With the 2021 Canadian Premier League season rapidly approaching, Cavalry FC have been back in training for about a month now.
CanPL.ca caught up with Cavalry FC gaffer Tommy Wheeldon Jr. to get updates on returning to training, international players, and preparing for the single-site environment to start the season, among other things.
Cavs return to training: U SPORTS trialists, newcomers shine
Cavalry returned to training in April after another long offseason following the Island Games.
“It’s really nice to be back on the pitch, I think we’ve all missed it,” Wheeldon Jr told CanPL.ca. “Especially in an era of ‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that’, being able to do something we love is phenomenal.”
“We’re fortunate that the Alberta provincial government has approved all of our recommendations so we can train.”
The Cavalry boss says that the players have come back hungry for success, especially two of their new recruits, who have transitioned well into the squad.
“[Anthony Novak] and Joe Di Chiara feel like they’ve always played for us, with the way that their personalities have come through” he said.
By picking up those two, from Forge FC and York United, respectively, Cavalry think they did some good business.
“Both of them are impact players in the league,” Wheeldon Jr. said of the pair. “You see what Joe Di Chiara did at the Island Games (three goals in six games), but before that he was a very influential midfielder — box-to-box, can connect the play, can break up the play. He’s one of the best midfielders in this league.
“And Anthony Novak, I think he was probably an unsung hero within the Forge ranks, and somebody who we always looked at when we were playing against, going ‘we know he is going to be a handful’,” he said, adding that he’s thankful they’ve decided to join the Cavs ahead of this season.
Cavalry has several U SPORTS players training with the club in the preseason, including their two 2021 CPL-U SPORTS Draft picks Ethan Keen and Victor Loturi (both of Mount Royal University) They’re joined by Daniel Kaiser and his younger brother Markus, both of the University of British Columbia. Daniel is a defender, while Markus is a midfielder.
They’re also looking at another Mount Royal player, defender Caden Rogozinski, as well as Gianmarco Plenzik, a midfielder from the University of Calgary.
All of the above players are local players, and have some experience with Cavalry or the Calgary Foothills, and are looking to make the jump to the professional game.
“These are Calgary boys that have gone out and are playing U SPORTS,” Wheeldon Jr. said. “All of them fit within that under-21 criteria, and are all part of that next wave of players we want to inspire in our local market.”
All but one of Cavalry’s international players are in the country — the one exception being recently-signed Joe Mason.
Richard Luca is in the last few days of his quarantine, and will join the club for training on Friday. He wasn’t able to join the club for the 2020 season due to travel restrictions, so finally getting to Calgary is “a long time coming,” according to Wheeldon Jr.
“We’re all excited, the guy is magnetic in terms of his personality. We can’t wait to have him, I think we signed him not long after the 2019 final, and he’s going to be a terrific addition,” Wheeldon Jr. concluded.
Mason’s arrival in the country is subject to work visas and the usual processes and is scheduled to arrive in Calgary in June.
Preparing for another bubble: ‘We’d start in the Sahara Desert if we had to’
“If we have to start in a bubble, we’ll start in a bubble. If we have to start in the Sahara Desert, we’ll start in the Sahara Desert,” he added. “Wherever it means we can play football, we can get it out to the fans, we can get the games going.
“We’ll do whatever it takes because we do know there is light at the end of the tunnel, we will be back at our home stadiums, so we’ll do what it takes to get this game going.”
With a lengthy preseason, Cavalry isn’t rushing to get everyone fully ready straight away. They’re instead working their way up slowly to avoid injuries, something that unfortunately depleted their roster at the Island Games.
“The best way to eat an elephant is one chunk at a time,” Wheeldon Jr. said of their strategy. “If we have a longer than normal preseason, we’ll take longer than normal to get them to match shape. We want to be in a place where our guys are in the best possible shape, to be as robust and as durable as possible.”
Part of the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ is getting to play in front of fans again. On average, more than 3,000 fans came through the doors at ATCO Field every week during the club’s inaugural 2019 season, making the ground a fortress for Cavalry. Wheeldon Jr. expects the first home game with fans to be an emotional day.
“We had a cracking 2019 season, we had a terrific home record,” he said. “We were a good team, but more importantly we had incredible fans.”
“Every time I’ve spoken to a new player coming in — whether it be [Joe] Di Chiara, [Elliot] Simmons, José Hernández, or Anthony Novak — they’ve all talked about the atmosphere at ATCO Field. Coming through from the locker room, they could just hear [the noise from the fans] echo throughout.”