If the Star Wars saga taught us anything, it’s that in order to blow up the Death Star, a lot of rebels have to die first. The casualties mount in order to get the Death Star plans to Princess Leia.
So, far, a lot of Canadian Premier League teams have gone up against Cavalry FC and failed. Spruce Meadows has become the first true fortress in the CPL. But, just as the rebel spies finally got the plans on how to destroy the Death Star, did FC Edmonton, in losing Al Classico on Saturday, come upon a weakness in the Cavalry’s shell?
So far, teams have struggled to cope with Cavalry coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s press-everywhere system, that feels a bit like watching a basketball full-court press applied to soccer. No matter where the opposition is on the field, a player with the ball at his feet is immediately put under pressure. It’s led to turnover after turnover in midfield.
And, stubbornly, as coaches feel the need for the new league to entertain, and the requirement to develop Canadian players, opposition teams have been vainly trying and trying and trying to play the ball through Wheeldon’s 90 minutes of hell.
But, in an Al Classico game in which his team barely got a sniff of the opposing goal in the first hour of the game — FCE coach Jeff Paulus’s team came back into the match by going back to the simplest of soccer strategies: the route-one attack.
Long balls were deployed deep into the Cavalry half, for quick forwards to run onto. Instead of trying to work through the Cavalry press, the Eddies bypassed it.
Even Wheeldon admitted that “they played very direct and made it hard for us.”
This is the thing: As soon as you mention “direct football,” everyone turns their noses up. You may as well be talking about bringing back smoking in public places. Cheering on direct football is the equivalent to being a soccer neanderthal.
But what it if it works? The Eddies created three golden scoring opportunities late in the game. Marcus Velado-Tsegaye was stopped not once but twice thanks to great diving efforts from Cavalry FC keeper Marco Carducci. And FCE’s Ramon Soria was in front of goal with an open header but put the ball right at the keeper.
Those were exactly the kind of chances teams haven’t been carving out when trying to play through the Cavalry press.
So, is there a lesson there for Pacific FC ahead of the second leg of its Canadian Championship tie with Cavalry FC? Does HFX Wanderers coach Stephen Hart have some info he can use when his team visits the Spruce Meadows fortress next week?
Cavalry has shown so far that, when the ball is on the deck, the team can’t be beat. But, know this, unlike artificial turf, long balls will check up on the Spruce Meadows grass. And while it’s anything but silky football, maybe, just maybe, the rest of the league has found a way to finally take points off Wheeldon’s men. It’s just that a lot of teams have had to go to Spruce Meadows and have their hopes dashed to get there.