Cavalry preview: Club confident, intact in defence of CPL title

GM/head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. given contract extension in bid to win regular-season again while gunning for playoff championship

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Tommy Wheeldon Jr. is a proven winner.

Because of that, the architect of Cavalry FC’s successful 2023 soccer season has had his contract extended through 2026, giving the affable gaffer the chance to defend the regular-season title — again and again and again — through three more Canadian Premier League campaigns.

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And, yeah, it is defence-first for the Cavalry FC heading into the 2024 Canadian Premier League campaign …

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In a few different ways.

Of course, Calgary’s professional footie side is out to defend the honour won last fall — the one that gave the club bragging rights, the Canadian Premier League Shield and a coveted berth in Concacaf Champions Cup.

And then there’s the strength of Cavalry’s defence — the solid unbroken corps making up the backbone of the team which has not been compromised despite several roster adjustments made in the off-season.

“It’s a good feeling,” said superstar goalkeeper Marco Carducci, when looking at the top-shelf defensive group that’s returned to help him keep the ball out of the Cavalry net, beginning with Saturday’s season-opener against host Forge FC in Hamilton (2 p.m. ET, OneSoccer,

“We’ve built a chemistry that takes time,” continued Carducci, a two-time Golden Glove Award winner as the league’s top goalie. “And obviously, players come and go, and that’s a part of the reality of professional football. But to have that chemistry that we’ve built and boosted by the success of last season, we’re feeling great about that.

“The communication, knowing tendencies of one another and then having that belief system knowing exactly what we need to be doing … those are things that go a long way. So for me, I’m very excited to be able to look in front of me and see a lot of familiar faces.”

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Marco Carducci Cavalry FC
Cavalry keeper Marco Carducci celebrates a 2-1 victory during CPL soccer action between York United FC and Cavalry FC at ATCO Field at Spruce Meadows in Calgary on Sunday, August 20, 2023. Jim Wells/Postmedia

‘We’re happy with the group we’ve got back there’

Those familiar faces carry cachet, to boot.

At the top of that respected list is Daan Klomp, whose brilliant 2023 campaign earned him the CPL Player of the Year honour.

Young Eryk Kobza also stepped up huge in his rookie season, and fellow first-year-man Callum Montgomery showed he’s ready to be a full-time part of the defensive structure.

And, of course, there’s the wily veterans in that defender/midfield mix — Fraser Aird, Shamit Shome, Charlie Trafford and Bradley Kamdem-Fewo, along with second-year sparkplug Jesse Daley.

“Even Tom Field has played a lot through pre-season, so it’s been really good to see,” said Cavalry gaffer Tommy Wheeldon Jr. “Obviously, we’ve got a good goalkeeper in Marco, and bringing young Jack Barrett into strengthen that depth is important.

“But being able to keep your Klomps, Kamdems, Kobzas, Montys on the roster is so important to chemistry,” continued Wheeldon. “And then you’ve got your Frasers and Shams and Charlies that can play multiple roles in the defensive and offensive aspects.

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“Yeah, we’re happy with the group we’ve got back there.”

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Up front?

Well … there have been changes.

Most notably, the CPL’s co-Golden Boot winner in Myer Bevan — he of 12 goals total last year — is out indefinitely on a leave of absence for family reasons.

But back to lead the attack are the other scoring stars in dynamic Ali Musse — who was named the CPL’s Players’ Player of the Year in 2023 — veteran scatback Sergio Camargo — the club’s all-time leader in goals with 21 — and Willy Akio — a dynamo himself who can change the pace of any game.

And they have five new teammates to work with in trying to find the twine.

Wheeldon has added clever phenom Lucas Dias, former Australian under-20 star Lleyton Brooks and CPL veterans Diego Gutierrez, Toby Warschewski and Malcolm Shaw.

All five looked fantastic in pre-season play, which included three positive friendlies on a trip to Mexico and an exhibition affair with Calgary Foothills FC.

“Sharp, eh?” Wheeldon said. “Lleyton’s got great pace and 1-v-1 ability. We like Lucas Dias — he’s got nice soft touches. Guti’s got class. Toby’s got finesse and power combined. And then Malcolm Shaw was a great last addition to join us late as a veteran, so thankful we got him.”

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But with so many new faces, it could be strange for the Cavs in the attacking zone to start the 28-game CPL schedule and Canadian Championship.

“Not strange at all — it’s so fun,” Camargo said. “The players that are around us just make it easier and make it more exciting. They give me more opportunities to get in front of the net and make assists and score goals. So I’m really looking forward to this season, specifically with all the attacking options that we have.”

Cavalry FC Michael Harms
Cavalry FC player Michael Harms as Cavalry FC play Halifax Wanderers FC at ATCO Stadium at Spruce Meadows in Calgary on Wednesday, July 12. Jim Wells/Postmedia

Team’s roster gives bench boss options

There are also the young options at hand for Wheeldon & Co.

Defender Michael Harms and midfielder Maël Henry return to bolster depth.

And other new-ish faces in midfielder Niko Myroniuk and defenders Max Piepgrass and Caden Rogozinski have been selected and offered U SPORTS contracts by the club. All three players are local to Calgary and came through the Calgary minor soccer system.

“We’re excited,” Carducci said. “I think it’s about focusing on the steps that got us there in the first place last year. We started this season with seven draws in a row — six in the league — and a lot of people said, ‘Well, this isn’t a team that’s going to compete.’ But we stuck true to what we believed, and we ended up lifting the shield for a reason.

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“Now we want to get over the line in playoffs — we haven’t done that yet,” added Carducci. “And we know is that we want to win the league and want to get back in the Champions Cup. All of those things are going to guide us.

“But the first focus is Forge on Saturday, and then we’ll go from there.”


Wheeldon on his extension: “I am delighted to sign an extension with a club and a city that I love, and I can’t wait to continue this great journey that we are on. I am thankful to our ownership for their constant support and continued strive for excellence, particularly Linda Southern-Heathcott, for her and her family’s vision in building something special for our community and beyond.” Cavalry president/COO Ian Allison considered the move a no-brainer. “Many things in professional sports are difficult,” Allison said. “Working alongside Tommy Wheeldon Jr. is not. Having Tommy continue to lead our club was an easy decision. Tommy is part of Cavalry FC’s DNA and has been since we first started this journey in 2018. His success on the pitch is obvious. He has recruited, mentored and coached more than 100 players, coaches and support personnel through our system, and we are delighted that he will be doing so for at least the next three years. His belief in the game, this community, in the Canadian Premier League and in our club’s values, goals and objectives align perfectly. We are delighted he will continue to play a vital role in next chapters in Cavalry FC history.” … Bevan (leave of absence) and Henry (hamstring) are the only players not available for selection Saturday … Notable names not back with Cavalry are: attackers Joe Mason (contract expired), Ethan Beckford (contract terminated) and Gareth Smith-Doyle (contract expired), midfielder Ben Fisk (traded to Vancouver FC for second-round pick in U SPORTS draft) and defenders Udoka Chima and Roberto Alarcón (contract terminated) … Saturday’s other two CPL contests kicking off the season are: York United FC at Atlético Ottawa (11 a.m., OneSoccer, and HFX Wanderers FC at Pacific FC (5 p.m., OneSoccer,

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