In the future, when someone picks up the inaugural Canadian Premier League history book, Cavalry FC will be all over it.
From the opening, snowy day at ATCO Field, coach and general manager Tommy Wheeldon Jr. had his side setting the highest bar possible in the CPL.
That bar included capturing the Spring and Fall seasons, going on an impressive Canadian Championship run to the semifinals — hosting Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact along the way — and having two players earn call-ups to Canada’s national team.
Let’s rewind and take a look at an incredible 2019 for the team from Calgary in our 2019 Year in Review.
For soccer-starved Calgary, it didn’t matter that the first-ever Cavalry FC game looked like it was taking place in a snow globe. It was fitting for a city where the motto is, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes.” The temperamental forecast, combined with last minute home-side heroics and dazzling shot stopping, proved to be a familiar storyline for the club from first to last match.
Defender Dominick Zator would quickly become a fan favourite, thanks to his game-winner that Saturday afternoon in early May versus York9 FC. It set a motion in place for a Spring season that included a seven-game undefeated streak and dropping just one game at ATCO Field, aka “The Fortress.”
Cavalry’s depth and chemistry came to the forefront during the squad’s run in the Canadian Championship. Don’t forget, the connections ran deep on Cavalry, thanks to Wheeldon Jr.’s time with Foothills FC of the Premier Development League (now known as United Soccer League 2) and the players he was able to graduate with him to the CPL. Zator, wearing the captain’s armband, needed just nine minutes to get his side on board at Westhills Stadium versus Pacific FC in the opening round. A week later at Spruce Meadows, the home team booked its ticket to the second round of the Canadian Championship with a tidy 2-1 victory.
Early June saw Cavalry travel to Hamilton to battle with Forge FC to a 1-1 draw thanks to player of the year nominee Dominique Malonga scoring the crucial away goal in injury time. A come from behind 2-1 win in Calgary a week later would book Cavalry a spot in the third round of the competition and a date with a Major League Soccer club.
The 0-0 result on July 10 against the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps set up a highly anticipated return date at BC Place, a stadium familiar to several Cavs players who were once part of the Whitecaps program. Fittingly, Zator, one of those former Whitecaps, netted the thrilling winner in the 72nd minute to help advance his team to the semifinals of the Canadian Championship. While Cavalry’s run in the competition eventually came to a close at the hands of the Montreal Impact, the group’s accomplishments will forever be remembered in this country’s history books as being the first organization to beat an MLS team.
With Cavalry finished with Canadian Championship action, the club focused its attention fully on the Fall season. The Cavs lost only twice, both to rival Forge, and boasted a seven-game undefeated streak. An 8-0 drubbing of Valour FC in Winnipeg proved to be the inaugural season’s most lopsided win as five different players got on the scoresheet, with internationals Oliver Minatel and Julian Büscher securing braces. Cavalry would capture the Fall season — two parts of the treble that coach of the year winner Wheeldon Jr. referred to throughout the 2019.
It only made sense Cavalry and Forge would duke it out in the Finals since the team from Hamilton was the lone squad able to break through the Cavs’ dynamic midfield and stable backline all year. Ultimately falling short in the final test, dropping the Finals 2-0 on aggregate, the Cavs can still look back on 2019 with their heads held high, while going into 2020 with a chip on their shoulders and unfinished business on their radar.
With that kind of motivation, the rest of the league should look out.
Cavalry FC’s Top 5 goals from 2019
End-of-season stat sheet
Cavalry FC led the pack in a number of key categories, putting in strong Spring- and Fall-winning performances in 2019. Here’s how they look on the stat sheet:
Record (W-D-L): 19-5-4 (CPL), 23-7-6 (all comps.)
Goals scored: 51 (CPL), 61 (all comps.)
Goals against: 21 (CPL), 28 (all comps.)
Goal Difference: +30 (CPL), +33 (all comps).
Top scorer: Dominique Malonga (11 goals, CPL, 13 goals, all comps.)
Assist leader: Elijah Adekugbe, Jose Escalante, Julian Buscher (4, each)
Home wins: 11 of 15 (CPL), 13 of 19 (all comps).
“At the end of the day, we’re going to be a part of history. That was one of the biggest things when I thought about coming back to Canada to play is to be a part of this league and to help change the culture of soccer in Canada. That’s exactly what this league is going to do,” – captain Nik Ledgerwood ahead of Cavalry’s first match.
“It’s like Rocky IV, like going to Russia. Ivan Drago is just pounding the hell out of him, and Rocky is just staying on his feet, staying in the fight, especially when we went down to 10 men. We said we have to stay in the fight,” – coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. prior to closing leg of CanChamp semifinal versus Montreal
“Spring champions, Fall champions, winning the overall league. We have a record that’s probably going to be very hard to beat for a very long time. You look at a lot of those numbers like goals scored, goals conceded. Those are all things we are very proud of. Those are things we’ll all reflect on. That Canadian Championship run. An incredible year,” – Marco Carducci after falling to Forge FC in Calgary after second leg of the Finals
Most memorable moment
Selecting a favourite 2019 moment was difficult. From that opening whistle May 4 at ATCO Field to the team’s performance at BC Place, there’s no shortage of memorable goals and saves.
At the end of the day, the local boy, Dominick Zator, and his game-winner against the Whitecaps tops the list. To send Cavalry FC through to the Canadian Championship semifinals in such dramatic fashion and as the perceived underdog, it’s a player that will always begin with, “Where were you when…”
CCL! Final Thoughts: Cavalry FC’s 2019 Season
Centre Circle LIVE! is joined by Sandra Prusina from Calgary to talk Cavalry FC’s 2019 campaign.