The 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup gets underway in February, and two Canadian Premier League teams will be going toe-to-toe with some of the top clubs in the region. CanPL.ca will be covering the tournament extensively, with in-depth guides on the CPL teams and their opponents, plus more on the whole tournament. For more of CanPL.ca’s coverage of the Concacaf Champions Cup, click here.
Location (league): Calgary, Alta., Canada (Canadian Premier League) Date founded: 2018 Appearances in CCC/CCL: 0 Best finish: n/a First opponent: Orlando City SC
One of the youngest clubs in the Concacaf Champions Cup, entering just the sixth season in club history, Cavalry FC is making its first appearance in a continental competition this year.
Domestically, however, Cavalry have had a lot of success through five years. They are the winningest team in Canadian Premier League regular season history, and are the holders of the CPL Shield as the league’s regular season winners. They pride themselves on their home record in particular, having lost just seven regular season matches in Calgary in five seasons combined.
The home leg of Cavalry’s Concacaf Champions Cup first round tie with Orlando City SC won’t be at ATCO Field in Calgary, however. Being the competition’s northernmost club comes with unique challenges, such as the risk of injury when playing on their natural grass pitch in February, when it will likely be frozen. Instead of risking it, they will host Orlando at Starlight Stadium in Langford, British Columbia — one province west — at the home of rivals Pacific FC. The purple seats are not intended as a gesture of Canadian kindness to welcome the visitors.
Over their first few seasons, Cavalry have developed several rising stars in Canadian soccer. Joel Waterman was the first major export, leaving Cavalry for MLS side CF Montréal after the club’s inaugural 2019 season, and he has since made two appearances for the Canadian men’s national team — including being named to the squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Dominick Zator left Cavalry FC in 2021 for fellow CPL club York United, before making the move to Poland and eventually earning two caps thus far for Canada as well. Mohamed Farsi of the MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew, Victor Loturi of Scottish Premiership side Ross County FC, Aribim Pepple of Luton Town, and Goteh Ntignee of French Ligue 2 side FC Annecy are among the other players that the club has developed and moved on already in its short history. Being able to successfully balance development and winning has become a source of pride for the club.
With most of their strong 2023 side returning, and some new additions already announced, Cavalry will look to take another step forward in 2024. That begins at Starlight Stadium and Inter&Co Stadium, where the Cavs will hope to perpetrate a first round upset.
Cavalry FC qualified for this competition by finishing the 2023 Canadian Premier League campaign as the league’s regular season champion, doing so in dominant fashion. They finished 13 points ahead of the next-best teams, booking their spot in a continental competition for the first time in club history.
Since day one, Cavalry FC have been led by their head coach and general manager Tommy Wheeldon Jr.
The 44-year-old Englishman has been a key part of the soccer community in Calgary for over 20 years, first as a player with the Calgary Storm, and then as a coach. After years of success at the renowned Calgary Foothills program — including coaching their team to a Premier Development League title in 2018 with many players who would end up playing in the CPL — Wheeldon Jr. was named Cavalry’s inaugural head coach and GM in May 2018, ahead of the league’s first season in 2019.
In 2019, he would be named the league’s first-ever Coach of the Year, leading Cavalry to victories in the spring and fall seasons, and a spot in the CPL Final — which they ultimately lost to Forge FC. Under his guidance, Cavalry have remained a perennial contender in the league, and in 2023 they had their best-ever season, lifting the CPL Shield and earning Wheeldon Jr his second CPL Coach of the Year trophy in five seasons.
Wheeldon Jr is committed to playing a style of soccer that is both defensively sound and fun to watch, and is not afraid to share how he really feels about things, endearing himself to the fans at ATCO Field.
3 Key Players
Calgary’s own Marco Carducci has been a key player for his hometown since the Canadian Premier League’s inception. The 27-year-old has been the starting goalkeeper for all five years now, twice winning the CPL’s Goalkeeper of the Year award. He is an important leader on the team as well, and as of the start of the 2023 season the club’s captain.
Dutch centre-back Daan Klomp was very good in his first two Canadian Premier League seasons in 2021 and 2022, but in 2023 he reached even greater heights. Klomp, 25, was a rock at the back for the Cavs, playing every single minute of the regular season and playoffs as Cavalry stormed to the regular season title with the best defensive record in the league. He was rewarded at the end of the year with both the Player of the Year and Defender of the Year awards, and finished third in Players’ Player of the Year voting. He hasn’t been shy about his ambitions of playing at a higher level like MLS one day, and the Champions Cup provides an opportunity to test himself against MLS opposition.
Beating Klomp to the Players’ Player of the Year award was his Cavalry teammate, star attacker Ali Musse. Across 29 matches in all competitions in 2023, Musse provided seven goals and eight assists, including two in the CPL Playoffs and a goal in extra time of the CPL Final in October. He’s a dynamic player capable of making something out of nothing, and he makes everyone around him better.
Cavalry head into 2024 coming off the best season in club history. They became the first team to lift the new CPL Shield as regular season champions, beating Forge FC and Halifax Wanderers FC by 13 points at the top of the table. It was a dominant season for Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s side, who at one point had a nine-game unbeaten streak, and never lost two matches in a row.
They followed their impressive regular season by earning a spot in the CPL Final, where they took on Forge FC at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. After 90 scoreless minutes, Ali Musse thought he had won the North Star Cup for Cavalry with a goal in extra time, but Forge responded twice to win the playoff title and book their own spot in the Concacaf Champions Cup. It wasn’t how Cavalry wanted to end the season of course, but being a few minutes away from completing the double is the sign of a very strong team having a very good season.
Importantly, Cavalry has kept the majority of their 2023 roster intact, and Tommy Wheeldon Jr has been adding to it throughout the off-season. Diego Gutiérrez, one of the best midfielders in the CPL in 2023, has joined the club from Valour FC, and former FC Edmonton star attacker Tobias Warschewski has returned to Canada with the Cavs as well. Lleyton Brooks, an Australian winger most recently with Melbourne Victory, will also provide some added spark to an already-impressive group of attackers.
Cavalry will be in tough in order to make a deep run in the competition, but they are also a confident team that won’t back down from a fight.
This will be the first-ever competitive meeting between a CPL club and a team from the United States, but there is a precedent for Cavalry going head-to-head with the Canadian MLS sides. In 2019 they beat the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship quarter-finals to advance in the competition, before they kept it close against CF Montréal in the semifinals, eventually falling 3-1 on aggregate. In 2022 they again hosted the Whitecaps at ATCO Field in the quarter-finals, taking them to penalties where the Whitecaps narrowly came out on top.
Cavalry won’t fear Orlando, and will look to take full advantage of the opportunity to play a good MLS side. With several players on the team having ambitions of one day playing in MLS and beyond, this is also an opportunity for them to prove that they belong at that level.
First round schedule
Leg 1: Wednesday, Feb. 21
Cavalry FC vs. Orlando City SC — Starlight Stadium, Langford, B.C. 10 p.m. ET/8 p.m. MT/7 p.m. PT
Leg 2: Tuesday, Feb. 27
Orlando City SC vs. Cavalry FC — Inter&Co Stadium, Orlando, Fla. 6 p.m. ET/4 p.m. MT/3 p.m. PT
The 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup begins Feb. 6, 2024. Forge FC will take on C.D. Guadalajara (beginning Feb. 7), and Cavalry FC will play Orlando City SC (beginning Feb. 21). The matches will be available to watch in Canada on OneSoccer.