'Special' night features big-brand Whitecaps in Calgary to play host Cavalry FC

‘We certainly are the underdog, but that’s not to say we can’t do it again — we’ve done it before,’ said Cavalry GM/head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr.

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Big. Bigger. Biggest …

It’s how Cavalry FC views the three visits to Calgary by the Vancouver Whitecaps over the years.

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Big? In Cavalry’s inaugural season, when the home club shocked the Major League Soccer side with a nil-nil draw in front of curious Calgarians as part of its upset of the Whitecaps in a deep 2019 Canadian Championship run.

Bigger? In the 2022 Cup, when the Cavs drew even again — 1-1 this time — with the West Coast blue blood, proving the first time was no fluke even though the hosts were eliminated that game by penalty kicks.

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And biggest? Why that happens Tuesday in Canadian Championship action at ATCO Field (7 p.m., OneSoccer, OneSoccer.ca), when Cavalry lines up against a Whitecaps squad that’s on top of its game as one of the best teams in the MLS.

“I do think this one’s special,” said Cavalry’s commercial and marketing director Mason Trafford, ahead of the much-anticipated home leg of the Cup’s two-game second-round series.

“I think it’s probably top-three, to be honest,” continued Trafford. “Just because of where we are this year, having already been in the Concacaf Champions Cup, being the regular-season shield-holders and now being in the quarter-final of our domestic cup competition nationally.

“For me, it’s sort of like if you’re a minor soccer kid or family — anybody that has any soccer roots — you should be down here. I told my clubs, ‘You gotta cancel your practice.’

“This is like cancel-your-practice territory. When do you get to pay 40 bucks and watch how you can watch it here — like 10 feet from the guys. Guys like Sam Adekugbe, who’s a superstar from Calgary, is back with the Whitecaps. He’s cool. That’s enough right there to come down.

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“And the other thing that’s different now is the Whitecaps are big-time.”

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The proof is not only in their 5W-2D-2L record to start the MLS season but in the eyeballs they are attracting on their 50th anniversary.

A club-record crowd of 32,465 fans jammed BC Place on Saturday night for a regular-season MLS match against Austin FC.

“Yeah … it’s like madness there,” said Trafford, who made 37 appearances himself with the Whitecaps in 2008-09. “We’re playing a team that is a legit MLS contender. We’re playing a team that has completely flipped. Even last year, their own fans were kinda turning on them — people were tossing season tickets. They’ve completely done a 180.

“So I think the team that we’ll play is good — like really good.”

That’s not to say Cavalry can’t keep up.

They know they can — and they’re embracing the challenge of the Whitecaps, as they’ve done in the past in their Canadian Championship meetings in a bid to win the coveted Voyageurs Cup.

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Remember that as part of that 2019 stretch to the semifinals of that competition, the Cavs actually stunned the host Whitecaps 2-1 to oust the big-brand Vancouverites from the competition.

Like that year, this is a home-and-home total-goal quarter-final, with Leg 1 here Tuesday and the second leg slated for BC Place on May 21 (8:30 p.m., OneSoccer, OneSoccer.ca).

Cavalry FC vs Vancouver Whitecaps in 2022
Cavalry Ali Musse (R) and Vancouver Javain Brown during Canadian Championship quarter-final soccer action between Cavalry FC and Vancouver Whitecaps at ATCO Field at Spruce Meadows in Calgary on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Jim Wells/Postmedia

“We had that wonderful result in the Voyageurs Cup in 2019, where we went into BC Place and came out the victors and moved on,” said Cavalry president Ian Allison. “And then in other matches with the Whitecaps over the years, they’ve been one-goal affairs or PKs. So it’s not an intimidating thing by any matter. I think it’s respect.

“Their roots are much deeper than ours going back a few more decades, but we’re quick growers here in the foothills. You have to go into these games with respect and not fear and then believe in your process and recognize that you’ve got great leadership on your club, like we do.”

To that end, Cavalry GM/head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. leads his charges into the Cup contest having gone unbeaten in the last three games overall — including the first-round 1-0 victory over visiting Vancouver FC in the Canadian Championship.

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And while wet, cold weather could play a role against a team that plays its games indoors, the gaffer knows where they stand in facing the Whitecaps.

Cavalry FC vs Vancouver Whitecaps in 2022
Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Ryan Raposo, right, and Calgary Cavalry midfielder Charles Trafford go up for the ball during first half soccer action in the Canadian Championship quarter-finals in Calgary on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

“They’re stronger, deeper, more established and played the season a lot earlier than us,” Wheeldon said. “So they should have all the advantage.

“We certainly are the underdog, but that’s not to say we can’t do it again — we’ve done it before. I’m excited that we’re in the hat for this game. I look forward to welcoming the Whitecaps here. We’re going to make it as difficult as we can for them. But we know that they’re in form. We respect that, but we’re not scared of that.”

“Yeah … everyone’s excited about it,” added Cavalry veteran Charlie Trafford. “It’s a fun one to go two legs against them. We had that little sniff of it in Concacaf (Champions Cup) against an MLS side (Orlando City SC). We left disappointed in ourselves. I thought we had good performances, but we leave with poor results.

“So everybody feels more ready to go up to that level again.”

[email protected]

X: @ToddSaelhofPM

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