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Opinion: Cavalry FC missing 2019’s international flair

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Cavalry FC would have expected to have secured a place in the Canadian Premier League Island Games second round by now.

But the Cavs will likely need to avoid a loss against undefeated York9 FC Saturday to advance thanks to two straight recent losses. Though a draw Saturday may not even be enough depending on other results and how the CPL’s tiebreakers used.

Cavalry FC’s situation is, in part, due to a lack of cutting edge up front. A team that averaged close to two goals a game in the second half of last season, hasn’t scored from open play in the last 180 minutes of play. And tellingly, nearly half of Cavalry’s goals in 2020, four out of nine, have been scored by defenders.

Why the offensive slump? One contributing factor: Cavalry FC is missing the international flair it possessed in 2019.

Last season Wheeldon Jr. did well to compliment his solid Canadian core with just the right amount and type of international talent. But due to circumstances largely beyond his control, this season’s Cavalry FC roster doesn’t have the same balance.

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Yes, there have been defensive issues that have contributed to the club’s recent slip. And many CPL clubs have simply improved from last year – which is encouraging for the league and its fans. But the forward play hasn’t been what many had come to expect from Calgary’s club.

Head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. praised his club’s “professional performance(s)” early on at the Island Games when they were earning points and topping the table after four matches. But this can be interpreted as coach-speak for admitting to winning without style.

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And it was a lack of dynamism up front that eventually caught up with the Cavs in the last two matches – a 2-0 loss to Atlético Ottawa and a 2-1 loss to Pacific FC. Cavalry aren’t quite the same without their international talent.

Who are Cavalry FC missing?

Last season’s top scorer Dominique Malonga left the club in the off-season to join Bulgaria Lokomotiv Plovdiv. He scored 13 goals in all competitions for the Cavs in 2019.

The Frenchman’s languid style of play and a tendency to miss the occasional simple chance didn’t endear him to all Cav fans. But the clever forward brought a self-belief, a high quality skillset and vast experience to a new club in a new league. And he often got the better of opposing defences and did well to bring teammates into play.

Cavalry FC, Canadian Premier League, York9 FC

Dominique Malonga in action for Cavalry FC in 2019. Photo: ©Stuart Gradon/Total Soccer News

Similarly, German midfielder Julian Büscher thrived in the middle of the park last season, pulling strings, unlocking defences and delivering dangerous set-pieces. But the former LA Galaxy and DC United man returned home to Germany after last season.

Nik Ledgerwood and Elijah Adekugbe are strong and solid in the centre of Cavalry FC’s current midfield and are both probably good enough to start for any CPL squad. But last season Büscher brought guile to the hard working midfield. Cavalry has missed the enterprising midfielder.

José Escalante was re-signed but was unable to join up with the club this season due to COVID-19 pandemic. And the tricky left-winger, whom opposing fans love to hate, has been greatly missed.

Cavalry FC, Canadian Premier LEague

José Escalante, left, and Julian Büscher stand over a free kick in 2019. Neither player is with Cavalry FC at the Island Games. Photo: ©Stuart Gradon/Total Soccer News

At times, defenders Nathan Mavila and Mo Farsi have put themselves down the left wing to make up for the Hondurans absence. But there’s no replacing the orthodox left-winger with his speed and trickery and his terrific left foot delivery and shooting.

Aware of his club’s need to replace the lost creativity, Cavalry FC coach Wheeldon Jr. signed attacker Richard Luca to bolster his international talent pool. The Brazilian attacker was going to be key to Cavalry FC plans in 2020.

“He is one of the most exciting players we looked at this off-season,” said Wheeldon Jr. at the time of signing in February. “He has the tools to unlock defences and excite fans in equal measure.”

But the COVID-19 pandemic kept him from joining up with his new club and Wheeldon Jr. and Cavs fans will hope to see the 22-year-old former Brazilian youth international in 2021.

Which internationals does Cavalry FC have?

Brazilian attacking midfielder Oliver Minatel did return and is in P.E.I. He scored eight goals in all competition last season, but has failed to find the net at the Island Games.

Oliver Minatel, Cavalry FC, Canadian Premier League, PAcific FC

Cavalry FC’s Oliver Minatel scores in 2019. Photo: ©Stuart Gradon/Total Soccer News

Minatel, perhaps more than most, has suffered from not having like-minded players around him. Great players often need teammates on the same wavelength to reach their best. Minatel’s yet to get going.

Englishmen Jordan Brown and Nathan Mavila rejoined the club for 2020 and are both enjoying their time in P.E.I. Forward Brown and defender Mavila have scored three goals each. While their style of play is more direct than the other international mentioned, one wonders where Cavalry FC would be without their contributions this season.

Talented Peruvian forward Jair Córdova managed to join up after signing in the off-season. But he’s been sidelined with injury for most of the tournament.

He made a substitute appearance against Pacific FC and could feature against York9 FC if Wheeldon Jr. feels he needs something special. But it will be asking a lot of Córdova to get his match fitness up to required levels so quickly.

Cavalry FC still expected to advance

Despite the two-game losing streak, the Cavs still find themselves in second place with an advantage on those trailing them.

They have their destiny in their own hands. A win against York9 FC Saturday and they advance.

And Wheeldon Jr. will be certain his current squad will get themselves to the second round and then challenge for the title itself.

But without its clever internationals, Cavalry FC may need to rely on more “professional performances” before the Island Games are finished.


About Author

Photographer and Writer | Stuart Gradon is soccer journalist and web communications professional. He covers Cavalry FC of the Canadian Premier League and Canada's national teams. He has also worked on assignment at FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015 and FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010.

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