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Tale of two cities: Cavalry FC write Canadian history, eliminate Vancouver Whitecaps

Vancouver Whitecaps write history by becoming the first MLS side to fall to a Canadian Premier League team.

VANCOUVER, BC — Calgary-based Cavalry FC have written Canadian soccer history. They have become the first Canadian Premier League side to eliminate a team from Major League Soccer by beating the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 at BC Place on Wednesday

“It was exciting for us tonight. We had to test our mettle against an exceptional Canadian coach,” Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon said after the game.

For Cavalry FC it is the latest success after the club won the Canadian Premier League spring season.

It’s a major achievement for a club from a league where the average player makes between CAD$40,000 and CAD$60,000 a season.

“You got Ali Adnan whipping in the ball. His left foot is worth $2 million on its own,” Wheeldon said. 

Cavalry FC keep it simple

For Cavalry FC, taking out the Whitecaps was relatively simple.

“You take out Yordy Reyna, and you let Adnan play on the left; give him room, don’t let him come at you in tight,” Cavalry FC midfielder Julian Büscher said after the game. 

“Give Adnan the ball to whip it in,” Wheeldon said. “Once we did that we tried to keep the play in front of us, we are very good in transition.”

The Whitecaps did, in fact, have 69 percent possession overall. But it is not about how much you have the ball, but what you do with it.

”For us, it was all about playing the ball direct, quickly forward it is easy to hit them in transition,” Büscher said. 

Playing the ball out of the back, keeping it simple and hitting teams in transition is a major part of the Cavalry DNA. It is a tactical setup that has made the Cavs the best team in the Canadian Premier League. 

The gap between MLS and Canadian Premier League

“Wow this is a really big organization you have here,” Wheeldon said when walking into the press conference.

Indeed, everything seems just a bit bigger in MLS in comparison to the CanPL, which started its inaugural season in April

“We came here with literally nothing to lose,” Wheeldon said. “We’re not expected to win as a first-year professional club. But we’ve shown that we can compete and it’s about having a game plan.”

“I honestly believe the biggest difference between both teams tonight was that every player on our team believed that we could win the game,” Cavalry FC captain Nikolas Ledgerwood said. “And I don’t think that was thee case on the Whitecaps, I honestly do.” 

Ledgerwood hit the nail on the head. The Whitecaps have now been winless in ten games across all competitions. Going into the game there was always a sense that the ‘Caps could struggle. Cavalry, seen as a lower division team, have been winning all season and brought plenty of confidence to Vancouver. 

It is a phenomenon that can be often witnessed in Europe where in-form lower division sides regularly cause trouble for upper-division sides. But Wheeldon quickly pointed out that the CanPL is technically the first division. 

“We don’t see ourselves as a lower division,” Wheeldon said. “We are Canada’s tier one, and they are America’s tier 1. We have a lot to learn but what we showed tonight is irrespective of our salary cap compared to the MLS, is we can compete when you are organized and create a culture early.” 

Cavalry FC a model for the Whitecaps?

For Wheeldon, it has been all about building a culture of winning. The sort of culture that Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos still tries to establish in Vancouver. 

At the same time, Dos Santos was quick to point out, that despite Cavalry’s successful approach, the way Calvary played was not going to be part of his vision.

“It is a great point,” Dos Santos said. “But you need to have the mental toughness to accept as a team, every player, that that is what we are going to do as a team but with the profiles that we have right now that is a bit more difficult.”

Dos Santos highlighted Portugal at the 2016 European Championship as an example.

“I know people in that locker room, and they accepted that they were the smaller team,” Dos Santos said. “We have to decide as a club, what do we want to be one day?”

Without a doubt, Dos Santos is in search of an identity for the Whitecaps at the moment. An identity that is still taking shape after half a season in MLS.

For Dos Santos, the tactical identity is not necessarily Wheeldon’s Cavalry FC. But the Calgary-based club is an excellent example of what can be built in a short time. 

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