Cavalry faces many unknowns in Cup visit to Orlando

Visiting Calgary club looking to adapt in second leg of Concacaf tournament debut

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A day at Disney World, it’s not.

The adventure ahead instead definitely seems daunting for Cavalry FC.

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Down 3-nil in the team’s Concacaf Champions Cup debut is one thing.

But heading into the unknown of a Major League Soccer stadium in Florida adds a whole other level of complexity for Calgary’s professional footie side in its long-shot ride to rally from such a big deficit to take down mighty Orlando City SC and advance to the second round of the much-hyped continental competition.

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“Definitely,” agreed Cavalry midfield star Shamit Shome. “The atmosphere is completely different than what we’re used to. It’s a different type of passion that the fans out there have for their club.

“But we’re not going to go in there thinking we’re going to Disney World or anything like that,” continued Shome. “It’ll be intense, and it’ll be hostile. But that’s what we prepare for. I think that’s the environment that people like to play in. Because there is the added pressure of the atmosphere and the fans and whatnot.”

Really, though, the pressure isn’t on Cavalry in this second leg — the home game for Orlando SC — which rolls into action Tuesday at Orlando’s Inter&Co Stadium (4 p.m. MT, OneSoccer, OneSoccer.ca).

It’s squarely on the home team in making sure not to blow a 3-0 advantage — gained from last Wednesday’s first leg in Victoria, B.C.

Especially since Orlando SC is a force in a league deemed more élite than the Canadian Premier League — the one featuring Cavalry — and a club with 10 or 20 times the budget to fill its roster than Calgary’s franchise.

“We have such a strong group that we think we can compete with them even on this budget,” said Charlie Trafford, Cavalry’s other star midfielder. “So it’s frustrating position to be in, but we have belief in our squad.”

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They’ll need it with so many admitted unknowns in front of them heading into Tuesday’s affair.

With Orlando having played two games in three nights — the latest being their MLS season-opener Saturday in a nil-nil draw with visiting CF Montreal — and another two in four nights with Cavalry and then travelling to play Inter Milan on Saturday in more MLS action, there’s no telling what the home-side roster’s going to look like or what head space the team might be in.

Perhaps overlooking the Cavs?

“It’ll be interesting to see if they keep the same guys or whether they rotate and how they’ll approach the game,” said Cavalry GM/head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. “We just get to reset and have another go at a very talented team. And there’s no shame in accepting that they had the better quality on (Wednesday) night than us.”

It’s expect anything then for Cavalry …

Although there appears to be a few other pluses awaiting them other than the pressure on the home side in Orlando.

Including that the pitch is natural grass — a boon for the Cavs.

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“But other than playing against the Whitecaps in the prep game recently, we haven’t played on the grass at all yet, and Orlando’s probably played at least 10 games,” Wheeldon said. “So these minor advantages we think we’re getting, we’re inundated with reasons why we’re not. So what we’ve got to do is — again — just find ways to adapt. I think that’s what I’ve been telling the lads is that, you know, I think we’d have had a better shot. It would have been Spruce Meadows on on a day in May, but it wasn’t.”

And Tuesday, it’ll be a night in muggy Florida, likely in front of the biggest crowd in Cavs history — upwards of 25,000.

That’s another different reality for Cavalry.

“I have gotten to play there a couple times and really enjoyed the atmosphere, because it’s loud,” Shome said. “They’re one of the better fan bases in MLS.

“And their supporters group are really really really serious and intense about it. And, yeah, they’ll be loud. I know they’re always behind one of the nets, and so (Cavs goalkeeper Marco) Carducci will be hearing a decent amount of stuff from them when we’re out there.

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“Even the tunnel we walk through to go out onto the pitch before the game is dark and lit up in kind of a graffiti way. So even when you’re walking out and about to play, you can hear the fans from the outside and you can’t see anything. It’s just dark. And there’s this written text along the wall the tunnel.

“It’s intimidating.”

It’s no ride in Disney World., for sure.

“I only know that I used to go down to Florida for the old PDL and USL headquarters, so I don’t know much about playing in Orlando other than it’s humid and it’s hot and it’s a different condition we played in Victoria and a different condition that we played here in Calgary, even in the summer,” added Wheeldon. “We’ve played in Mexico in the humidity and that kind of 20-, 25-degree weather.

“But it’s one we look forward to experiencing. So let’s go and enjoy it. And again, let’s put our best foot forward and play the way we did in moments of Tuesday’s game and have another go at them.”

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