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Cavalry FC coach discusses Canadian Premier League trials and how to build a pro soccer team

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More than 220 soccer players hoping for a professional career participated in the Canadian Premier League #GotGame open trials when the cross-country hunt for players came to Calgary last week.

Trials for the Canadian Premier League, the new Canada-wide professional soccer league set to kickoff in April 2019, had already taken place in Halifax, Montreal, Hamilton, Toronto and Winnipeg. The final stop will be in Victoria Nov. 5-6.

These trials have allowed coaching staff from the seven CPL clubs and other league officials to checkout some untapped Canadian soccer talent, as well as see some players from outside the country.

Fantasy football for real

And Tommy Wheeldon Jr., head coach of Calgary’s Canadian Premier League team Cavalry FC, admits to having thoroughly enjoyed the process so far.

“I get asked, what’s it like?” said Wheeldon, after the Calgary #GotGame trials wrapped up Friday. “And I ask how many people play fantasy football. It’s exactly like that, with real money, with real decisions and with real points on the line. It’s fantasy football. I’m in my fantasy job. I love it.”

Wheeldon was impressed with the talent on show in Calgary last week. However, he admits that a player’s skill set is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to building his team.

“At the end of it, the good players shone out,” he said. “And we’ve got a few names now that will go on the watch list that, when we start filling out our rosters, may get an invite to the training camp.

“I’m about building cultures. For me talent catches my eye, like everyone else. But I need to know the person. If you can’t rely on the people around you, then you’re going to crumble.”

Cavalry FC building an “entertaining team”

“We’re at our foundational signing stage,” said Cavalry FC‘s Wheeldon. “All the contracts have to be approved by the league. What I can tell you is we are looking for people with experience and somebody with potential. We believe in putting a really entertaining team together and it starts with that.

Cavalry FC coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. coaching Calgary Foothills FC in April 2018. Photo: ©Stuart Gradon/Total Soccer Project

“Once that process has been done, hopefully before Christmas, we’ll be looking at our futures players – players under the age of 23 that are maybe local to this area. We wanted something with a local identity.

“After that we want domestic players. Those with Canadian ties playing overseas or down south. Once we’ve got through those stages, probably in the new year, that’s when we’ll be looking overseas (for international players) for pieces we don’t have. The things we don’t find locally or nationally, that’s where we bring in imports.

“All of us (in the Canadian Premier League) want to develop Canadian players. So, when we go through these trials, the biggest thing we’re trying to identify is players we put on the watch list.”

What next for the Canadian Premier League trialists?

The next step in the process for the players who make the final watch list is yet to be determined. But Wheeldon suggested there are two solutions being considered – a dispersal draft or regional allocation.

“(As an example) let’s say the top five prospects of every group and, also, the futures, teenage players,” said Wheeldon. “We’ve identified them and put them on our watch list. Each club is going to have different needs.

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“We might say you have first right to refusal to your local market or we look at the players in there and we put them into an open market. But that’s being finalized by the league.”

Local clubs getting involved with Cavalry FC

Technical directors and officials from some Calgary and area clubs attended last week’s Canadian Premier League trials, including from Blizzards, Alberta Soccer, Calgary Rangers, Eastside Memorial FC, Calgary Foothills and Southern Alberta Institute of Alberta.

Wheeldon hopes these relationships will blossom in time, helping to identify and develop local talent for his club and the Canadian Premier League.

When we launched (Cavalry FC in May 2018), we invited every single club in the city, men’s amateur, women’s amateur, youth clubs to be a part of the launch,” said Wheeldon. “Today, when the #GotGame trials came through here, it’s important to have the technical directors involved in the process. They’re being paid to develop players and people.

“What we want to do in this city is create the opportunity that if they feel they have a player we’re going to create a pathway (for them). We want to work and make every club a part of the system and not a part from it.

“Hosting the trials here in Calgary gave me a great opportunity to reach out (to the local clubs). Anything the local clubs are good at, it’s dealing with the chaos of tryouts. So, I reached out and said, we’d love you to be a part of the this.”

The Canadian Premier League is a new professional soccer league set to kick off in April 2019. Calgary’s club is Cavalry FC and will play its home games at Spruce Meadows.



About Author

Stuart Gradon

Editor of Total Soccer News | 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. Stuart is available for media appearances, including podcasts, television, and radio. Email to inquire.

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