What a couple of weeks it’s been for Cavalry Football Club.
Just 21 days after kicking off their season May 4 with a 2-1 win over York9 FC, the Cavalry are riding a seven-game winning streak. The team sits atop the Canadian Premier League table with 15 points from five games and a berth in the second round of the Canadian Championship against Forge FC was secured, after beating Pacific FC 4-1 on aggregate.
The Cavs’ most recent win was another relatively comfortable outing, in a 2-0 victory over HFX Wanderers on May 25 at Spruce Meadows. Striker Dominique Malonga scored a goal in each half to open his account for Cavalry.
If you consider preseason fixtures, Cavalry’s win streak extends to an eye-catching 12 games in a row. It’s clear Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s troops know how to churn out victories, and they have solidified themselves as the cream of the crop in the CPL, at least in the first half of the Spring season.
There have been many reasons for Cavalry’s early success. Here’s a breakdown of why they have yet to drop points.
1. Stable at the back
Cavalry’s win over Wanderers was their fourth clean sheet of the season, after beating Valour FC 1-0, Pacific FC 2-0 in the cup, and FC Edmonton 1-0 in the first edition of Al Classico. They also didn’t concede a goal in their five preseason fixtures.
The goalkeeping of Marco Carducci has played a big role in Cavalry’s bed sheets looking spick and span. The 23-year-old Calgarian came up with huge performances in some of the team’s closer matches – the most notable being against FC Edmonton and Valour FC, when he made a handful of big saves in two strong second half showings.
With 13 saves, Carducci is second in the league in that category, only behind York9 FC’s Nathan Ingham, who has 19. But Carducci leads the CPL in terms of clean sheets, with three.
In front of Carducci, Cavalry’s defence has been solid. In the league, Tommy Wheeldon Jr. has mainly lined up with a 3-4-1-2 formation, with Dominick Zator, Joel Waterman and Jonathan Wheeldon manning the back line. The physical strength of Zator, the leadership of Wheeldon, and the ball-playing abilities of Waterman make Cavalry’s back three a tough nut to crack.
Cavalry’s strength at the back is even more impressive when you consider Wheeldon Jr. hasn’t had Mason Trafford or Chris Serban to call upon – two defenders I expect would be starting if they were available.
2. Individual brilliance
Football is a team game, but that doesn’t mean players can’t step up to rescue a result, with either a moment of individual brilliance or a standout 90-minute performance.
We’ve seen that happen in almost every Cavalry game thus far. In the 1-0 win over Valour, it was Jose Escalante, who rescued the three points for Cavalry with a well-taken free kick in the 86th minute. But a goal was the least Escalante deserved on that day, after terrorizing Valour’s full backs for the entire match.
In the 2-1 win over Forge and the 2-0 victory over Pacific, it was Nico Pasquotti who stepped up to the plate. After not featuring in the first match and only making a cameo in the second, Pasquotti burst onto the CPL scene with a strong performance coming off the bench in Hamilton, capping his afternoon off by scoring the winning goal for Cavalry, late in stoppage time.
The Lethbridge native put in another man of the match showing in the first leg of the cup tie against Pacific. He assisted on both of Cavalry’s goals – first with a trademark long throw-in to Dominick Zator, then with a pin point cross headed in by Oliver Minatel.
Against FC Edmonton, it was Carducci who was passed the torch. He didn’t have a lot to do for the first hour or so, but he had to stretch for two diving saves in the final 30 minutes.
In the return leg of the Canadian Championship tie against Pacific, Julian Buescher was the team’s most important player. He fired in the free kick that Marcus Haber miscued into his own net, and he sealed the win for Cavalry with a goal in the second half. But beyond those contributions, Buescher bossed the midfield throughout the match, keeping the ball, making plays and winning possession back when it was needed.
Most recently, against HFX Wanderers, Dominique Malonga was the player who made headlines. The 30-year-old striker finally broke his scoring duck for the Cavs with a two-goal performance. The former Serie A and B player had been unlucky not to score in a few previous matches, and he silenced a few doubters with his showing against the East Coasters.
3. Squad Depth
Playing seven games in three weeks would be taxing at any level of football. At the professional level, it’s particularly brutal.
The early Spring Season schedule has been jam-packed with fixtures, so it’s clear how important squad management and player rotation has been for every CPL team.
What’s great to see is that every Cavalry player who isn’t injured has played this season. The only two on the roster who haven’t featured are Chris Serban, who is out for the season with a serious knee injury, and Mason Trafford, who Wheeldon Jr. said last week is nearing his return.
Cavalry’s overall squad depth has been most notable in the Canadian Championship. Many players who have either not played in the CPL or only played a few minutes had starring roles in the two wins over Pacific, including Malyk Hamilton, Carlos Patino, Mauro Eustaquio, Niko Giantsopoulos, Gabriel Bitar, and Victor Loturi. None of these players looked uncomfortable or out of their depth against the Langford-based side.
Wheeldon Jr. will have to be pleased with the overall strength of his bench, and the quality of the players he can call upon when necessary.
4. Strength On Set Pieces
Cavalry’s first three wins all came down to the team’s ability to capitalize on set plays. In the home opener against York, both of Cavalry’s goals came off of corner kicks. In the win over Valour, it was a late direct free kick from Jose Escalante. In the win over Forge, Nico Pasquotti’s late winner came on the ensuing cross that was played in after a corner kick.
Of Cavalry’s 12 goals this season, I count five having come off of set-plays (six if you include throw-ins).
Here’s what Wheeldon Jr. had to say about the importance of set-plays following the 1-0 win over Valour:
“We rehearse a lot of set-plays, because it comes down to the fact that, if it’s a chess match like it was today, when you’re cancelling each other out, you need to have a bit of brilliance and something different.”
5. Home Field Advantage
It should be noted that of Cavalry’s seven games, five have been at Spruce Meadows. This home-heavy schedule in the first month has been done to accommodate the venue’s equestrian schedule, which will be at its busiest during June and July.
Both Carducci and midfielder Elijah Adekugbe have talked in press conferences about making Spruce Meadows “a fortress” and they certainly have done that so far. Cavalry has only conceded two goals at Spruce Meadows, while scoring eight.
The west stand of ATCO Field, behind the goal that Cavalry always attacks in the second half, is turning into the Calgary team’s miniature version of Liverpool’s Kop or Borussia Dortmund’s Yellow Wall. The Foot Soldiers Supporters’ Group is situated in that stand and they keep the noise going all game. In the second half of matches, the entire stand – which is always packed, as the ticket prices are far more reasonable than the main stand – is always hurling verbal abuse at the opposing team’s goalkeepers. I don’t know if that kind of thing gets under the ‘keepers’ skin or not, but the fans are right on top of the net, so it’s not as if they can’t hear it.
It will be interesting to see if Cavalry can continue winning once they have to play a series of games on the road. Their win in Hamilton came down to a last-gasp goal. In such a large country that spans three time-zones, the ability to get results on the road may prove crucial for Cavalry to maintain their dominance in the CPL.