Cavalry’s Wheeldon Jr. teases next Atiba as trio of signings approach

CALGARY — The jigsaw puzzle is coming together nicely for Tommy Wheeldon Jr.

Over two weeks into training camp, the Cavalry FC head coach likes what he sees as he builds toward his final 23-man roster.

“The chemistry has been brilliant,” Wheeldon Jr. told “We had a very simple recruitment philosophy: Good players, good people.”

And that’s been a crucial starting block for the gaffer — finding players who fit the Calgary mould, both on and off the pitch.

“We’ve stayed very true to who we are,” he shared. “We want to make sure we have coverage in all positions, meaning at least two people who can play in every single position. Local first, so what is in and around Calgary, southern Alberta. Then, nationally, who are the good Canadians that can come in that would add to this identity, and then the pieces we don’t have come internationally.”

Something the Calgary squad boasts is experience, with an average of 25.6 years of age. You need not look any further than 34-year-old Lethbridge product Nik Ledgerwood, who has represented Canada in three World Cup qualifying cycles with over 50 appearances to his name, to find that experience in spades.

However, fans can expect that average to drop as the club will soon sign a couple of U-21 players, one of whom has been developing locally and is earning rave reviews as a 17-year-old.

“This kid can play,” Wheeldon Jr. described. “John Herdman says, ‘More Atibas more often.’ He’s very similar in playing style to Atiba Hutchinson, not to give him a lofty comparison. That’s where he’s at.”

One of the next pieces of Wheeldon Jr.’s puzzle is coming from outside of Canadian borders. The Cavs’ coach has teased his signing beforehand, specifying only that he’s a Central American winger.

Wheeldon Jr. clarified this mystery player should be joining his side in a few weeks, once visa issues get sorted. He’ll likely be around with the Cavs for training in the Dominican Republic.

“He’s exciting,” the coach teased of his potential Central American signing. “He’s left-footed, which gives us balance on the team and is something we’re after. He’s got experience in the MLS and USL, which validates that he knows the North American scene. He can play on grass and turf. That will be an easy transition.”

As the May 4 opener at Spruce Meadows versus York9 FC nears, the evaluation and training will continue for Wheeldon Jr., so that he can complete his CanPL puzzle.

“Someone once famously said, ‘no strategy survives contact with the enemy.’ We need to be versatile, and we need a good spirit among us,” he added.

Recently signed Mauro Eustaquio fits another part –   the middle part – of that bill.

At 26, he’s played professionally with Sporting Clube Pombal and has enjoyed NASL stints in Ottawa and Edmonton, while most recently suiting up with Penn FC of the USL.

Born in Portugal but raised in Canada, Eustaquio has been on Calgary’s radar for a while.

“He’s just entering his peak years. Mauro gives us experience, and he plays with a really nice edge,” Wheeldon Jr. said of the midfielder who is coming off a knee injury last June and is champing at the bit now that he’s healthy.

“When we’re on the ball, we’ve got good players that can play with it. But, when we don’t, there’s the hunting mentality to win it back, and he lends to both sides of the ball. We’ve hit the upgrade button with him.”