Cavalry FC players, coaches and staff hoisted the Canadian Premier League (CPL) shield on Oct. 7, marking the first major trophy in the professional soccer club’s five-year history.
Standing on a makeshift podium in the middle of ATCO Field, players took turns lifting the shield to repeated applause from more than 4,600 fans who stuck around after their game to cheer on the team’s biggest major accomplishment.
“Obviously, knowing we’d secured the title two weeks ago was incredible and a great feeling to get that ahead of schedule… but to be able to share this moment with my teammates, the staff, the fans – that whole experience out there that is still going on is the stuff you cherish,” said goalkeeper Marco Carducci, during the post-game press conference.
“These are the moments you live for as an athlete and as a competitor. For me, the coolest thing is just seeing what it means to these people, the city and the fans. They’ve stuck with us the whole way through and it feels great to repay them today.”
The celebration came after Cavalry FC punctuated their regular season in emphatic fashion, downing visiting Pacific FC 3-0 at Spruce Meadows.
Daan Klomp got things going with a headed goal off an Ali Musse corner kick midway through the first half. It was Klomp’s fourth goal of the CPL season, adding more ammo to the argument that the Dutch defender – who played every single minute for Cavalry this season – is a strong candidate for the CPL’s most valuable player award.
In the second half, Myer Bevan doubled the hosts’ lead with a goal in the 74th minute. The New Zealand striker finished as the CPL’s joint top scorer this season alongside Ollie Bassett of Atlético Ottawa – both are on 11 goals.
And then late in stoppage time, youngster Maël Henry capped off a perfect afternoon for Cavalry with a tidy finish in the 94th minute to get the post-game celebrations started a few minutes early.
“It shows our mentality,” said Carducci of the team’s performance against a Pacific side that has occasionally gotten the better of the Calgarians in recent seasons. “The game was not perfect by any means, but for us, it’s been about the process and continuing forward.
“That’s what’s given us success all year. Credit to the boys. We fought. It wasn’t easy by any means, but to go out of the regular season with a performance and result like this feels great.”
Cavalry has been on a tear throughout the final weeks of the regular season. Saturday’s victory was the club’s fifth straight win, and their unbeaten streak of nine matches dates back to Aug. 11, when they lost to Valour FC.
It all means Cavalry ends the 2023 regular season in first place with a 16-7-5 record, their 55 points a full 13 more than runner-up Forge FC in the league standings. It’s the biggest gap between first and second in the league’s five-season history.
“It feels bloody good,” said head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr., of winning the club’s first title. “It’s something we’ve been chasing.”
While Cavalry finished first in the regular season in the CPL’s inaugural 2019 campaign, that accomplishment didn’t come with any formal recognition or trophy. The team’s subsequent three seasons, though all competitive, resulted in being knocked out of the semi-finals of the CPL playoffs.
“Anyone who says there’s success without suffering is lying,” Wheeldon Jr. said. “There were times I had to look at myself in the mirror in the offseason and question the methods, if I was the right guy. I had to have a cold hard look at it.
“But you find a new lease on life. Your family are always there. You just keep going. I think what we’ve got is an ownership group that are champions. There was once a commercial about ‘If you fall down, pick yourself up.’ I think that’s what you’ve seen.”
Cavalry to host Forge in first round of CPL playoffs
Even though one trophy is in the bag for Cavalry FC, there’s still another piece of silverware to play for this season.
As a result of Saturday’s results across the league, Cavalry will host Forge next Saturday in the first round of the CPL’s playoffs. Kick-off will be at 3 p.m. MT at ATCO Field.
It’s a tantalizing first-round match-up, especially considering the history of the two teams’ rivalry dating back to 2019 – a year Forge pipped Cavalry to the CPL championship.
This year’s convoluted playoff format means a loss to Forge would still keep Cavalry in the hunt for the new North Star Cup, though they’d then have to play in the league’s semi-final.
A win, however, would vault Cavalry directly to the playoff championship game.
Wheeldon Jr. said Cavalry’s players and staff will take the weekend to celebrate and recover, before getting back to training on Monday with an eye on the playoffs.
“I’ll tell you, we’re going to celebrate today,” he said. “There are a lot of players out there who have never lifted a piece of silverware in their life. Now they get to. We’re going to enjoy it with our families, our spouses, our partners, and the people who have been there through thick and thin. We’ll recover on Sunday and then we’ll focus on our next trophy to attack on Monday.”