After two years near the top of the CPL standings, Cavalry FC’s off-season turnover has been somewhat surprising from an outside perspective.
Ten members of last year’s squad have moved on, while eight new faces (so far) will be in training camp when it opens. Although the Cavs dominated the regular season two years ago, and again finished first in the league during the first round at The Island Games, it’ll be a fairly new-look side that takes the field when the 2021 CPL season opens.
Former stalwarts such as Dominick Zator (who signed with York United and now plays for Vasalunds IF in Sweden on loan), Jordan Brown, and Nathan Mavila have departed, with a new cast of marquee players coming to take their places.
For coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr., this off-season’s retooling process has been all about striking a balance. He explained that the price of success (particularly when it comes without a trophy to show for it, as Cavalry’s has) makes it difficult to keep a team together.
“In a salary cap league there’s always gonna be a healthy movement of players in and out,” Wheeldon told CanPL.ca. “We were cursed with having winning seasons, so our players’ stock values go up, and with that you only have so much room to maneuver. When you maneuver sometimes you’ve got to rotate players out and you’ve got to bring some players in.
“We know we’re there or thereabouts, competing for trophies, so we’re looking really at what players will come in, add to that, and make us better. We feel like we’ve done that, we’ve got two or three more signings to announce, and we are exciting.”
As it stands, Cavalry has 18 players signed for 2021, so two or three more signings would fit the bill, leaving space for potential camp invitees or CPL-U SPORTS Draft picks to win last-minute spots.
The new Cavalry roster has been revamped in most positions, but the part that excites Wheeldon the most is the attack. With a handful of new wingers and forwards on board, Wheeldon suggested his side might be able to score goals in more varied ways than in years past.
“We’ve got a really dynamic attacking unit, if you look at (Matías) Roskopf, you look at (Ahinga) Selemani, you look at Sergio Camargo; we’ve got Richard Luca, José Escalante, José Hernández,” he said. “There’s a dynamism across the board that I don’t think we’ve had. We’ve had dynamic players that maybe were a little more raw, and we’ve had skill players that maybe weren’t as dynamic, like the case of, say, Dominique Malonga.”
At the other end of the pitch, Cavalry’s defence has changed almost wholesale as well. Along with Zator and Mavila, the club has lost Dean Northover and Jay Wheeldon, as well as 2020 loanee Robert Boskovic. In their places, the club has brought in a younger group to surround the veteran Mason Trafford and phenom fullback Mo Farsi, with Daan Klomp, Tom Field, and Karifa Yao (on loan).
“Zator I’ll always have a great affection for; I’ve known the lad since he was 11,” Wheeldon said. “At that stage, you just get to a point, he wanted to go to Europe. York found a way to let him go there, and perhaps it’s time for a change. … He knows that when he comes back to Spruce Meadows, he knows we’ll give him hell. That’s just the way he’s been raised, and it’s an accepted part of the game.”
Still, Wheeldon offered that his new group of defenders should be able to handle the load, with pretty decent professional experience in the younger group. Klomp, for example, has played in the Netherlands for several years, including a couple of times in the top flight against AFC Ajax.
“You look at Daan Klomp, and he’s played as many professional games as Dom Zator, in a more established country in Holland,” Wheeldon said. “So when you look at the comparisons, as much as I have a close affection for Zator, no player is irreplaceable. Daan Klomp is four years younger with the same amount of pedigree, and probably could have a bigger upside if he can hit the ground running.
“I’m doing my scouting and I’m looking at him playing against Dušan Tadić at Ajax, and I’m thinking well, if the lad can play there, look. He’s gonna have his hands full with Akeem Garcia, but he’s played on a bigger stage, and he’s hungry enough to keep playing. We’re excited to have him.”
Wheeldon added that Tom Field, who has 17 games’ experience in the English Championship at Brentford, has a similar background (at a much younger age) to Nathan Mavila.
Above all, the one thing that stands out most in Cavalry’s new squad is its age. In every case, departed players have been replaced with someone younger, bringing the Cavs’ average squad age down significantly to just over 24.
That was by design, according to the coach. With the club’s trademark ’90 Minutes of Hell’ pressing style, a more spry group might be better-equipped for a long season. With the way that injuries hampered the 10-game run at The Island Games, Wheeldon wanted to infuse his squad with some players with fewer heavy miles on their legs.
“We’ve brought our age group down because the way we play is a very energetic and entertaining way, so it’s gonna require depth, and it’s gonna require healthy bodies,” Wheeldon said.
“You’ve got a sunrise and a sunset, and in 2019 you’ve seen the sun rise with us and you’ve seen some sunsets of some players — like obviously you’ve got my brother (Jay Wheeldon), who was a great stalwart for us and he enters his early 30s. It was a case of, he’s an exceptional coach and he’ll be a future coach in this league, I have no doubt. He felt it was the right time to concentrate more so on that, than extending his playing years, and in doing so allow space for younger players to come through.
“We’d love Nik Ledgerwood to play into his 40s and he probably could, because he’s the Benjamin Button of Canadian football I think — like Atiba Hutchinson, he’s got this longevity. His enthusiasm is still the same as when he was a 17-year-old when I played with him at Calgary Storm. But you’ve always got a plan for what’s next.”
We won’t know if this new-look Cavalry squad can maintain the club’s past success until they actually hit the field. Of course, most coaches would trade regular season victories for a trophy any day of the week anyway.
Regardless, it will be a very different Cavalry FC on the pitch at Spruce Meadows in 2021.