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It’s the annual rite of fall in the Canadian Premier League.
Forge FC vs. Cavalry FC …
Facing one another in the playoffs …
Writing chapter after chapter of formidable footie.
And 2023 is no exception, although Saturday’s ‘seeding’ game comes with one key caveat: It’s not lose-and-go-home like the previous epic meetings.
“Yeah, it is different,” Cavalry GM/head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. agreed. “This one’s not an elimination game, per se. But it’s an opportunity, and I think that’s the word we’ve used every time with the team we’re playing — an opportunity to play against the best.
“We know we’re going to play against Forge’s best … They’re looking for a chance to defend their trophy.”
Forge is the defending CPL playoff champ. That can’t be forgotten, no matter the order of finish in this year’s regular season — with Cavalry (16W-7D-5L) on top and claiming the first-ever league-recognized regular-season trophy followed by second-place Forge (11-9-8) when the arch-rivals square off in Saturday’s 1-v-2 match at Calgary’s ATCO Field (3 p.m., OneSoccer, OneSoccer.ca).
Just as it can’t be forgotten that Forge has Cavalry’s number when it comes to playoff meetings — a 4-0 record, all knockout punches — even if it’s a narrative many Cavs shy away from talking about.
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“It’s the next game — it really doesn’t bring up any emotions,” Cavs star midfielder Sergio Camargo said of Saturday’s post-season party on the home pitch.
“I know you want the history of Forge-Cavalry, but, no, it’s the next-game mentality,” Camargo continued. “We’ve been so focused on ourselves this season. And you can tell by the way that we’re playing against everybody. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing or where we’re playing, we’re playing the exact same style and we’re finding ways to win. So it doesn’t matter who we’re facing the next game.
“I’m sure the fans love it that we’re playing each other. But for us, it’s just another game and another opportunity to get to the finals.”
Win and they earn a bye straight to the championship final, which would — because of a victory — be held here at Spruce Meadows on Sunday, Oct. 29.
Lose and they’re still in it, getting a second chance by virtue of their sensational regular season, with a host of the semifinal tilt Saturday, Oct. 21 (2 p.m.) against the winner of Saturday’s 3-v-4 elimination game between HFX Wanderers FC (11-9-8) and Pacific FC (11-7-10) in Halifax (noon, OneSoccer, OneSoccer.ca).
“We’re actually excited,” Wheeldon said. “I don’t know what it is about this group. It’s another big game, and we seem to be playing in big game after big game. It’s another big game, and I think that’s the way you want it. When you want to be a champion, you’ve got to play big game after big game.
“All we’ve got to do is keep playing that game that’s in front of us, and that’s how we’ve tried to stay grounded. We’ve been through pretty much the disappointments of not winning at the beginning of the season until our sixth (league) game to now going on a winning run of what we’re doing. This group has resilience. It has talent. It has camaraderie. And they’re the secret ingredients that you take into a playoff game.”
They need all of them in an effort to defeat Forge.
It’s just that way with the three-time playoff kings, who are ever-clutch when it counts — especially against Cavalry.
“Well, we know this is a rivalry,” Cavalry captain and goalkeeper Marco Carducci said. “We know that they’ve gotten the edge when it’s come to playoffs. And, obviously, we’ve had tough games throughout the entire history against them.
“But so much has changed. Of course, that history is there, but you look at our locker room and how much has changed over the last couple of years and all the guys don’t know those Forge stories or whatever. So as much as that’s a thing that we obviously recognize — and credit to them for what they have done in the past — it’s exactly that — it’s the past. So for us, it’s now what’s ahead of us.”
“Yeah, old history is what it is,” Wheeldon added. “I think fair play to Forge. You can celebrate their previous successes, but we are a different team, this is a different year, a different moment, a different playoff …
“There’s new history to be written. This group is taken on an opportunity to look at it that way.”
It’s rare in soccer when the injury report reads clean, but the Cavs will embrace it, especially on the eve of playoffs. “Healthy,” Wheeldon said. “Our medical team has been brilliant. I’ve got big pieces fit and available that I haven’t previously had before. So we can have a Plan A going in. We can have a Plan B and a Plan C, if we need to.” … Wednesday’s 4-v-5 elimination game saw Pacific oust visiting York United FC (11-5-12) 1-0 on an injury-time goal by Adonijah Reid …are still available for Saturday’s Forge-Cavalry contest.