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SANDOR: Does Wheeldon Jr. have a Finals 2019 home-leg preference?
Canadian Premier League

CALGARY — Cavalry FC won the Spring season handily, and is proving the naysayers wrong in the Fall. There was worry that the Spring season champion wouldn’t be super-motivated to compete in the Fall, with a spot in the two-legged championship final all wrapped up.

But Cavalry and Forge are in a tit-for-tat struggle for the Fall season. For Cavalry, there is a cherry still to be picked — the winner of the Fall season gets to choose if it wants to be home or away for the second leg of the final, which is set for Nov. 2.

Cavalry coach Tommy Wheeldon won’t 100-per-cent commit to a strategy, but judging by some comments he’s made, the educated guess would be that he’d want to play the second leg at home. After all, in the UEFA Champions League, when we get to the first round of the knockout stage, the higher-seeded teams get the second legs at their home stadiums. The common wisdom is that you want the home fans for the deciding game, and the luxury of having extra time and penalties — if needed — contested on your home ground, as well.

There is an argument to playing the first leg at home, though. If away goals matter, as they will in the CPL championship, then keeping the visiting team from scoring in the first leg, even if it’s 0-0, gives you an advantage going into the second leg on the road. Score just one goal on the road in leg two, and you’ve put a stranglehold on the tie.

In fact, we saw this play out when Cavalry played the Whitecaps in the third qualifying leg of the Canadian Championship. The first leg at Spruce Meadows finished 0-0, but that gave Cavalry the edge, in a way, knowing that nicking a goal in Vancouver would put the Whitecaps under extreme pressure. And that’s exactly what happened; when Jordan Brown scored just seven minutes into the second leg, Cavalry was on its way.

Going into the second leg of the Canadian Championship final, the Montreal Impact held a 1-0 lead after playing the first leg at home. By not giving up a road goal in the first match, the Impact players knew just one goal at BMO Field will force Toronto FC to score at least three.

Of course, that didn’t happen. The Impact won on penalties.

“In these situations, the main thing is to be able to manage the momentum,” Impact assistant coach Patrice Bernier said before the match. “We took a 1-0 lead, so we need to manage the pressure [TFC] is going to put on us early on. If we manage to score, then the pressure shifts. We can talk home-field advantage all we want, at the end of the day, in a two-legged series, the advantage belongs to the one who grabs it.”

But TFC will argue why it’s good to have the second leg at home. It’s simple. No matter what happens in the first leg, the team hosting the second leg knows what is has to do, and will get the chance to do it in front of its home crowd.

“We can take this home, we’re good,” said TFC keeper Alex Bono. “We take the 1-0 loss home, we play at home, we know what we have to do, we’re in front of our fans, in our own atmosphere, in our own element, no problem.”

Let’s get back to the CPL. If Cavalry wins the Fall season, maybe it’s about a lot more than tactics. It’s pretty darn symbolic to have the last game of the league’s inaugural season played at your home stadium. It’s a massive honour to know that the league brass, media, fans and the cameras will all need to be in your backyard. The Canadian Premier League schedule maker held the strings when it came to deciding where this inaugural season would begin, but the Fall season champ has in its power the decision on where the final kick of the season will occur.

So, being able to have the league’s final whistle sound at Spruce Meadows would be a significant achievement, and that’s a temptation that would be hard to ignore.

“We kicked off on May 4th in snow, so why not finish it that way on November 2nd?” Wheeldon Jr. asked rhetorically.

But, knowing Alberta’s autumn weather, we might not have to wait till a potential November 2 second leg to see the Cavalry playing in the snow. But, just in case, the league should have a yellow or orange ball at the ready.

Visit shop.canpl.ca for Cavalry FC jerseys, hats, and more.
Visit shop.canpl.ca for Cavalry FC jerseys, hats, and more.