Reflecting on Cavalry FC’s historic run in 2019 Canadian Championship

Where were you July 24, 2019?

HFX Wanderers FC were in Ottawa. York9 FC in Montreal. And Cavalry FC were in Vancouver.

That night was one that’d been circled on Canadian soccer calendars for months — along with the Wednesday two weeks prior, when two Major League Soccer clubs set foot on Canadian Premier League pitches for the first time.

Everyone we asked called these third-round Canadian Championship ties the biggest in club history for the CPL outfits. It was these kinds of moments that the Canadian Premier League was made for: the magic of the Voyageurs’ Cup, made truly national.

This year, sadly, those moments are left waiting. The competition should be well underway by now, with a revised knockout format that dangled the possibility of some dream matchups — York9 playing at BMO Field? Pacific FC hosting the Vancouver Whitecaps? Incredible!

COVID-19 cruelly stripped those fixtures from us (for now). So, as July 2020 ends, we’re left to look back to a year ago: a simpler time, perhaps, but one that mustn’t be forgotten in the annals of Canadian soccer history.

At what point did you first believe that a CPL club could take down MLS opposition? Was it Ryan Telfer’s rocket of an equalizer in Leg 1 against Montreal? Or maybe Cavalry FC’s brave 0-0 stand at home against the Whitecaps?

For some, the thought crept in earlier than that — honestly, the fervor with which Forge and Cavalry locked horns in the round prior, with an impressively high level of play, sent a message that CPL clubs had designs on making serious noise in the Canadian Championship.

That tie must not be forgotten: Late penalty drama, Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson going in goal to face a penalty, and then ultimately a second-half surge by Cavalry in Leg 2 to claim their date with the Whitecaps.

July 24, 2019, though. Cavalry entered BC Place on level footing, tied 0-0 with the ‘Caps after refusing to concede the away goal two weeks prior.

“If the CPL is going to be at the standard of where Cavalry put the bar, well it’s heading in a very good direction,” Vancouver coach Marc Dos Santos said after Leg 1.

Having come closer to scoring in the opener than the Whitecaps did, Cavalry had no underdog mentality in Leg 2.

“We like winning, and we’re not embarrassed to say it,” Cavalry boss Tommy Wheeldon Jr. told leading up to the decider.

For four of the Cavs, the tie was personal. Marco Carducci, Dominick Zator, Mason Trafford, and Elijah Adekugbe had all called themselves Whitecaps before — whether in the academy or reserve squads.

Those four and their teammates arrived at BC Place, and hit the field in front of 16,000. And then what happened?

Jordan Brown scored seven minutes in. The hosts equalized, but Zator towered over the Vancouver defence to put Cavalry squarely back in front in the 72nd minute, and that was all they needed.

Zator has since spoken on what that goal meant to him. Nik Ledgerwood, the Cavs’ stalwart captain, glowed with pride as well.

“I honestly believe the biggest difference between both teams tonight was that every player on our team believed we could win the game, and I don’t think that was the case on the Whitecaps. I honestly do,” he effused that night.

Every other matchup in that year’s Canadian Championship was special — from the maiden voyage of CPL sides in the first round to Montreal’s penalty shootout victory in the final — but that night for Cavalry changed a lot of people’s perception of the Canadian Premier League.

A CPL side beating an MLS club, we thought, was bound to happen eventually. That it happened in the first year, though — and that it was Cavalry who did it, without fluke, while also soaring at the top of the league standings — was magical.

Did Canadian soccer change all that much because of one game? Possibly not. But it certainly put our league at the front of a few more minds.

That goes for players as well; consider how many former Whitecaps Academy players have signed in the CPL this past off-season? At least five, by this writer’s count — not to mention the onslaught of players to join pro clubs from the TFC or Montreal Impact academies.

The 2019 Canadian Championship was when the CPL announced its intent in the Canadian soccer scene. Canada finally had a true cup competition, and every CPL side had plans to win it.

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