In August 2019, Cavalry goalkeeper Marco Carducci became the first active Canadian Premier League player to be called up by the Canadian men’s national team. A few months later, defender Dominick Zator would follow suit. This past year, former Cavalry defender Joel Waterman became the first former CPL player to make a World Cup roster.
Today, it was announced that former Cavalry FC midfielder Victor Loturi, now with Ross Country of the Scottish Premier League, is the latest player to come through the Calgary club to receive a national team call-up. The 21-year-old Loturi will be part of Canada’s squad for crucial Concacaf Nations League matches against Honduras and Curaçao later this month.
Add Mo Farsi’s strong start to the Major League Soccer season with Columbus Crew, Karifa Yao making his first start with the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday night in the Concacaf Champions League, and Aribim Pepple’s move to Luton Town of the English Championship. Just four years into the club’s history, Cavalry have demonstrated an impressive ability to develop players.
“It’s great to see these players come through, connect with the now professional league and give them an opportunity to shine,” Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. told CanPL.ca. “I’m fortunate to work with them on their journey. Each of these players has taken what we have been able to give them and were able to use it and move on.
“Only one per cent of players get to play professionally. Then from there, it’s entirely up to them. They have to be entrepreneurs and owners of their future. These lads have done that, and I can sit back proudly and watch knowing that I’ve been a small part of their journey.”
Loturi is just the latest example of a Cavalry player taking that opportunity. Since joining Ross County in June, he has played in 21 matches in all competitions, scoring once and adding a pair of assists while becoming a mainstay in the club’s midfield. That quality of performance helped him earn his first-ever national team call-up.
“I’m delighted for him, because he’s a player that I’ve known for a long time and he just loves the game,” said Wheeldon Jr. “He is a very talented player, he’s got a really good high football IQ; [he’s] athletic off the charts, he can run for days.”
Loturi initially joined Cavalry in 2019 as a 17-year-old but would play sparingly. He was re-acquired by the club in 2021 through the U SPORTS draft, and became a mainstay in the midfield for the next season and a half before moving to Scotland.
That opportunity gave Loturi both critical professional playing experience and a platform that ultimately helped him catch the eye of Ross County.
“Without the CPL I probably wouldn’t even be in Europe,” Loturi told CanPL.ca. “So I think it just gives you an opportunity and it gives you a world stage to actually play at. You see players like Joel Waterman and Dominick Zator; I can name some other players as well that are going in different leagues, doing well, World Cup. [The CPL] just gave me an opportunity so I took it and I’m super thankful for Cavalry and the CPL for what they have done for me and other players.”
Wheeldon Jr. recalls a story from Cavalry’s first-ever preseason demonstrating how quickly Loturi’s talents and abilities stood out.
“He has great peripheral vision, he’s aware of where he is on the pitch. Lovely passing range but can run for days, and he’s very, very intelligent,” he said. “I remember Martin Nash and me talking back in the Dominican Republic [with a few others]. He’s got many attributes, Martin says, that remind him of a young Atiba Hutchinson, in terms of profile. He’s just got to now keep playing and things like this will keep happening for him.”
Having played with Cavalry in that inaugural 2019 season means Loturi will see some familiar faces when he arrives at Canada camp next week. Former Cavalry defender Dominick Zator has also been called up — and the Calgary connections don’t end there, either.
“It’s interesting because Zator played with Sam Adekugbe coming through Calgary Foothills, and Waterman, Loturi and Zator played together in our first year at Cavalry,” said Wheeldon Jr. “So there are some wonderful connections there and it’s nice to see because that does help. Speaking with [Cavalry assistant coach and former men’s national team player] Nik Ledgerwood, those things matter when you go into a camp.”
Being around an environment in Cavalry that included so many national team players was incredibly helpful for a young player like Loturi.
“Of course, coming from the CPL, some of my teammates — Joel Waterman, Dominick Zator, Carducci, [Ledgerwood],” said Loturi. “I’ve seen them do it when I was younger.”
With that cast of alumni, Cavalry also now have a key recruitment tool when it comes to bringing in new players: proof of concept.
“When we were in 2019 trying to recruit for it, we were selling an idea,” said Wheeldon Jr. “Now you’re selling evidence. There are data points to say our system works.”
Developing players has always been in Wheeldon Jr.’s coaching DNA. He got his start with the Canadian youth national teams, as an assistant at a U-17 camp that included Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, as well as through Calgary Foothills.
“I was fortunate enough to get my coaching experience in the development system and pipeline here with Calgary Foothills and help build a club,” he said.
When he took over as head coach of Cavalry FC ahead of the club’s inaugural season, the mission didn’t change much. In fact, it very much aligned with the vision that caused club owner Linda Southern-Heathcott and President Ian Allison to create a Calgary-based CPL side in the first place. Spruce Meadows, where the club plays its home games, was founded to create opportunities for Canadians in equestrian that did not previously exist. A similar philosophy is present at Cavalry FC.
“The reason they bought into creating this club within the Canadian Premier League was for Canadians and creating opportunities where there were none,” said Wheeldon Jr.
While creating opportunities is one way that the club has set itself apart in the first four years of the CPL, its on-field success has been key as well. In 2019, they won both the Spring and Fall CPL seasons, while becoming the first side to beat an MLS team when they defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps in that year’s Canadian Championship. While playoff success hasn’t followed yet, the opportunity to play for a club with such high standards has been crucial for many of these aforementioned players.
“I am a firm believer that you can’t separate winning and development,” says Wheeldon Jr. “They go hand in hand. If you want players to develop they have got to have winning behaviours. That’s that they arrive early every day, they show up for practice, they eat the right things. We have competitive days each week where we have internal league tables…What that then ends up doing is it creates players [who are] able to play under pressure.”
Wheeldon Jr. still keeps in touch with all of those players, sending congratulatory texts from time to time as they complete different career milestones. He says that scouting platforms have made it easier than ever to keep an eye on how those players are progressing abroad. He is also delighted for players like Lukas MacNaughton with Toronto FC, or Marco Bustos who recently moved to the Swedish top division. He explained that it continues to show how integral the CPL is to the Canadian talent pipeline.
“Where would they be had it not been for the Canadian Premier League?” said Wheeldon Jr. “They would have played in U SPORTS, or as close to, or they would be overseas and doing the road less travelled like Nik Ledgerwood and David Edgar and all those guys had to do. Now, this next chapter of players has opportunities.”
“The most exciting thing is we have only just started,” he says.