‘They’ve always been good enough’: Wheeldon Jr. praises Foothills graduates

CALGARY – It may have been a belated birthday present, but it was surely worth the wait.

Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. turned 40-years-old on Friday. On Saturday, his club won its first-ever match, beating York9 FC 2-1 at Spruce Meadows just south of Calgary.

With all respect to any gifts he received the day earlier, Saturday’s victory will surely take some beating.

“(It was) like the best birthday party ever,” Wheeldon Jr. joked following the match. “6,000 people came, very appreciative. Nice of the guys to pull off the win.

“Today it was a fairy tale, wasn’t it? Because, getting the snow in there, getting the fans chanting, singing. Nobody knew what to expect. To do it with a win was exceptional.”

Cavalry FC is a realization of a personal dream for Wheeldon Jr.

Four years ago, when he took Calgary Foothills FC into the U23-level Premier Development League, the Liverpool-born manager said the aim was to eventually get a professional soccer team in Calgary. And now, here it is, with Wheeldon Jr. at its helm.

“I think you’ve got to be crazy enough to have those dreams and beliefs,” Wheeldon Jr. told reporters after the match. “And you got to do whatever it takes to get it done. I’m fortunate enough to have great people around me, when we started back in Foothills, and incredible people around me now at Spruce Meadows.

“I think what you do when you put a vision out into the universe and you live by your word you gain a lot of integrity and trust. When you do what you say you’re going to do, that’s the point.”

Over half of Cavalry FC’s starting XI came through Wheeldon Jr.’s Foothills FC side, including goal-scorer Dominic Zator. Cavalry FC captain Nik Ledgerwood even spent time with Foothills FC last season.

And Wheeldon Jr. was quick to praise all of his Foothills graduates, alongside his new recruits.

“Seven of the lads there were from (Foothills FC),” said Wheeldon Jr. “There was a lot of skepticism of whether (they) couldn’t jump the level. But they’ve always been good enough.”

“You look at ‘Zats’ (Dominic Zator) there and you look at Elijah Adekugbe. Elijah’s just turned 23. He’s the kind of Canadian player we need to populate the Canadian national team. He’s not going to hit his peak until 25 or 26.

“So, if he’s got two or three years in this league, (players) like him, ‘Dom’ (Zator) and Marco (Carducci), we’re doing our jobs as coaches.”