As focus shifts to roster building, Wheeldon Jr. scopes out local talent at Calgary Open Trials

CALGARY – Among the many methods by which Tommy Wheeldon Jr. can scope out and acquire talent for the inaugural Cavalry FC roster, the Canadian Premier League’s #GotGame Open Trials might be the most hands-on.

As the league’s head coaches gather in Calgary this week for the penultimate stop of the seven-city coast-to-coast tryouts, Wheeldon Jr. and his rival and counterpart Jeff Paulus of FC Edmonton will have yet another first-hand look at some of the hidden gems in Alberta.

It’s an opportunity, as always, to unearth players who could earn invites to the CPL’s pre-season camp.

But for Wheeldon Jr., this latest stop in his home turf is a little bit different, too.

As the coaches have already seen a fair few footballers emerge from the first five stops, the focus is starting to shift from the talent identification portion to, perhaps, rounding out rosters.

And with that in mind, Wheeldon Jr. tells he’s starting to see when and where the trialists from across Canada might fit into his – and his peers’ – squad plans.

“Speaking on my behalf and for the coaches, the first part is getting the foundational signings, getting the other domestic pros, and some internationals, and once your roster has around 18 players, there’s still some spots left,” Wheeldon Jr. explain.

“We all know that we’re going to need some room on there to have some quality local players that are going to start their journey, so I think that’s when we’ll get it – in the beginning of the new year I imagine, once all the other pieces have come together, that’s when the Got Game and the U SPORTS players can start to feature.”

This isn’t Wheeldon Jr.’s first time seeing some of the trialists in Calgary, though the same cannot be said of his peers. As Wheeldon Jr. and Paulus sort through the talent in the province, their two teams have already pitted themselves against one another in a pair of prospect matches dubbed “Al Classico” – a take on the infamous “El Clasico” signifying the rivalry between Spanish giant Real Madrid and Catalan outfit FC Barcelona.

The two teams remained deadlocked over two legs, though each coach used the exhibition matches as a chance to see some of the local talent in Alberta in a competitive setting.

And, as Wheeldon Jr. points out, the fans watching got a taste of what’s to come, too.

“We’re an exceptional province because we have a built-in rivalry, which is great for us,” Wheeldon Jr. said. “They’ve just seen it with our prospects edition of the Al Classico, so there’s already that rivalry built in. But, I’ve also got local club coaches helping be a part of the process, because this is a great way to bring the Calgary soccer community together.

He added: “What’s great is that there’s talking points now. At 2-2 here, 1-1 there, Edmonton felt they won it on away goals and we won it on P.K.s, so through the winter, there’s going to be that unsolved argument that will go on between both sets of fans.

“In the meantime, can you imagine the first time we play for points? I think that’s exactly what we want.”

Ultimately, for Wheeldon Jr., identifying local talents – whether through friendly takes on what will surely be an intense rivalry or through the #GotGame Open Trials – is an opportunity to help further develop the standard of play and the quality of the players in Calgary.

The net benefit? Even bigger than a city or a province.

“Here’s the thing – on the last couple of camps for Canada, there’s been zero Calgary players in there.” Wheeldon Jr. said. “So, as a soccer community, the biggest thing we’ve got to do is come together to develop players, get them into our CPL team, and then beyond into the Canadian national team.”

The CPL’s #GotGame Open Trials conclude on Vancouver Island (Nov. 5-6). Coaches will then re-assess the combined talent pool before decisions are made regarding the trialists, who could be invited to pre-season camps in 2019.