday about his team’s approach to playing their U21s for the remainder of the season, Wheeldon Jr. seemed nonplussed by the creeping deadline for hitting the 2,000-minute mark.

“It’s an excellent rule, but you’ve got to use it strategically,” he said. “I think you’ve always got to play… the right players for the right game. We’ve always been one that’s not necessarily in the top half of the U21 minutes, yet we’ve sold four [of our U21 players]. So, we’re obviously doing something right with them and I think that was the purpose of this rule. It’s not how many minutes you can get, but how much quality you can get within those minutes.

“That’s been our rule from day one, from Victor Loturi, to Aribim Pepple, to Mo Farsi, to Goteh Ntignee. I think we’ve become the model, because you can run out the table, and I think the highest two are Valour and Vancouver. No disrespect, but they’re at the wrong end of the other table. We’ll do it like we’ve always done – strategically.”

Having five games left means there are still 15 points up for grabs, Wheeldon Jr. noted. He pointed out that if Cavalry can win four of those five games (three of which are at home), they’ll mathematically secure the regular season title.

“But we have to keep focused on one game at a time,” he said. “Halifax is that one game and then on Saturday, we’ll focus on Saturday’s game.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.