The Cavalry's title hopes have been sunk by a familiar foe at the Island Games.
Needing a win to advance to the championship match the Cavs were knocked off 1-0 by Forge FC on Sept. 15 to end their Canadian Premier League Island Games Tournament bid in the second stage in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
“You can’t fault the effort, left it all out there,” said Cavs FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. “What I said to the lads is it comes down to if you want to be a champion you’ve got to have a cutting edge. They had their chance, they took it, they defended like warriors like the second leg of the (2019) final all over again. They just hunkered in, dealt with it, just played the game and they’ve got the savvy.
“We’ve got to learn that.”
Forge tallied the game winner in the 27th minute on a deft chip from Mo Babouli over Cavs goalie Marco Carducci.
The Cavs held the edge in total shots, duels won and had 56 per cent possession against the defending champions.
Wheeldon Jr. credited Forge’s ability to withstand defensively and strike on the counter, comparing Bobby Smyrniotis side to legendary Portuguese skipper Jose Mourinho’s teams of yesteryear.
“We can’t make any excuses, we can’t say about short bench or this that or the other. Players on the pitch know how to win football matches,” the coach added. “They had the quality, one chance is the difference, we have it we’re in the final, they had it and they’re in the final.”
One of four qualifiers for the group stage of the tournament, the Spruce Meadows-based Cavs finished third behind Forge and the HFX Wanderers in the table with a record of 1-0-2. Pacific finished fourth. The 2-1 loss to the Wanderers on Sept. 12 proved crucial, placing the Cavalry in a must-win game against the top-seed Forge in the final fixture of the round.
The Island Games Tournament saw the Cavs played nine matches over a 34-day period in the Charlottetown bubble. The Cavs were the top seed coming out of the first stage that featured all eight CPL teams with a 4-1-2, record.
Injuries were very much a factor for the squad with the likes of captain Nik Ledgerwood, attacking midfielders Sergio Camargo, Oliver Minatel and sparkplug winger Nico Pasquotti sidelined.
“We’re just happy we got a season out of it,” the coach added. “Credit to the league, credit to the owners that put this together. It was an enjoyable tournament, it was exhausting. Personally I know the lads will want to get back to their families, I miss my family. It’s been an exhausting haul, but it will be a memorable one, that’s for sure.”
With an eye on the future, Wheeldon Jr. tipped his cap to impressive display from the Cavs’ youth during the tournament.
“The youngsters have done smashing,” the coach said. “I’m delighted with Mo Farsi, I think he’s done smashing, I’m delighted with Elliot Simmons, Elijah Adekudgbe has grown again, Dominick Zator has been an ironman, he’s played every single minute.
“It’s been a difficult season for everyone, I asked the lads to do whatever it takes, they left everything out there, we just lacked that bit of quality, but no complaints — we go again.”