2022 CanPL Preview: Cavalry FC

Tristan Borges with the North Star Shield at Spruce Meadows in 2019.
There's something missing from Cavalry FC.

 

Continuity is one of those sports words, an unequivocal Good Thing that no one can tangibly define.

Cavalry have consistency. Same manager through four years (and before that, if you count Foothills), several of the same players, a consistent tactical identity.

They have won precisely bupkis. One memorable Voyageur’s Cup game against what was, if we’re being honest, a very poor Whitecaps side.

Does “continuity” apply if you’re not actually winning? I’ve followed sports for a good while and I genuinely don’t know.

Now, Cavalry have been consistently good over that time. This isn’t intended as an exercise in taking anything away from what Tommy Wheeldon Jr. and the rest of the leadership team there has accomplished, which has been a side that’s polished and often very fun to watch. The club is at least one of the templates in how to build a CanPL team right.

But you can’t miss the hunger for more — from the players and from Wheeldon Jr. himself, obviously, that’s to be expected, but from the fanbase, from ownership, even from the league. This team was supposed to win something. Trophies, medals, drinking off the Shield. Sports moments. What “moments” Cavalry have had have mostly not been that.

Marco Carducci lying on his ace after being scored on in the 2019 Canadian Premier League final, second leg.
They’ve been more like this.

Forge have made this all look so, so easy and it’s not. Cavalry keep coming up so finely short it’s almost poetic. They finished level on points with Forge last year. Beat them in 2020, only to lose in the playoffs. Losing the big games is becoming a bit of a tradition, and I suspect that fuels the hunger as much as watching young upstarts Pacific beat Cavalry to their own revenge.

There were periods last year — and just a reminder, again, that I haven’t watched all of them yet — where you could see cracks forming in the group out west. Not big cracks, but the kind that hurt consistency and make you wonder if it’s been one season too long. Guys like Nik Ledgerwood and Oliver Minatel started breaking down. Guys like Ledgerwood and Minatel are now gone. So is Richard Luca, who was a massive, massive bust — thanks, 21st Club.

But it’s largely the same team. Elijah Adekugbe is back from almost three seasons of on-again-off-again injuries — he hasn’t played more than a couple games a year since hurting his knee (again) in 2019. He can fill some of the hole left by Ledgerwood’s retirement, and it’s still one of the best midfields in the league, with Elliott Simmons, Joe di Chiara, and David Norman Jr. joining Jose Escalante out wide. (As of April 8, Di Chiara is out until July with an MCL injury.)

That’s a very good group on both sides of the ball, except that I tend to think consistency is downstream from midfield play and Cavalry didn’t have that last year from this group. I think Victor Loturi — who played 1600 minutes across 27 games last year, not quite starting always, but meaningfully involved in a way he wasn’t as a raw 18-year-old in 2019 —  has a very high ceiling, and he’s 20 now and will be in a good place to start hitting it more consistently.

Cavalry also added one-time Whitecaps prospect Charlie Trafford from Wrexham. He didn’t have a great time there, but made a career for himself with Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Championship all through his 20s. He’s the kind of perfectly serviceable veteran Tommy usually manages to get more out of in CanPL.

Likewise, the back line is fine. Mason Trafford, Daan Klomp, and Tom Field are all back. Right-back is a bit of a question mark now Mo Farsi is gone, and while his move to MLS NextTry has been talked about a lot, I think Cavalry can replace him in their 3-4-2-1, either with Trafford (who can still play wide) or with Fraser Aird, whom they poached from Valour to rack up yellow cards and score the odd screamer from obscene positions.

No, I’m more worried about the attack, and less because of Farsi’s inventiveness than because Cavalry only put up 34 goals last year, tied with… noted offensive juggernauts FC Edmonton. Cavalry don’t like to be tied with Edmonton in anything (though those two drawing games is another tradition Cavalry might like to forget). I generally like Cavalry’s attacking group on paper, but Anthony Novak had only four goals last year. Ali Musse had two. Sergio Camargo had four in a career-high 22 games. Joe Mason had seven, which is even better when you consider he didn’t even hit 1,000 minutes last year.

Injuries might be the most continuity Cavalry have ever had.

Update April 8th: As if to prove much of the above, Cavalry have announced that a whole host of fairly key players will miss at least the start of the season, including Tyson Farago, Tom Field, Joe Di Chiara, and Anthony Novak. All are having surgery, too, so expect these to be longer-term absences. All are knee injuries except for Farago.

Draft Grade: C-

It bears mentioning they drafted Victor Loturi in 2021, probably mainly to keep his rights since they can’t claim they didn’t know about him. It also bears mentioning I had to re-check my own liveblog to see who they drafted this year.

Cavalry have usually stayed mostly in-house — even Joel Waterman was a Foothills player. Rogozinski is a local Calgary youth player, which is nice to see, and Tommy Wheeldon Jr. compared him to Dom Zator, so there’s that. I rate Markus Kaiser, too. But neither has signed, and neither is super young. It’s fair to note Cavalry are building — have always been built — to win now, and they’ll figure out the future in the future. But it’s also fair to note they’ve not done a great job capitalizing on draft picks.

Projection: 3rd, but lower if the injuries start to bite again

At some point, the wind blows and cracks become chasms.

Everyone in that core group is a year older, a year more banged-up by travel and the pandemic and everything else. Cavalry have already lost Marco Carducci to a really unfortunate cancer diagnosis1Wishing him well, and it sounds like he’s pretty positive., though Tyson Farago deserves another shot and they’ve signed a young German ‘keeper as well.

If Adekugbe succumbs again, or Mason goes down longer term, or Trafford’s 35-year-old legs call time, there are some noticeable gaps in the depth chart. That’s true of most CanPL teams, and it’s always possible, in this league, to see a young player like Loturi step into real minutes and perform. That’s a large part of the fun of this league.

Cavalry aren’t here for fun, though. They’ve watched Forge and Pacific have quite a lot of fun the past couple years, quite often at their own expense. That’s gotta stop.

They’ll be right there again — they’re too good, and too well-coached, to fall out of the playoff hunt. Spruce Meadows is small and a bit weird but it’s definitely loud and definitely a home-field advantage now we’re back playing the full complement of home games.

Once they’re in, it’s all about big games. If they can’t limp over the finish line at last, it might be time for a rebuild.

About Dylan Matthias 205 Articles
Captain of this motley crew. Formerly editor-in-chief at The Dalhousie Gazette, covering university soccer and Halifax news from a student perspective. Once a Vancouverite, always a Haligonian.

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