When Cavalry FC kicks off the 2021 Canadian Premier League season against York United in Winnipeg Sunday, June 27, it will have been 285 days since Calgary’s professional soccer team last took the field in a competitive match.
And for Cavs head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. the wait has been long enough.
“Bloody brilliant,” said Wheeldon Jr., when asked how he feels about getting this team back out on the pitch. “It’s been a weird 18 months for everybody. We’re very fortunate to have done what we needed to do to stay safe and well and competing. So, bloody brilliant.”
CPL starts season in Winnipeg bubble
The Canadian Premier League (CPL) begins its 2021 season with a month’s worth of games in Winnipeg. Each of the eight teams plays eight games in Manitoba. The four-week bubble event, called ‘The Kickoff’, was organized to allow the CPL to begin play in 2021 while following COVID-19 related health protocols.
The league is expecting its clubs to return to their home markets after The Kickoff for each team’s remaining 20 games of the regular season, beginning in August. Playoffs will follow the regular season with the top four clubs playing single-match semifinals and a final.
And Wheeldon Jr. said he, his staff and players are just excited to get started.
“Professional sports is about adrenaline. We’re adrenaline junkies,” he said. “We’ve missed that feeling – the preparation of getting ready for a game, which we’re doing this week.
“The nerves going into a game. The euphoria of scoring a goal. These are all emotions we haven’t felt for a long time. That’s what you’re chasing. That’s what this group is ready for.”
Cavalry FC looking to improve on early success
Cavalry FC has had a successful first two seasons. The Calgary club finished third in last year’s CPL Island Games, the shortened tournament-style month-long competition held in Prince Edward Island due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A year earlier they were CPL Championship finalists, losing to Hamilton’s Forge FC in the two-legged championship series, and reached the semifinals of the Canadian Championship beating Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps along the way.
And the Cavs still have some of the squad from those previous two years, including Canadian goalkeeper Marco Carducci, veteran Canadian midfielder Nik Ledgerwood, Canadian defender Mason Trafford and Canadian midfielder Sergio Camargo, Brazilian attacking midfielder Oliver Minatel and Honduran winger José Escalante.
Cavalry FC developing chemistry with new players
But there are plenty of new faces for Cavs fans to become familiar with. The new signings include Canadian forward Anthony Novak, Canadian midfielder Joseph Di Chiara, Dutch defender Daan Klomp, English forward Joe Mason and Brazilian forward Richard Luca.
And Wheeldon Jr. admits they may need time to get up to speed and be able to put in the type of concerted high-tempo performances Cavalry FC is now known for.
“We haven’t played a single exhibition game,” he admits. “The squad is great. But you’re playing against teams that you don’t know what they’re going to do. We’re going to use the next eight games to sharpen our axe. It’s important we start to develop our chemistry.
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“We’re a lot younger team. We have an average age of 23. It suits the type of dynamism we love our team to play. But that’s going to take some time to get the chemistry, because there’s a lot of new faces, especially in the attacking line.”
Looking forward to “emotional” return to Spruce Meadows
Cavalry FC plays its home games of Spruce Meadows at ATCO Field just south of Calgary. And the 5,000+ seat stadium has sat empty since the Cavs last played there in 2019. But, Wheeldon Jr. is already contemplating a return to playing at home.
“I think it’s going to feel very emotional,” said Wheeldon Jr. when considering a return to games in front of fans at ATCO Field. “The last game we played (at Spruce Meadows) was the second leg of the 2019 final after an incredible year. Our home record is up there with the best of them, if not the best in the league. And a large part of it is the ATCO Field at Spruce Meadows and the fans. The big stand just vibrates through games.
“I’m an optimist because I believe the way the world is healing, if things are opening up for Calgary for the Stampede in July and we’re home in August, I mean come on, we’ve got to have fans.”
Cavalry FC next plays York United June 27, 3:00 p.m. All CPL games are available to watch via the league’s broadcast streaming partner OneSoccer.
For Cavalry FC ticket information about visit cavalryfc.canpl.ca.