The Vancouver Whitecaps contributed Wednesday night to what was despite their best interests, a historic night at BC Place. For the first time in Canadian Championship history, a Canadian Premier League side bested an MLS side, and Cavalry FC are moving on to face Montreal Impact in the semi-finals, having vanquished the Whitecaps in the second leg of the third round by a score of 2-1.
Cavalry FC coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr spoke with the media after his side’s momentus victory, and the skipper gave us a sense of what it meant to go up against a coach he respects, with an MLS side, and come out the victors: “That was exciting for us today, because we had to test our mettle against an exceptional Canadian coach that’s trying to galvanize a new look team. But our guys have got the heart of a Lion.”
With Cavalry FC having won the early season in CPL, and still finding themsleves undefeated in the second half, Wheeldon Jr was asked about the impact of two teams trending in very different directions: “I’m a big believer in psychology. And I think what you can see now is that they’re going through a tough time - and we’re going through a good time. They’re trying to play through it and you can see that the guys are suffering.”
As Wheeldon Jr went on to explain, the Whitecaps current struggles were not only something which could be exposed psychologically, but also tactically: “And for us we knew that they were vulnerable in transition because they overplay - so we caught them with that goal. And we know with set plays [that was an area of weakness]. As soon as it went wide, our tails went up.”
Above all else, Wheeldon Jr’s respect for the game, and his desire to grow Soccer in Alberta through Cavalry FC, is clear. It can’t be understated what a night like this could mean for Cavalry FC as a club, as well as the Canadian Premier League at large - competing (and winning) against MLS sides demonstrates that the CPL, in just it’s first year of existence, is already capable of producing a quality of football which is competitive with one of the top Leagues in North America. Wheeldon Jr concluded his conference with words of encouragement, ones that seemed to be directed to not only the Whitecaps, but also to Vancouver and Canadian soccer communities at large: “It’s an honour and a privilege [to be part of this]. Just keep going and keep doing. We’re all in this together right? We’re all growing this together in different markets. We’ve got the big picture ahead. And that’s what the Canadian Championship does. So thank you very much.”
Cavalry FC captain Nik Ledgerwood also gave us some of his time after the historic victory, and provided very interesting insights as to how Cavalry FC was very aware of the unsettled crowd at BC Place, and that they intended to use it to the best of their advantage: “If we could come out strong in the first ten minutes, and kind of weather the storm, then that might change the atmosphere of the crowd a little bit and not let the Whitecaps get into the game...It wasn’t the loudest I’ve heard BC Place before and I think that’s something we noticed as players and that’s something which pushes you, when you see the home fans almost going against the team at times. I think we did exceptionally in the first 15-20 minutes to get that early goal and kind of kill the atmosphere.”
Equally, Ledgerwood made a bold statement about the psyche of his opposition on the night, and having seen the way each team performed out on the field, I don’t think I disagree with him: “I honestly believe the biggest difference between both teams tonight was that every player on our team believed that we could win the game, and I don’t think that was the case on the Whitecaps.”
If this lack of belief is truly something that opposition players can get a sense of, Marc Dos Santos might have a much bigger problem to face than simply bringing in new players before the season is up. After the match, Marc spoke not only to the mental fragility of the team, but also suggested for the first time this season that it might be time to mix things up with the roster, if for no other reason than to simply send a message: “We feel like in key moments, we need to be more mature...There are a couple of things we could do to try to get a reaction. Also in the locker room, maybe new blood, maybe at this point some moves if we’re able to.”
Dos Santos was also prompted to comment as to whether or not transitioning the team back to a counter-attacking style would be beneficial given their current struggles. But from the manager’s response, it seems unlikely that he thinks such a tactical switch would have the desired effect with this group of players: “You need to have the mental toughness to accept that as a team. You need to have every player accepting that that’s what we’re going to do as a team. By the profiles [of player] we have right now, this is a little bit more difficult.”
Finally, in a week which has been filled with countless storylines about the future outlook of the club, Dos Santos made a bold statement: “We need to become better, not only on the field but also in what’s next for our club. It sucks that i’m saying that, but this is probably a very good moment for our club.”
Reading between the lines, and given everything that we’ve heard from Dos Santos so far this season, it seems clear now that he shares the long-held belief from supporters that upper management and the front office were in need of a serious wake-up call. If the club is sincere about improving long term, Dos Santos needs help. Not just financially, but also through better staffing and organizational management. No matter how things pan out, it will be fascinating to see the way Dos Santos’ relationship with the club, and his players, develops over the last 11 matches of this MLS season.
Are you shocked by the loss to Cavalry FC, or simply disappointed? Is there a chance that Dos Santos could walk away? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!