Cavalry coach wants more 'ruthless' soccer from players

Calgary’s CPL side drops golden chance for win in Sunday’s scoreless draw with rival Pacific FC

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Tommy Wheeldon Jr. wants his charges to be more cutthroat.

“Ruthless” is the word the Cavalry FC gaffer used after watching his club fail Sunday in a golden opportunity to win its first Canadian Premier League contest of the 2024 calendar.

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“Two points dropped in my opinion,” said Wheeldon, moments after the 0-0 decision with arch-rival Pacific FC in front of 4,183 fans at ATCO Field.

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“We’ve got to be more ruthless. I’ve told them that. The boys accept that.”

Sure, it’s easy to say this year can look like last year when Cavalry started slow but eventually found its feet to run away with the CPL’s regular-season championship.

After all, the precedence has been set, and the program is right there again on the cusp of finding its winning ways.

But it has to be earned.

And Wheeldon feels his edition has been slow on the uptake of that after the 0W-2D-1L beginning to the league schedule — with the latest result being Sunday’s nil-nil draw in the club’s CPL home-opener.

“Very similar to last year,” said Wheeldon, recalling last spring’s run of five straight ties to open the 2023 CPL campaign. “The only difference is we lost the first game (this year) … but we’ve seen what happened last year. And this is a quality room.

“But what we’ve got to keep reminding them of is we’ve got to smell blood in the water. That’s what I was disappointed with (Sunday).

“We have to take our chances.”

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They did that in the season-opener earlier this month, narrowly missing out on knocking off nemesis Forge FC — only to lose in somewhat stunning fashion.

But since then, there hasn’t been enough instances of ruthlessness.

Even in their only win of 2024 — that being in Tuesday’s 1-0 home-field Canadian Championship victory over Vancouver FC — the Cavs didn’t muster much of a threat until they faced adversity down a man and pulled out the gutsy victory.

“We found a way to win on Tuesday,” Wheeldon said. “But if you don’t score, you don’t win games.”

On Sunday, they flirted with chances.

It felt like the floodgates were about to burst.

Ali Musse was the Cavs’ biggest threat, often controlling the ball in the final third of the field but getting locked down by defenders and not getting much help from teammates when he went to deliver the ball into danger.

The nimble attacker did get a few through, but those feeds never found a friendly foot — or head — and nothing was really made difficult for Pacific goalkeeper Sean Melvin to turn away.

Melvin did, however, make a darn fine stop of new guy Lleyton Brooks late.

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So … alas … no scoring.

“We’re disappointed not to win, given the chances we created and the way we played for the majority of the game,” said Cavalry goalie and captain Marco Carducci, who saw little threats against him at his end with his teammates — for the most part — offering up the usual top-shelf defence.

“Having this as your league home-opener, you also want to put on a show and entertain the fans,” continued Carducci. “So as a group, we’re disappointed that we couldn’t do that.”

Cavalry thought it had scored late in the match, but young Lucas Dias was offside on what would’ve been his first goal in Calgary colours.

And that mis-step somehow brought on a super chance for the Victoria side at the other end, as attacker Reon Moore slipped in behind the Cavs defence and was only thwarted by Carducci, who charged out to knock down and somehow hang onto a well-delivered ball that was heading into the home net.

“No, it wasn’t easy … and it happened fast,” recalled Carducci of the game-saving stop. “To be honest, it’s a bit of a blur still. Obviously happy to make a big save near the end of the game, but frustrated that we’re giving up a chance like that. Again, I think we had the lion’s share of chances, so to give one up like that is not what you want to do.”

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His coach agreed, adding, “We can’t leave it to Marco to make a late save when we’re throwing the kitchen sink at them.”

Of course, credit Pacific with bringing a bar-the-door, park-the-bus game-plan to Spruce Meadows — and executing it to perfection in its first road game of the soccer season.

“The first round of the games (in the schedule), you’re looking at their nuisances,” Wheeldon said. “They set up very very well defensively and tried to play on the counter. We expected a bit of a 4-5-1 block. They went into a 4-4-2 block and did very well.

“They made it tough on us. But it’s on us to be the protagonists, and we have to be better at that.

“The lads been craving competition,” continued Wheeldon. “We started our season back in January when we were preparing for the Concacaf Champions Cup. Everybody wants playing time. But the simple thing about playing time is if you’re playing well and doing your job, you’re going to get more of it. It’s down now to us to our players starting the game and those finishing the game to come in make an impact.

“We’ve just got to be more ruthless. I think it’s that simple.”

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Next up for Cavalry is another home match against the incoming Vancouver FC, which lost 1-0 to the host Cavs last Tuesday in a Canadian Championship one-off contest, on Friday night at ATCO Field (7 p.m., OneSoccer, OneSoccer.ca).

“We could’ve been better, and we should’ve been better,” added Carducci. “We’re going to continue to build. We know this is a long season. It’s a 28-game season. It’s not a three-game season. So we’ll focus on the next steps now.”

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Cavalry’s Starting XI was: goalie Carducci; defenders Fraser Aird, Tom Field, Daan Klomp and Bradley Kamdem Fewo; midfielders Shamit Shome, Sergio Camargo and Diego Gutiérrez; and forwards Ali Musse, Willy Akio and Toby Warschewski … The club’s subs were: goalie Jack Barrett; defender Michael Harms; midfielders Lucas Dias, Charlie Trafford and Max Piepgrass; and forwards Malcolm Shaw and Lleyton Brooks … The Cavs scratches were: goalie Mitchell Barrett; defenders Eryk Kobza (pinched nerve), Callum Montgomery (foot) and Caden Rogozinski; and midfielders Jesse Daley (leg), Maël Henry (hamstring) and Niko Myroniuk.

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