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Concacaf Champions Cup Orlando Preview

Preview: Cavalry Prepares For ‘Rocky IV’ Matchup Against Orlando City

By on February 21, 2024 0 1379 Views

Tonight will see Cavalry FC enter continental competition for the first time in club history, with the reigning CPL regular season champions set to face MLS visitors Orlando City out in Langford, BC.

The historic cup match – moved westwards due to the Albertan cold at this time of year – is one that sees Cavalry enter as underdogs against their Major League Soccer opposition, though they’ve certainly punched upwards before.

Cavalry still step into the match as the only Canadian side still in the competition, with league rivals Forge falling to Chivas and MLS side Vancouver Whitecaps already succumbing to defeat against Tigres. Orlando qualified for the match by virtue of a second-place finish in the 2023 MLS Supporters’ Shield standings, while Cavalry secured a berth by finishing as the regular season CPL winners before falling to Forge in the playoff final.

Head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. has led the club since its first kick of the ball in 2019 and has done well to retain almost all of his core players from last season, like Daan Klomp (CPL Player of the Year), Myer Bevan (11 goals and golden boot co-winner), and Ali Musse (11 goal contributions). He’s also added some intriguing prospects in A-League forward Lleyton Brooks and Valour captain Diego Gutierrez, with goalkeeper and team captain Marco Carducci expected to put in a big shift as well.

Cavalry FC Charlie Trafford
Photo Credit: John Jacques

The Canadian Premier League regular season champions will march into Langford’s Starlight Stadium with a full roster with one exception in Gutierrez, who is recovering from a rib injury.

While the club is relishing the opportunity for a giant killing, veteran head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. knows that the odds are against them – particularly as Orlando’s preseason is at a much later stage with the 2024 MLS season kicking off tonight, while Cavalry’s own season is still two months away.

That’s before considering the massive different in player valuations and wage bills, too.

“I feel like itโ€™s Rocky IV,” said the Cavalry boss. “Like us being Rocky, training in the mountains and the grungy gyms. And then you see Orlando was in the sun – out in Cancun – playing games and playing Flamenco.”

See Also: Orlando City Unveils Preseason Preparations Ahead of Champions Cup Clash

Orlando is coming off the back of a record season, and Oscar Pareja hasn’t slowed down since then: he’s added former Concacaf Champions Cup winner Nicolas Lodeiro, while Colombia’s Luis Muriel arrives as a designated player with high expectations from Italy’s top flight. That isn’t to overlook existing players like Facundo Torres, who tallied 14 goals for Orlando last season.

They could also have to worry about striker Duncan McGuire, who scored 13 from his rookie season last season and was set for loan with the Blackburn Rovers this month, but his deal fell apart after the Championship side forgot to hit submit on deadline day.

Orlando City Duncan McGuire
McGuire scored a brace against TFC last year. (Photo Credit: John Jacques)

Pareja frequently deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation last season, with his team comfortable in suffering pressure before striking on fast counters. With away goals on offer at Starlight, they’ll be banking on catching their CPL hosts out after absorbing pressure.

โ€œTheyโ€™re very good,โ€ admits Wheeldon ahead of his underdog scrap, though he notes their season came to an end in a match against Columbus, where former Cavalry full-back Mo Farsi still plays after hoisting the MLS Cup.

See Also: Cavalry’s Pathway To The Concacaf Champions Cup Final

“Itโ€™s a lot different in our preparation, but regardless when that whistle blows weโ€™ll be ready to compete,” the Cavalry gaffer promises.

The Canadian side frequented a 4-2-3-1 last season, building up from the back and utilizing some clever runs from both wings and attackers to find space and make opponents suffer. They’ve also deployed three at the back in moments, but at home (or, uh, Starlight) we suspect they’ll play it a little safer. Make no mistake about the attacking end, though: they’ve proven clinical in big moments before, and this is the club’s biggest yet.

Canadian fans will be able to tune in to the first leg on OneSoccer, with the second leg coming a week from today on Tuesday, February 27. The winner of the head-to-head matches will go on to face Liga MX side Tigres, who surpassed the Vancouver Whitecaps in the opening round.

Header Image Photo Credit: John Jacques

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