Cavalry FC commercial director Mason Trafford claims the club looked at every possible scenario before begrudgingly arranging to host the team’s upcoming home match against Orlando City SC on Vancouver Island. AFTN’s Scott Strasser chatted with Trafford for the YYC Soccer Podcast.
On Friday, Cavalry FC club president Ian Allison issued a statement revealing that Cavalry’s home match against MLS heavyweights Orlando City in the first round of the CONCACAF Champions Cup could not safely be played at ATCO Field. Instead, the match would be hosted at Pacific FC’s home stadium in Langford, B.C.
“Despite the unseasonably mild start we have had to western Canadian winter, the frost is already quite deep in the subsurface of our pitch,” Allison wrote.
“As the northernmost club in CONCACAF, we are acutely aware of the possible risks that playing in February on natural grass may pose. We are, after all, more than 51 degrees north of the southernmost of the 41 members of CONCACAF.”
Allison elaborated the club’s position later to the Calgary Sun, telling sportswriter Todd Saelhof an inspection group that came up to Calgary from Florida earlier this fall was impressed by the set-up at ATCO Field, but that Spruce Meadows doesn’t currently have technology for below-ground heating.
Acknowledging the situation is far from ideal, Trafford told the YYC Soccer Podcast the club explored other options to at least host the match in Alberta, but determined other facilities were not feasible. McMahon Stadium in Calgary does not have FIFA-sanctioned turf and there’s a snowboarding event taking place at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton that fully books the venue throughout February.
“I understand the fans are upset,” the former Cavalry defender and captain said. “I’m upset, I think the whole club is upset. We’ll explore the option of making a follow-up statement to shed some clarity on that, but this all went down not too long ago and we’re evaluating as we speak. Honestly, I hope everybody would understand that we would want to play the game in Calgary.
“It’s not an ideal situation for the club in any sense. Why would we want to go play at Starlight? The reality is, we looked at every option to try to host the match here in Calgary on ATCO Field, or even in our province, and was it just wasn’t possible.”
On social media, Cavalry fans reacted to the club’s statement on Friday with swift disappointment. The Foot Soldiers Supporters Group called the announcement “unacceptable” while others criticized the club’s lack of transparency in the lead-up to the announcement.
“Today isn’t the first time our club wasn’t prepared to host a home game,” the Foot Soldiers posted on X, the site formerly known as Twitter. “You have taken an exciting first for supporters and thrown it away without any consideration for those who back you every damn game.
“When you are ready to take this competition seriously, we will be there.”
Cavalry qualified for the CONCACAF Champions Cup after finishing first in the 2023 Canadian Premier League regular season.
The draw for the first round of the CONCACAF Champions Cup was held on Wednesday, pitting Cavalry against Orlando City SC. The Floridians finished as the MLS Eastern Conference’s runner-up in 2023 with an 18-9-7 record before being knocked out in the conference semi-finals of the MLS playoffs by eventual winners Columbus Crew.
At a watch party for the draw at Kildares Ale House in southwest Calgary, fans cheered when learning whom the club would be playing against. Some immediately started looking up travel plans to visit the Florida city for the away match.
Cavalry’s upcoming matches against Orlando will mark the first time a CPL club has faced American MLS opposition, and will be the club’s third time taking on an MLS team, after previously facing Vancouver Whitecaps FC twice in the Canadian Championship in 2019 and 2022.
“On the sporting side, I think it’s a really strong draw for us – one that I’m excited about,” Trafford said. “I think Orlando is an unbelievable team and they had an unbelievable season last year.
“Personally, I feel this is a good match-up. Although they’re heavily the favourites, I think this is a winnable match. We’ve beaten MLS teams in the past. I think there’s a fantastic chance for us here to go and take it to this team.”
While dates haven’t been released by CONCACAF yet, the Champions Cup first-round matches are tentatively slated to start in mid-February.
Trafford said Cavalry will “try to make it as appealing as possible” for fans to travel to attend one or both of the upcoming games, though he acknowledged that’s a tough ask.
He feels like the club and its fans are “in this together” in their disappointment of the situation.
“Believe you me – we did everything we could to try to find a solution to play the game here so our fans could take in this historic moment,” he said. “We’re working now and looking at options to find solutions for our fans to watch both games – the one in Orlando and the one at Starlight Stadium.
“It’s just the reality we’re facing, partly due to the scheduling of this tournament. It’s in February and we live in Alberta. There’s not much we can do about that.”