Cavalry FC prospects and FC Edmonton prospects battled to a 2-2 draw in front of over 1,000 spectators in the first match played on the new soccer pitch at Spruce Meadows in Calgary Saturday.
The new venue will be home to Cavalry FC when the new professional soccer team plays in inaugural season of the Canadian Premier League (CPL). Saturday’s match was the first of a two-leg exhibition series dubbed the Al Classico. The return leg is set to be played in Edmonton October 20.
Many of the players in these matches are expected to play in the CPL when it kicks off April 2019.
“It was a great game for the prospects,” said Tommy Wheeldon Jr., Cavalry FC head coach and general manager. “I think for both groups now, we’re trying to look at local talent.”
“I don’t want to say this too much, but credit to my adversary,” joked Cavalry FC’s coach, referring to FC Edmonton manager Jeff Paulus. “We’re going to become the best of friendemies. I want to beat him as much as he wants to beat us. That’s the pride of the battle of Alberta, or the Al Classico, as the fans have named it.”
Alberta’s got talent
Edmonton’s manager Paulus was pleased with his team’s performance and was quick to highlight the quality of local talent.
“I’m delighted,” said Paulus. “To see the players perform the way they’ve done. We’ve not had a lot of days of training but what’s important is we’re going around the country right now – we’re looking at talent across the country.
“But I think that this was a showcase of the level of player that’s in Alberta. And to see this many Albertans on the pitch represented in both our squads is fantastic for the game. It’s fantastic for our province.”
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Cavalry FC’s head coach agreed with his counterpart and believes these matches are invaluable experience for the players who are aiming to become professionals next year.
“What was created today was a professional environment,” said Wheeldon. “We can train them on the training ground and tell them what it’s going to be like. They have to feel it. It was a bit cagey at times. It was at typical rivalry.”
Cavalry FC’s man-of-the-match Nico Pasquotti appreciated the level of competition, despite it’s “friendly” status.
“Didn’t really know what to expect going in,” said Pasquotti, an attacking midfielder who won the Premier Development League national championships with Foothills FC in August. “We knew it was going to be a battle and we know it’s going to be a rivalry. Even though it’s just a prospects game, it’s still a game, we’re going to win right? So we got to get that mind set.”
FC Edmonton opened the scoring in the 24th minute with a long-range strike by Ajay Khabra. Cavalry FC equalized 10 minutes later when Pasquotti followed up on a rebound.
The hosts began the second half well but the visitors retook the lead the 75th minute – Ousman Maheshe scoring. Cavalry FC equalized again via an FC Edmonton own goal after a dangerous cross from winger Pasquotti.
Spruce Meadows as a soccer venue
Saturday’s match was played on the Meadows on the Green enclosure at Spruce Meadows and featured temporary festival-style seating. Spruce Meadows plans to install a stadium at the site with a capacity of over 5,000 by April 2019.
But the new venue, and its potential, is already garnering high-praise, including from the Saturday’s visiting manager.
“This facility, by the way, is top-drawer,” said FC Edmonton manager Jeff Paulus, of Spruce Meadows, “I’ve been to several stadiums at places in the NASL but I don’t think anything will replicate this for a fan experience on a game day. It’s brilliant. So well done.”
The players were equally impressed.
“The venue’s amazing,” said Cavalry FC’s Nico Pasquotti. “Atmosphere was great. The fans were incredible. It’s such a cool atmosphere. I came off at half time, and I said to my right back,’this is awesome, it’s so much fun’. It’s a great atmosphere.”
Cavalry FC’s GM and coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. echoed his winger’s remarks.
“It’s fantastic,” said Wheeldon. “This will be one of the most unique football stadiums in the world, not just in this country. We talked about it with the players and we talk about being remarkable.
“Thanks to the fans for braving the cold. Now the thousand or so that were here are going to leave remark about the experience to their friends thats the cascade effect and thats how this is going to grow.
“All credit to the Spruce Meadows family. They’ve created something beautiful here.”
And Cavalry FC president Ian Allison was extremely pleased with how the venue and its operations handled their first soccer match. But he says he and his team are always looking to improve.
“I was really interested today to watch the fan make their way around the stadium and where people tended to move to, gravitate to, how they wanted to watch it,” said Allison, President & COO, Spruce Meadows Sports & Entertainment. “We’re very much a measure twice cut once organization. And I think we learned a lot today.”