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5 Talking points ahead of Cavalry FC’s first-ever CPL game

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One year ago the Canadian Premier League (CPL) unveiled Cavalry FC as Calgary’s new professional soccer team. Since then, Calgary-area footy fans have been eagerly anticipating the day the Calgary club played its first competitive match.

That day has finally arrived. Cavalry FC kicks off its first CPL season with a home-opener against York9 FC at Spruce Meadows this Saturday at 1:30pm. And to borrow a phrase relevant to the club’s home venue, we’re all chomping at the bit to get started.

Here are some talking points to ponder heading into this historic weekend for Calgary football.

1. Cavalry FC will play an attacking brand of football

Fans not already familiar with Cavalry FC’s head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. may be pleased to learn the Liverpool-born manager believes in playing on the front foot. No Mourinho-style parking the bus here. It’s how he won the Premier Development League championship with Calgary Foothills FC last season. Expect nothing different with his new club.

Wheeldon Jr. wants possession football. But he asks his players to be positive with that possession, with fullbacks joining the attack on the wings. And he demands his players hunt for the ball in packs when not in possession, even his attackers.

Cavalry FC, Canadian Premier League, Spruce Meadows, ATCO Field

Cavalry FC’s head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. Photo: ©Stuart Gradon/Total Soccer Project

Tactically Wheeldon Jr. often deploys a single striker up front, supported by waves of attacking midlfielders/forwards. But, he has the option of using two dedicated strikers with Jordan Brown, 22, and Dominique Malonga, 30.

In some preseason matches, English striker Brown began up top before being replaced in the second half by French Congolese international Malonga.

Expect Lethbridge-born attacker Nico Pasquotti, 23, to make appearances on the right-wing this summer. The tenacious forward enjoys twisting opposing left backs in knots. He’s equally willing to take the ball wide to the byline for a cross or cut in early for a shot himself. He loves a goal and he’s relentless.

Cavalry FC, Dominique Malonga, FC Edmonton, Canadian PRemier LEague

Cavalry FC’s Dominique Malonga scores a penalty against FC Edmonton in pre-season action March 30, 2019. Photo: ©Stuart Gradon/Total Soccer Project

Brazilian Oliver Minatel, 26, looks like he may find a home in behind the striker. A perfect position for a self-described “mobile forward”.

Skillful Honduran midfielder José Escalante, 23, played on the left-wing in the last preseason match against Calgary Foothills FC last weekend.

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German Julian Büscher, 26, looks a strong candidate to start in the centre of midfield. And Mauro Eustáquio, 26, and Sergio Camargo, 24, will likely get their minutes in central midfield also.

Club captain Nik Ledgerwood, 34, and Elijah Adekugbe, 22, could end up serving as holding midfielders. Of these two, veteran Canadian international Ledgerwood is likeliest to be given license to join the attack.

But most of these players are attack-minded and this club would appear to have great depth in midfield. Cavalry FC has been built for the charge.

2. Cavalry FC was defensively solid in preseason

Cavalry FC didn’t concede a single goal in any of its preseason tests. Seven clean sheets in as many preseason matches bodes well for the club’s goals against record.

It looks like Calgary-born goalkeeper Marco Carducci, 22, has claimed the starting spot between the posts. He’ll wear the No. 1 jersey. Though, it sounds as though Niko Giantsopolous, 24, made him earn it. And thanks to the CPL’s compact schedule, Gianstopolous will get playing time this season.

Wheeldon Jr.’s been a fan of Carducci’s for a while and the keeper was his starter in last season’s PDL championship-winning Foothills FC squad. Carducci’s positioning is consistently excellent and he’s confident with the ball at his feet.

Canadian Mason Trafford, 32, has been touted as one of the best centre backs in the CPL going into the its inaugural season. Mobile and ball-playing – he’s a modern and experienced centre back. He’s probably a nailed-on starter.

Some people levelled a charge of nepotism at Wheeldon Jr. for signing his central defender brother Jonathan (Jay) Wheeldon to Cavalry FC earlier in the year. But, it’s important to note Jay Wheeldon, 30, was a key component in his brother’s Foothills FC sides – including the PDL championship winning team last year. Wheeldon’s a classic big, strong and loud central defender who can play the ball. He loves attacking goal on set-pieces. He holds a number of coaching qualifications. He’s an experienced student of the game. If he plays, he’s Wheeldon Jr.’s on-field sergeant-major and fans will soon become accustomed to his booming English accent barking orders along the back line.

Joel Waterman, 23, will get minutes at centre back this season and he’s another 2018 Foothills FC graduate.

Cavalry FC, Canadian Premier League, Spruce Meadows, ATCO Field

Cavalry FC’s Elijah Adekugbe, centre, fights for the ball against Calgary Foothills FC in preseason match at ATCO Field April 27. Photo: ©Stuart Gradon/Total Soccer Project

In front of the centre backs sits local lad Elijah Adekugbe. Yet another Foothills FC alumnus, Adekugbe’s been an important defensive midfielder for Wheeldon Jr. in the past, serving a Sergio Busquets or N’Golo Kante type role – disrupting attacks in front of the back four. Wheeldon Jr. loves what Adekugbe does for him on the pitch. He often cites the 22-year-old as a key figure after any successful match. He’s a ball winner who knows his duty.

3. An injury or two at full back

Full back Chris Serban went off injured against FC Edmonton in preseason match March 30. And unfortunately for him and Cavalry FC, it sounds as though the injury will keep him on the sidelines for most, if not all, of the 2019 season. Bad luck.

Left back Nathan Mavila went down injured in the second half of Saturday’s match against Foothills FC, clutching his leg. And while there was no official word of how bad things are, Mavila had the demeanor of a man who thought the injury could cost him playing time – punching the ground in frustration rather than pain. Hopefully for Cavalry FC, his immediate self-diagnosis was incorrect. Wheeldon Jr. had been looking forward to unleashing the pacey Englishman on the left wing

4. Cavalry FC will play in a brilliant new stadium

Spruce Meadows has constructed a brand-new 5,000+ seat stadium for Cavalry FC. The stadium will also host equestrian events through the summer. It has been named ATCO Field – ATCO is the utilities/holding company owned by the Southern family, who also owns Spruce Meadows and Cavalry FC.

It’s a brilliant venue.

The new facility includes a brand-new 4,000+ seat covered grandstand – though the roof may not be completely installed in time for Saturday’s home opener. It looks a proper football venue. Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. believes the stadium will be a “cauldron” with terrific atmosphere. He’s probably right. Spruce Meadows’ existing grounds and top-end concessions compliment the new football venue perfectly. It’s a special place.

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But will this brilliant new stadium be full on Saturday? It’s looking unlikely, unless something significant changes in the next couple days.

Following last Saturday’s final preseason match against Calgary Foothills FC, Cavalry FC president Ian Allison said around 80 per cent of tickets had been sold for the home-opener against York9 FC. This will make for a good debut.

“I think, as I looked at it yesterday, (ticket sales are) about 80 per cent,” said Allison Saturday. “Which is good, because you need to keep some back for walk-ups. ”

Cavalry FC, Canadian Premier League, Spruce Meadows, ATCO Field

Cavalry FC’s new 4,000+ seat grandstand at Spruce Meadows. Photo: ©Stuart Gradon/Total Soccer Project

But, most seats still available are in the priciest sections of the grandstand, according to Ticketmaster. And “walk-ups” are unlikely to grab them all.

We’ll see if Cavalry FC will maintain, or improve on, the 80 per cent rate of sale this season, Or, if the initial excitement of a season-opener will have led to a high-water mark. Understandably, there are even more seats available for following matches. But, maybe early-season successes on the field will garner sales. Or maybe Cavalry FC doesn’t need sell-outs to be successful. And in the end that’s what we all want – for this club to be a success and for it to be around for a long time.

But there’s no denying, Cavalry FC’s ticket prices are generally the highest in the league. Allison cited Calgary’s pro sports market as one of the primary reasons for the pricing last year. It’s expensive to run any business in and around Calgary, for sure. And there are obvious costs associated with the building of a new venue, which, to re-emphasize, is splendid.

As with any new venture, there’s a learning curve. Allison has admitted as much in previous conversations. Spruce Meadows and Cavalry FC will be taking notes. They’ll want this club to be a success as much as the fans do, if not more so. They’re going to make this thing work. But it will be interesting to see how they accomplish it.

Checkout Cavalry FC website if you’re interested in purchasing tickets.

5. I Wanna Be In The Cavalry ♪♫♬

And finally, this writer will be extremely disappointed if the song “I Wanna Be In The Cavalry,” by Alberta singer/songwriter Corb Lund, doesn’t feature in Cavalry FC home matches this season in some way. Whether it’s the supporters group using the song’s chorus as a four-line chant or Cavalry FC, itself, playing the song over speakers as a pre-game lament, as Liverpool does with You’ll Never Walk Alone, Lund’s song seems tailor frigging made for the club and its fans.

A few months ago, I suggested on a couple social media platforms the song be used by the Footsoldiers Supporters Group and for them to perhaps propose the song to the club. Whether by my original suggestion or via another keen-eared footy fan’s inspired brainstorm, the idea was apparently shared at a Cavalry FC pub night hosted by club president Ian Allison and coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. So, we’ll see.

I’m surely not the only one who saw the connection. But, should “I Wanna Be In The Cavalry” be heard at ATCO field on Saturday, or in the future, forgive me if I claim at least a small portion of the credit.

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About Author

Stuart Gradon

Editor of Total Soccer Project | Photographer and Writer | Stuart Gradon is soccer journalist and multimedia professional, having worked at 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada. He covers Cavalry FC and Canadian Premier League.

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