VANCOUVER, BC – Mention this video clip to Axel Schuster and his face lights up. As we begin to describe the play, the new Vancouver Whitecaps FC sporting director quickly intervenes.
“I know it in my mind,” he says.
It’s November 22. Matchday 19 of 19 in the 2018-19 Liga MX Torneo Apertura. And for Puebla FC, their final match of the season. There’s nothing to play for. Puebla is safe from relegation and eliminated from playoff contention. Their opponent on the night? Playoff-bound Club Necaxa.
Nonetheless, Puebla strikes first in the 12th minute. Then again in the 35th minute.
Lucas Cavallini plays a part in both goals, leading the counter-attack on the first one and then assisting the second with a pinpoint cross from the left after winning an aerial duel.
Just before halftime, Cavallini makes his mark again. This time, with a goal of his own.
What a goal it was.
The Canadian striker runs onto a flick from his teammate, takes a perfect first touch, and fires home a left-footed half volley past the outstretched arms of the goalkeeper.
But that’s not what Schuster wants to talk about. No, he wants to talk about what happened the 90th minute. Puebla, who at this point have been down a man for 20 minutes, are still up 3-0.
The game is all but over.
But Cavallini isn’t done working. He’s never done working.
As one of his teammates loses a duel near the touchline in the attacking third, Cavallini instantly gets on his horse and goes on a 40-yard sprint to win the ball back in his own half.
“There’s nothing that can happen in this game,” Schuster says. “Even the situation, his teammates are positioned very well. But no, he goes after the ball, he goes deep into his own half, wins the ball, passes immediately to his teammate.”
This single play exemplifies the four cornerstones Schuster envisions for this team.
Mentality. Work ethic. Discipline. Team spirit.
“He was the MVP in the game,” Schuster says. “Nobody saw that scene in the summary of the game. But the mentality to fight for this ball. The work ethic, the discipline to do this run that’s important in the first minute but also to do it in the 90th minute with a 3-0 lead. And the team spirit, to help his teammate who lost the ball. This scene combines all the four cornerstones. This scene is really a good example to show everybody why he was top of our list.”
Whitecaps FC acquired Cavallini on a club record transfer fee Monday, signing the soon-to-be 27-year-old to a Designated Player contract through 2022 with an option for 2023. Cavallini joins Whitecaps FC following eight years in the top divisions of Uruguay and Mexico. He’s scored a total of 84 goals for club and country, including 11 goals in 17 matches for the Canadian national team.
“It’s good that we bring a player that is coming home, but it’s also a player that has proven in another league that he can score and do well. It’s not only in Mexico, even in his moment when he had to grind and go to Uruguay, he started there to make a name for himself,” said Whitecaps FC head coach Marc Dos Santos. “We’re not doing this because he’s Canadian, we’re doing this because he shows the qualities that fit the way we want to play.”
“I don’t think he’s going to need huge time to adapt here,” Dos Santos added. “It’s a player that has been around Concacaf with our national team, with some of our guys in the locker room, we feel the adaptation will happen fast. He had no questions about playing on grass or playing on turf, he has that warrior mentality that we like and we want here.”
Dos Santos said Cavallini can play as the central forward in a 4-3-3 formation or in a front two with a strike partner. The ‘Caps believe his sheer athleticism will translate perfectly to MLS – for context, he was clocked at 36.4 km/h earlier this year, which was one of the top speeds in all of Liga MX.
En la revisión del desempeño físico de los jugadores de la @LIGABancomerMX que se hace jornada a jornada, te presentamos a los tres futbolistas que alcanzaron las máximas velocidades en los partidos de la tercera fecha del Torneo Clausura 2019: pic.twitter.com/o19SVOAG7m— Centro de Innovación Tecnológica (@CITEC_Futbol) January 23, 2019
“He presses well the opponent, he fights for every ball, and he’s a warrior in the box,” Dos Santos said. “When he has chances to finish, he’s clinical in those moments.”
Cavallini, for his part, made it clear during Monday's press conference that he's more than a target man or a poacher who simply hangs around the attacking box. Rather, he's someone who will do whatever it takes to help his team win.
“I don’t like to refer to myself as a postman," he said. "I like to work off the ball, I like to drive the defenders crazy, I won’t stop 90 minutes. If I have to go 120, I’ll go 120.”
For these reasons and more, Cavallini has been on Vancouver’s radar for years.
And they finally got their man – a motivated one, at that.
“He's really looking for a new challenge,” Schuster said. “He’s not looking for less work and more enjoying life. He’s also focused on 2026. He wants to make some more steps in his career. He performed well for many years in Mexico. Now he wants to show his qualities here in his home country and he wants to help the Canadian team perform on a good level. That says a lot about him.”