Aug 14, 2019; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Montreal Impact goalkeeper Clement Diop (23) makes a save against the Cavalry FC during the first half during the Canadian Championship Semi-final soccer match at Spruce Meadows. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports for CPL
Where does Cavalry’s CanChamp run rank among CPL’s iconic 2019 moments?
All good things must come to an end, and so must Cavalry FC’s 2019 Canadian Championship run, which will go no further than the semi-final following defeat to the Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer.
After four rounds and eight matches (both more than any other side has played in this tournament), the plucky Canadian Premier League side from Calgary is now left to take stock of their Voyageurs Cup campaign.
It’ll be hard for Tommy Wheeldon Jr. and his players to put things into perspective just now, with the defeat so raw and a huge league match coming up just two days after.
So, we’ll do it for them.
The CPL’s inaugural season was always going to be special, with no shortage of firsts that will each go down as a stepping stone in this league’s coming of age. A tear or two was shed by long-suffering Canadian soccer fans in April at the first match in Hamilton, an afternoon that won’t soon be forgotten.
Plenty has happened since. CPL teams have settled into the new reality, with rivalries forming and a pecking order starting to emerge. They’ve battled in snowstorms and sweltering heat, and they’ve all travelled thousands of kilometres across this vast country.
Who can forget Forge FC’s comeback against Valour FC to stay in the Spring title race? Or York9 FC’s inspired six-goal game against HFX Wanderers FC?
The highlight reel of this season will be packed with the ‘firsts’ that shaped the CPL.
Still, though, we always wondered: How might these clubs stack up to their counterparts in other leagues?
Cue the Canadian Championship and CONCACAF League. Both competitions pitted CPL sides against new foes, as the Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact, and Antigua GFC all discovered, the hard way, what the CPL can do.
July 10th, the night two CPL teams first took on MLS opponents in the CanChamp, will go down as one of the most amazing nights in Canadian soccer history. While HFX Wanderers FC fell at home to the USL’s Ottawa Fury, both York9 and Cavalry shocked the country by leaving on level terms from their matches with the Impact and Whitecaps, respectively.
That, already, was huge. CPL sides had introduced themselves to Montreal and Vancouver with gusto, ensuring full-strength starting lineups from the MLS teams in Leg 2. York9 and Cavalry were still heavy underdogs in their respective ties, but they’d given their foes a lot to think about.
It’s no secret that MLS sides have advantages, with more experience and larger payrolls than a league in its first year of play. If they were to be eliminated in QR3, the CPL teams had earned the right to bow out with well-earned pride.
Cavalry went a step further, though. They marched into the belly of the beast in Vancouver and played on their terms, going ahead from the seventh minute and putting genuine fear into the Whitecaps.
By full-time at BC Place, the CPL was an unknown quantity no longer. Its clubs (two of them, at least) had proven that they can keep up with anyone in the Canadian Championship. More than anything else that has happened this year, that was the moment that put the CPL unshakeably on the map in Canadian soccer.
The Voyageurs Cup is a special trophy, and it’s one that every CPL team salivates at the thought of lifting one day. The key operative there, though, is one day — nobody truly expected these fledgling clubs to come out and win the Cup in year one, knocking off three MLS teams on the way.
Somehow, though, Cavalry made it feel like less of a pipe dream. When they entered Stade Saputo for Leg 1 of the semi-final, they were David no longer, having already bested a Goliath. Underdogs, certainly — especially once the Impact revealed their full-strength lineup, with Sam Piette battling back from injury just to try and stop Cavalry — but very much in the fight.
Perhaps no one said it better than Montreal midfielder Shamit Shome, who admitted in his OneSoccer interview after beating Cavalry in Leg 2 that his side had been nervous at times.
When we look back at the iconic moments of the inaugural CPL season, this miraculous Cavalry run might go down as the most impactful. This, unlike the others, was truly unprecedented — the tangible result of a soccer club’s growth over such a short span.
The Cavs may be disappointed by their defeat to Montreal, but it’s a disappointment they earned, by coming so close.
And that’s why this historic run will stand out in a season with history at every corner.