Cavalry FC’s inaugural starting 11 – where are they now?
May 4, 2019 is a day that sticks out in my memory very well. It marked Cavalry FC’s first-ever Canadian Premier League match, as well as the first match that I covered for AFTN.
The date of Cavalry’s inaugural battle against the then-named York9 FC is hard to forget, as it took place on what many people refer to as Star Wars Day. ‘May the Fourth Be With You’ was used repeatedly in Cavalry’s marketing material leading up to the announcement of the match at Spruce Meadows.
The day was memorable for many reasons. Pre-game parking issues that inhibited many fans from taking their seats until nearly halftime and a snowstorm that got worse and worse as the second half wore on put somewhat of a damper on the 15-year wait for professional soccer in Calgary.
These few setbacks aside, the match overall was incredibly fun to cover. Jordan Brown headed in Cavalry’s first-ever CPL goal midway through the first half, while local product Dominick Zator cemented the result with a powerful header off a corner kick in the 78th minute, in front of more than 4,400 cheering fans at Spruce Meadows.
Emilio Estevez brought one back for York9 in the 83rd minute, but Cavalry was able to weather the storm and hold on for the three points. It was a performance and result that set the tone for the rest of the 2019 CPL spring season, which Cavalry dominated.
In honour of the three-year anniversary of Cavalry’s first competitive match at Spruce Meadows, I wanted to write a “Where are they now?” article featuring the team’s starting 11 that day. A team now etched in Cavalry folklore.
Without further ado, here’s what Cavalry’s first-ever starting line-up are up to these days:
MARCO CARDUCCI – still with the team
While he didn’t capture his first clean sheet for Cavalry in the inaugural match against York9, Marco Carducci did cement his place as the team’s starting goalkeeper with an assured performance that included two saves in the second half.
As the 2019 campaign wore on, the then-22-year-old Calgarian repeatedly proved to be the most capable shot-stopper in the CPL. Carducci’s season ended with his first call-up to the Canadian men’s national team, though he didn’t play.
Many expected “The Roman Wall” to move on to bigger and better things after the inaugural CPL season (myself included). But he remained with Cavalry as the team’s starting goalkeeper for the Island Games in Prince Edward Island in the summer of 2020, as well as the follow-up CPL season in 2021.
In February of this year, Carducci came forward with a public letter informing fans he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer during the off-season and had undergone surgery. Recovery from the procedure meant he missed Cavalry’s opening three matches of the 2022 season. Without Carducci in goal, Cavalry claimed just a single point.
He made his comeback between the posts on May 1 in Cavalry’s home-opener against Pacific FC. The emotional return ended with Carducci’s 21st clean sheet for Cavalry as the team earned a 2-0 win.
DOMINICK ZATOR – starting centre back for York United FC in CPL
Considering he is a centre back, Dominick Zator was perhaps an unlikely hero in Cavalry’s inaugural match, when he rose high to head home a corner kick in the 78th minute.
But the goal did not surprise Cavalry’s head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. He pointed out in the post-game press conference that Zator had often come up clutch with big goals in the past, including a late, game-winning goal in the PDL playoffs for Foothills FC in 2018.
Zator was one of Cavalry’s most important players throughout the 2019 season. The team rarely dropped points when the Calgary native was in the line-up, and he chipped in with a few goals, as well.
One of Zator’s biggest moments in a Cavalry shirt came in the 2019 Voyageurs Cup, when his headed goal from a corner kick put the Calgarians up 2-0 over Vancouver Whitecaps FC at BC Place. Cavalry managed to make history as the first CPL team to upset an MLS side, beating Vancouver 2-1 in that game.
Like Carducci, Zator earned his first call-up to the Canadian men’s national team following the 2019 season, but he did not play in the CONCACAF Nations League match against the U.S.
Zator remained with his hometown team for the 2020 Island Games, but he surprised many Cavalry fans by announcing in February 2021 that he would be signing with York United for the upcoming season “to explore free agency.” His move to Ontario was preceded by a short loan stint with second-division Swedish side Vasalunds IF, with whom he played five matches.
Now in his second season with York, Zator continues to be one of the CPL’s most capable defenders.
JAY WHEELDON – Academy Director for Foothills Soccer Club and USL2 coach
Jay Wheeldon played in the middle of a back-three for Cavalry in the 2019 match against York9. It was a role Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s younger brother took on repeatedly throughout the 2019 season.
Wheeldon – who had played 40 matches for the Calgary Foothills PDL team from 2015 to 2018 – ultimately featured in 32 games for Cavalry in 2019 and 2020. Often unheralded, his importance to the team was nonetheless highlighted by the fact Cavalry went unbeaten in 18 consecutive matches he featured in.
Prior to the 2021 season, Wheeldon announced his retirement from playing to focus on his coaching career. He has his Canada Soccer A license and a UEFA B license, according to his Wikipedia page.
Since retiring from playing, Wheeldon has become the academy director for Foothills Soccer Club in Calgary and is also the head coach of the Foothills U23 team for the 2022 USL2 season.
JOEL WATERMAN – CF Montreal
It’s often forgotten now, but Waterman was originally one of Cavalry’s three USPORTS Draft picks in 2019. He had featured for the Foothills team that won the PDL championship in 2018 and was brought back to Calgary by Tommy Wheeldon Jr. for the inaugural CPL campaign following his final university season with the Trinity Western University Spartans.
Waterman ended up signing a professional contract with Cavalry before the 2019 season got underway. He repaid the team’s faith in him with a series of mostly reliable performances in a range of positions, including centre back, defensive midfielder, and full-back. He played 21 times for Cavalry and scored one goal.
His final moments with the team ended on a sour note though, as Waterman was sent off in the first leg of the CPL finals against Forge FC following a handball in the box. Though Cavalry contested the call afterward, the red card was not rescinded for the second leg at Spruce Meadows.
After the 2019 season, Waterman made CPL history by becoming the league’s first player to sign with an MLS club. He joined Montreal Impact (now CF Montreal) in January 2020, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic brought his rookie MLS season to an early halt.
Since joining CF Montreal, he has played 37 times for the Québec club. He’s been called up to the Canadian national team twice but has not yet played for the squad.
DEAN NORTHOVER – retired from playing due to injury
Wing-back Dean Northover was somewhat of a late bloomer. While he featured in four seasons for the Foothills PDL team from 2015 to 2018, his signing for Cavalry in 2019 at the age of 27 marked his first professional contract.
In addition to playing for Foothills, he carved out an impressive college soccer career in Calgary as a goal-scoring midfielder for the SAIT Trojans.
With an inclination for making tough tackles and always giving 100 per cent, Northover earned plenty of respect from Cavalry fans in his 13 games in 2019.
Unfortunately, Northover tore his ACL during a training session in July 2019, which caused him to miss the second half of the inaugural season. Cavalry re-signed him in August 2020 just before the Island Games, and he played seven games in P.E.I.
Cavalry revealed the 29-year-old’s retirement from playing in January 2021, announcing Northover intended to pursue other career opportunities.
ELIJAH ADEKUGBE – still with the team
Having just turned 23-years-old the week before Cavalry’s inaugural match, Elijah Adekugbe was the youngest of the team’s assistant captains during the 2019 campaign. The Calgarian was among the many local players who were signed to Cavalry following Foothills’ PDL championship in 2018, and he became a regular in the midfield throughout the 2019 season.
Adekugbe retained his role at the Island Games in 2020, and according to a Cavalryfc.canpl.ca article, registered an 85 per cent pass completion rate in P.E.I.
He missed the entirety of the 2021 CPL season due to a torn Achilles tendon in preseason. The lengthy injury layoff marked his second time recovering from that particular injury, as he had also missed the 2017 PDL campaign for Foothills for the same reason.
Adekugbe re-signed with Cavalry this January and has featured as a second-half substitute in two of the team’s four games thus far.
NIK LEDGERWOOD – retired, currently assistant coach
As Cavalry’s inaugural signing, team captain, and most decorated Canadian player, Nik Ledgerwood was in many ways the team’s official spokesperson in 2019. The Lethbridge native was practically an ambassador for the CPL in the lead-up to the league’s launch, speaking regularly to the media and helping drum up public interest in the return of professional soccer to Calgary.
Already 34 by the time he played in Cavalry’s inaugural match, Ledgerwood’s career had seen him play mostly for 2. Bundesliga teams during a decade-plus in Europe, while also suiting up 50 times for Canada.
Having returned to his native province to play for FC Edmonton in the NASL in 2016 and 2017, Ledgerwood headed south down the Queen Elizabeth II Highway in 2018 to play for Calgary Foothills FC in the PDL (and coach the club’s youth teams on the side) in 2018. He led Foothills to the PDL title that year and was retained as Cavalry’s captain the following winter.
After captaining Cavalry during the first three CPL seasons and scoring five goals in 45 matches, Ledgerwood announced his retirement in January. However, he has remained with the club as one of the assistant coaches under Tommy Wheeldon Jr. following the departure of Martin Nash.
JOSE ESCALANTE – still with the team
José Escalante didn’t make quite as big an impact in the inaugural match of 2019 as he would in Cavalry’s following outing five days later, when he scored a late freekick goal to secure a 1-0 win over Valour FC. Nevertheless, Cavalry’s international signing from Honduras featured in his preferred place on the left wing against York9 in that first match at Spruce Meadows.
Escalante came to the CPL following stints with Houston Dynamo in MLS, and Rio Grande Valley FC Toros and San Antonio FC in the USL Championship. Prior to his move to Texas, he featured for a few teams in Honduras’ Liga Nacional, including perennial title-contenders CD Olimpia at the start of his career.
The left-footed winger was often jeered by opposing fans for his theatrics in 2019, but he was well-liked among Cavalry fans and was able to contribute four goals and six assists during the inaugural season.
Due to the pandemic, he was unable to play for Cavalry in the Island Games in 2020 and was loaned to First-Division Honduran side CDS Vida. He returned to Calgary for the 2021 season and played more than 2,000 minutes across 26 appearances.
He signed a multi-year contract extension this season and has appeared in all four of Cavalry’s matches (three as a sub).
JULIAN BUSCHER – retired from playing, currently a social media director
International signing Julian Büscher was one of Cavalry’s prime set-piece takers in the 2019 season, and his corner kick led to the first of Cavalry’s goals in the inaugural match.
But Büscher was not just a dead ball specialist for Cavalry in 2019. The central midfielder often acted as the main link-up player between defence and midfield, and I’d wager he made more passes in the games he played than any other player. The former DC United player also chipped in with five goals in his 23 matches for Cavalry thaat first season.
Instead of staying with Cavalry in 2020, Büscher opted to return to his native Germany, where he signed with TuS Haltern, a Regionalliga West (fourth division) team. With the pandemic halting the season shortly after his arrival, he ended up playing just six games for Haltern before moving to Bonner SC in the same league that August. The move unfortunately did not work out for Büscher, who tore his PCL less than two weeks after signing.
The injury appeared to bring Büscher’s professional soccer career to an end, as he hasn’t joined another high-level team since. On a personal level, he got married in 2021 and took his wife’s surname, and now goes by the name Julian Engels. His Instagram account states he is a social media director and shows he is a recent first-time father.
JORDAN BROWN – Electric City FC
English striker and Cavalry’s first international signing Jordan Brown wrote himself into the club’s history by scoring the team’s first-ever goal in the CPL in the match against York9. It was likely the easiest goal he had scored in his career, as all he had to do was nod the ball into the net from a few yards out to put Cavalry up 1-0.
In terms of offensive production, Brown enjoyed a relatively underwhelming 2019 season for Cavalry, though a personal highlight was his well-taken goal against Vancouver Whitecaps in the Voyageurs Cup. In his first season, Brown scored four CPL goals in 23 matches, (but to be fair to him, he occasionally played on the right wing).
He returned to Cavalry in 2020 and had a better output at the Island Games, scoring three goals in 10 matches.
The West Ham academy product did not re-sign with Cavalry in 2021, instead moving back to Europe and playing for VfR Aalen in Germany’s Regionalliga Südwest (Fourth Division). He played 11 matches and scored one goal for that team, before moving to Íþróttafélagið Fylkir (yes, I copy-and-pasted that) in Iceland’s top division. He played 16 matches for the Icelandic side but didn’t score any goals.
In January, the now-25-year-old announced a return to Canada, albeit not at the full-fledged professional level. He joined League 1 Ontario’s Electric City FC in Peterborough for the 2022 season.
DOMINIQUE MALONGA – Serie D
Cavalry fans had high hopes for international signing Dominique Malonga, who came to the CPL with one of the most impressive resumes of any other player in the league. His career leading up to his move to Canada saw him play in the Serie A in Italy, the Scottish Premier League, and La Liga Segunda in Spain, among other European leagues.
While the French-born, Congolese international was ultimately Cavalry’s top goal-scorer in 2019 with 11 goals in 24 CPL matches, and two additional goals in the Voyageurs Cup, Malonga was a polarizing figure at Spruce Meadows. That was particularly the case during the spring season, as it took him six games to log his first goal. He had a tendency to miss the occasional sitter and could be almost invisible in some matches. When he did score, it tended to be in bunches.
Malonga had a much stronger end of the season, scoring eight of his goals for the team during the fall season – including a few important match-winners. However, his missed header in the championship final against Forge FC is still talked about mournfully among some Cavalry fans.
After leaving Cavalry following the inaugural CPL season, Malonga continued his career as a travelling journeyman by signing for clubs in Bulgaria, Finland, and Iceland. According to his Transfermarkt page, he’s currently playing for Virtus Matino in Italy’s Serie D.