PREVIEW: HFX Wanderers FC vs. Cavalry FC — Match #24
Canadian Premier League

2021 CPL regular season (The Kickoff) — Match #24
HFX Wanderers FC vs. Cavalry FC
July 17, 2021 at 7:00 pm ET/6:00 pm CT
IG Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba
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This weekend’s slate of matches kicks off with a pair of former CPL Finalists, as HFX Wanderers and Cavalry look get back into the win column after a bit of a dry spell. Neither side scored a goal in their midweek fixtures — in fact, Cavalry hasn’t found the net in four consecutive contests — but with firepower in both squads, they’d certainly like to turn it around on Saturday.

The Wanderers have shown real improvement since their first few matches of the season; they’ve got just one win on the year so far, but they’re unbeaten in their last three (with just one goal allowed). They beat FC Edmonton 2-1 last Saturday, but they couldn’t find the scoresheet on Tuesday in a 0-0 draw against Pacific FC. The goose egg on the scoresheet wasn’t for lack of chances; HFX threw 10 shots at their west coast foes, but they ultimately couldn’t break the deadlock.

“The players really know that when we get home, we want to be in a good position in terms of the table,” said Wanderers assistant coach Mesut Mert in his pre-match press call. “And then to be able to come out in front of the home crowd and be ready to go, just waiting for that environment.”

Cavalry, on the other hand, have stumbled a little since beginning the season with two impressive wins. They added a point on Wednesday with a gritty 0-0 draw against York United, in a game that both managers saw as a chaotic, chippy affair, but again: no goals. Cavalry probably had the better of the chances, with Anthony Novak having a couple clean looks at the goalkeeper, but the final ball never came. Nonetheless, gaffer Tommy Wheeldon Jr. is happy with his team so far. He pointed out on Friday that his side has set two CPL records: one for the most passes completed in a match by a winning team (June 30 against Atlético Ottawa), and another for the best rate of defensive actions per opposition pass (also known as PPDA, often a measure of the effectiveness of a team’s press) in their 0-0 draw with York United.

“If any of the chances we had go in, we’re all talking about, this is a team that’s sharp,” Wheeldon said. “All we’ve done is added perspective, we’re six games into a 28-game season. We’re not far off, we’re two wins away from the top and two wins from the bottom. So really, it’s okay.”

The Cavs’ squad will be bolstered on Saturday by Irish international striker Joe Mason, whose long-awaited inclusion in a matchday squad is set to come in this game according to Wheeldon. Unfortunately, they’ll still be without Oliver Minatel, Sergio Camargo, and Tom Field — the latter two having been sent home to Calgary to recover from injuries before the rest of the team returns after The Kickoff in Winnipeg.

Perhaps fittingly, the only other time these two teams have met this year was a 0-0 draw. That was quite a stingy defensive affair, both sides clogging up the midfield and making it very hard to break through.

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  • Strikers need to get going: This is a pair of sides who have traditionally been quite fluid going forward, rarely hurting for goalscoring acumen. Obviously the talent is very much there in both locker rooms, but perhaps the confidence in front of goal has taken a dip? After drawing with York, Tommy Wheeldon Jr. explained that he felt his attackers were taking one touch too many in the box, and he preached a return to simplicity. Similarly with the Wanderers, Akeem Garcia (the reigning Golden Boot winner) and Stefan Karajovanovic are looking for their first goals, with the latter in particular seeing a lot of the ball in the penalty area. Karajovanovic and Garcia are fourth and sixth in the CPL, respectively, in expected goals, despite neither scoring one yet. “Stephen, he’s been creating a lot, and it’s just a matter of continuing working on what he’s doing, maybe change a few minor details here and there,” Mert said on Friday. “Shot selection, or looking to cut it back across the top of the box… just continue doing what he’s doing, and not let it get to him because he’s getting into good positions.
  • Cavalry’s revolving defensive unit: The Cavs have been quite freely able to rotate a group of six players through their four-man backline, with the trio of Daan Klomp, Mason Trafford, and Karifa Yao all getting at least three starts so far at centre-back. Tom Field, Mo Farsi, and Dan Kaiser have shared duties at the fullback positions, although with Field picking up an injury recently, the latter two — both primarily right-sided players — have split left-back duties, with Farsi and Kaiser both getting a start on that flank. Cavalry haven’t necessarily been the staunchest defensive team so far, with six goals allowed, but they’ve generally been very solid, with each of the aforementioned players fully able to slide in comfortably. Wheeldon explained: “What we’re trying to do is see who works well, and what we’re looking at is, A, let’s get minutes under our belt so we can get into game shape for our return, and B, what partnerships or trios work best in the formations we’re playing. With Tom Field out, we’re looking at who can play better coming off the left, and both Mo and Kaiser are technically very comfortable, so it was about pairing them with the right winger in front of them.”
  • HFX’s style evolving, partly by necessity: The HFX Wanderers side that made a run to the final of the Island Games last year had quite a noticeable identity: at their best, they were completely lethal on the counter-attack, winning balls extremely high up the pitch and using the pace and skill of their front three to punish any opposition mistakes. Early on in this season, they haven’t necessarily been as dangerous on the break, but a maelstrom of factors seem to have conspired to cause that. Certainly, over a longer campaign, that style of play may not necessarily be conducive to consistent success, but also the physical toll of playing so much after a long off-season has meant they can’t be full-on energy at all times. To that end, assistant coach Mesut Mert told on Friday: “Fitness does play a role, and we’ve been hit with the injury bug as well so that does play a role too, having to come out and adjust to players in different positions, asking players to play out of their comfort zone. But we’ve done a good job as we’ve seen a little bit more possession of the ball, which allows us to rest on the ball as we’re playing, so to speak. When we do have the chance to counter, when we are defending, possession helps us save some energy so that we can be dangerous.”


Cavalry wins: 5 || HFX Wanderers wins: 1 || Draws: 2

Previous match:

July 3, 2021 – Cavalry FC 0-0 HFX Wanderers


“That’s a good club. I’m expecting them to come out aggressive and strong, I know Tommy’s gonna have that squad ready to go… I expect them to be direct, running at us with the ball. They have a striker (Anthony Novak) that can be very dangerous, he’s one of those players that could pop off at any time once he gets his first goal.” – HFX Wanderers assistant Mesut Mert on Cavalry FC

“With every challenge there’s an opportunity, and we either rise to it or succumb to it… Goals are hard to come by for all players just because of the state they’re in. We’ve just got to rise to the challenge that lies ahead.” – Cavalry coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr.