‘A very cool experience’: Cavalry FC’s Shamit Shome can’t wait for Concacaf Champions Cup return

It was a parking of the bus that would have made even José Mourinho proud.

For 90 minutes, wave after wave of Saprissa attackers crashed against the CF Montréal backline at the Olympic Stadium in Québec’s biggest city, desperately trying to break down a resilient low block. They fired 13 shot attempts toward Clément Diop in the Montréal net, and had 71 per cent of the ball.

Montréal, who knew a scoreless draw was enough to see them through to the next round, had rarely come out of their defensive shell on the night, with perhaps their lone real chance of the match an inside-the-box effort from 22-year-old midfielder Shamit Shome just before halftime.

When referee Fernando Guerrero finally raised his arms and blew his whistle to signal the end of the 90 minutes, several jubilant Montreal players collapsed to their knees, as others ran to celebrate wildly in front of the supporters’ section behind Diop’s net. After managing a 2-2 draw in the away leg down in Costa Rica, the 0-0 draw in Montréal meant they would be advancing to Concacaf Champions Cup quarter-finals.

“A very cool experience, I remember that second leg against Saprissa in the Big O, home and away goals made a big difference,” Shome told “I remember at the end we were surviving, hanging on by a thread and advancing to the next round. Very cool moment.”

The win on aggregate saw Montréal advance to face Honduran side Olimpia in the quarter-finals. The first leg, again at the Big O, didn’t exactly go to plan as two first-half away goals against left Montréal at a disadvantage as they prepared to head down to San Pedro Sula, Honduras with a 2-1 deficit.

That trip never transpired. On March 13, 2020, Major League Soccer announced that the season was being postponed in an attempt to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Shome and his Montréal teammates wouldn’t step onto the pitch again until July 9 at the MLS is Back tournament in Bay Lake, Florida.

“I think like two days after, that weekend is when Covid hit and everything got shut down,” said Shome. “It was pretty crazy, it kind of sucks that I didn’t get the full Concacaf experience.”

The second leg against Olimpia was eventually played, some nine months later during a bubble competition at Inter & Co Stadium in Orlando. By that point in the season, however, Shome had undergone surgery to deal with an injury and was forced to miss the trip. Montréal won the second leg 1-0, but were eliminated from the competition on away goals.

Four years later, now with Cavalry FC in the Canadian Premier League, that trip down to Orlando is finally happening for Shome, as is his return to the Concacaf competition. The Alberta club is up against MLS’s Orlando City SC in round one of the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup, which kicks off on Feb. 21 at Starlight Stadium (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT), before a return leg in Orlando at Inter & Co Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

Shome (third from the left) and his CF Montréal teammates celebrate advancing in the Concacaf Champions Cup (Photo: Concacaf)

Shome is the only player on the Cavalry roster who has played against Orlando before. In fact, his first-ever appearance in an MLS road match came when he stepped onto the pitch for the final six minutes of a 2-0 CF Montréal win against Orlando City in June 2018. He remembers that experience fondly, and is looking forward to returning down south.

“I think Orlando is an exciting place to play,” said Shome. “From what I remember the atmosphere they have at the stadium is really good. They get fans that are loud, passionate, the field is unbelievable so I think for us going there will be a cool experience, but it’s also a nice place where we can express ourselves and show our football. I think the last couple of years Cavalry have been a football-playing team that can possess the ball, hopefully we can do that there. The conditions will be perfect there because they’ve got perfect grass.”

Cavalry will become the first Canadian Premier League side to face an American MLS team in an official match. But Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s side are not without experience against MLS opposition. In fact, they famously became the first CPL club to defeat an MLS team when they stunned the Vancouver Whitecaps over two legs in their inaugural season during the 2019 Canadian Championship.

Shome remembers that moment well. At the time he was with Montréal, who went on to face and defeat Cavalry in the semifinals. Shome and Montréal went on to win the competition on penalties over Toronto FC, booking their spot in the 2020 Concacaf Champions League. But Shome couldn’t help but be impressed by the CPL side who had pulled off a serious cupset.

“It was huge to be honest, I remember following it from afar and seeing,” said Shome. “Being with the club now I can see how they made that possible, just with the mentality that we have playing against teams with higher budgets, or higher quality players, whatever you want to call it. I think for us now it’s exciting to have that opportunity to do that again and this time against not just the Whitecaps who are next door, but against an MLS team in Orlando who have no idea what we are about and hopefully we can show ourselves a bit.”

Cavalry are coming off an impressive CPL season where they lifted the CPL Shield as regular season winners, topping the table by 13 points. Most of that squad is back for 2024, including the entire starting eleven of the 2023 CPL Final against Forge.

“There has been a lot of continuity with guys we’ve had from last year, so for me personally when I look at where we started at preseason last year versus this year, we’re pretty much a level up just because of the continuity that we have. The guys understand the system and then we’re adding quality within the mix,” said Shome. “Guys like Diego Gutiérrez coming in, Tobi [Warschewski] coming in, so it’s exciting. There’s [squad] competition, and I think everyone wants to play against Orlando, so I think that’s raising the standard even more and just putting pressure on the coaches for what they think is the best lineup.”

Shamit Shome against Halifax Wanderers (Photo: FC Media/Tony Lewis)

Shome and Warschewski are former teammates with FC Edmonton, and Shome couldn’t be more thrilled to have the German attacker in Calgary.

“We’ve been seeing already in training he’s showing his quality,” said Shome. “I think guys are turning their heads and thinking ‘Ah, he’s not too bad’. When you think coming from Edmonton, finished last place and whatnot, I think they had the same impression with me too. But Tobi is one of those other guys that can impress. So it has been good, and he’s a good guy, good for the locker room too.”

This is a unique training camp for Cavalry, who were back in Alberta much earlier than usual to prepare for these Concacaf fixtures, with the CPL regular season not set to kick off until April 13. While that might ultimately mean a significant gap between matches for the club, Shome has some thoughts on how to make it a bit shorter.

“The best way I see it is to just win if we can and then just keep going, and then it makes that little break in between the Champions Cup and the CPL season a bit shorter,” said Shome with a smile.  

Stepping onto the continental stage is an incredible opportunity for the club to showcase itself on an international level. For Shome, who was born in Edmonton, it carries particular weight as he gets to represent a club from his home province in the competition.

“I take a lot of pride in that, coming from Alberta, being an Alberta boy, and Cavalry is the Alberta team, so for me it’s special and exciting,” said Shome. “I’ve been looking forward to getting back into this competition of the Champions Cup, playing against an MLS team.”

Unfortunately for Shome and his teammates, due to weather concerns related to playing on a grass surface in Alberta during the cold February weather, their home leg was forced to be relocated to Starlight Stadium in Langford, B.C. That only adds further motivation for the club, however, to do something special this coming week and earn themselves a chance to play at their true home, Calgary’s ATCO Field.

“I think it’s a big thing that we’re going to hit on, that if we do make it past this first round it gives us an opportunity to really play at home,” said Shome. “I think that’s something the club deserves, I think that’s something the fans deserve and the players deserve too because we love playing in front of our fans on the grass at Spruce Meadows.”