I’ve always kind of admired — not necessarily endorsed, but admired — the way Cavalry play.
They are one of the most fun teams to watch in the league. They get into scraps.1They picked up more yellow cards in 2022, once again, than any other club. They disrupt and, most of all, they build fast and hard.
It’s partly a by-product of their being, essentially, Foothills before they became Cavalry charging up them. But Foothills actually played very, very differently. The approach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. drew up for Cavalry was always a reaction to the nature of the league, designed to take advantage of a bunch of first-year teams and maybe also Cavalry’s craptastic pitch.
It did. And it stuck. I now wonder if it might be holding them back.
The 2022 season was not an especially good one. Tommy’s thoroughbreds were in a real fight to make the playoffs, and when they did, they got summarily dispatched by Forge. Again. Broken down by possession again at home, then summarily euthanized in Hamilton.
I don’t even think they actually entirely want to play the way they do anymore. It was most noticeable in the 2020 Potato Cup, when Tommy was experimenting, but there have been other experiments, for short stretches. On the road, especially, Cavalry play at a fair bit more of a canter.
I really think it might be the pitch.
Every year, in the later part of summer, Cavalry start to look like they’re running in the mud. The “ninety minutes of hell” intimidates visitors early on but becomes “ninety days of hell” for Cavalry’s brave men from July through September. Last year, it started in a mid-week game on mosquito-ridden battlefield in Winnipeg, spun into a drubbing by Ottawans at home, a loss to Gen. York (also at home), and ended with retreat from Wanderers and another routing by archrivals Forge. Things picked up again at the very end, but the war was over. Ottawa ran them down right on the cusp of the playoff before Forge showed up.
That rivalry so dominates their narrative — and the league stokes it, for obvious reasons — that you can easily miss the tactical and technical side of it because there’s so much else going on. But though Forge are probably a better team than Cavalry overall, and are somewhat susceptible to Cavalry (and Ottawa’s) anti-football as a result, the two teams aren’t that far apart on paper.
So, another year sputtered out, another year in which Cavalry never really came close to matching Forge.2They finished with identical records last year, but Cavalry were sixteen goals behind Forge in goal differential and lost the head-to-head even if they did beat Forge once at ATCO. They haven’t since the split-season format of 2019, in which Cavalry were able to take a couple games off because they’d won the spring and had a head start in the fall. Even in 2021, when they tied Forge on points, they did it with six more draws than the league’s leaders. They remain pragmatic and effective — they cannot remain more than that.
Last year’s injury situation — they started before the season and never stopped — meant the club was carrying a glut of players it could never hope to fit under the cap in 2023, so departures and the club was in the enviable position of being able to return one core while letting another walk.
|David Norman Jr.
|Joe Di Chiara
( * Club elected to re-sign)
The only trick here is they had a bunch of players under mutli-year contracts, and so had to choose them over what might have been a more amenable, younger, maybe-healthier option.
Marco Carducci remains the league’s best goalkeeper, and once his cancer treatment was complete, he fully supplanted emergency signing Julian Roloff. He’s gone, and local back-up Sterling Kerr comes in from a very good Mount Royal side to fill in. But Carducci is the only ‘keeper they’ll need unless he ever moves up a level.
Daan Klomp, Roberto Alarcon, and Jose Escalante were all under contract, so that’s a good chunk of your backline written with a pretty thick seal. Karifa Yao was always going back to Montreal and Mason Trafford has retired, so they’ve added Callum Montgomery, who’s actually a very good get. If you haven’t heard of him, it’s because he’s been somewhat stuck in Minnesota’s system after being drafted. He’s 25 now and has mostly played in USL, USL1, and MLS NextMan, all of which hover somewhere around CanPL quality, so he should be steady. It’s a very good backline.
Udoka Chima was a Nigerian youth international who went to England and never really caught on anywhere — Cavalry have hit with some of these signings before (Nathan Mavila, Jordan Brown) thanks to Wheeldon’s connections in England but missed with others (Tom Field, Malyk Hamilton), but Chima was most recently playing county football at a level far enough down that I’m not actually sure how to number it. He’s only 21, but yeah.
I’ve said more about it in other pieces, but this is mostly a product of the league’s new U23 internationals rule. It’s an arbitrary limit, and in some ways worse than signing a veteran journeyman in their thirties because you tend to know you’re going to get a guy who’ll show up, work hard (hi there, Richard Luca!), and maybe even settle down and help in the local coaching community. Think Daryl Fordyce or, heck, Tommy and Jonathan Wheeldon. I’m sure Chima’s a lovely kid and deserves a shot, but we have lots of inexperienced Canadians who’re more likely to be sell-on prospects.
Edmonton’s demise means Cavalry were able to add one such Canadian in Shamit Shome. He’s probably never going to be a MLS player again, but he’s a big get in CanPL even if he struggled a bit in Edmonton last year. Everyone struggled in Edmonton last year. He remains a very talented if not especially flashy player.
It’s tempting to think Cavalry will miss the Eddies rivalry, but Alberta soccer tends to pull together and I imagine the few hard-core fans left in the capital will travel south to get their fix. It’s nice to see Shome stay in province for them.
I’m a bit surprised Sergio Camargo stuck around again — I really wonder if he’s a diminishing return after only getting into 14 games last year, scoring just twice and assisting once. Clearing out Simmons, Di Chiara, Adekugbe, and Norman Jr. but opting to re-sign Camargo bucks the trend of bidding farewell to heart-and-soul guys, which is a fact of life in CanPL. What Camargo does have, however, is a bit more technical spark. If Cavalry were to try and reconfigure the system again (not that I think they will), he’d be part of that.
With Escalante and Charlie Trafford back, it’s a veteran-heavy group, as it always is in Calgary. You know what you get from most of these guys.
I have no idea what they’ll get from Jesse Daley, the only midfield addition and an Australian who’s played… mostly in the national semi-pro league with a stint in USL2/PDL. And he’s 25. It’s just a very, very odd signing, but we’ll see I guess, and I suspect he’s mostly Trafford’s back-up. Cavalry are just a bit thin in central midfield.
Partly that’s because they have a massive attacking group, thanks to having a lot of it under contract. It also has a lot of firepower.
Joe Mason is the main guy. He’s actually not as big a scorer as you’d think — seven goals in 2021, eight in 2022 — but that’s always been his profile and his intelligence, movement, and work off the ball make everyone else in the attack better.
In holding onto Myer Bevan, Cavalry hold onto a player who can be Mason’s long-term replacement and one who looked like he might score buckets — until the injury. That’s the risk, with Bevan, but he’s got the perfect profile to pile in goals at Spruce Meadows.
Ben Fisk, Miki Cantave, Gareth Smith-Doyle, and Fraser Aird were all under contract and all have a bit more to prove for Cavalry. I’m not entirely sure all of them would have been back but for the contracts.
Ali Musse was re-signed, which is maybe a bit more of a surprise, but I’ve always liked what he adds in an attack, even if it’s usually not reflected on the scoreboard. He’s one of those players who’s willing to shoot the ball — all too rare, these days.
There’s not a lot of flexibility here, either tactically or cap-wise, which is why Simcoe player Ethan Beckford is the only attacking add, and he’ll be a back-up with upside. There are a couple roster spots open, but given how much of this roster is coming off an injury, it might be better to keep those for the summer.
They went to a back three a fair bit last year, but without at least one more centre-back I don’t see that being very likely. There are just too many attackers who don’t score a huge amount on this squad.
I can’t find anything from Cavalry about their pre-season, though we know Valour beat them at some point.
I find that surprising. Cavalry have one of the more vocal fanbases and, despite the stadium being kind of out of the way (it is a famous spot, of course, but it’s out in cowboy country), Cavalry have done okay in the stands. They club also has the highest ticket prices in CanPL.
So you want to be in @CPLCavalryFC Officer’s Club eh? That’ll be $2,650.40
Check out the costs of some season seat offerings from @CPLsoccer clubs. It’s tough to compare given the variety of benefits offered by each, but interesting nonetheless. #CanPL #Supporters #Data #cpl pic.twitter.com/lSbdRPHmAk
— Austin Lemieux 🍁 (@AustinLemieux) March 30, 2023
CanPL clubs need to be a little bit better about pre-season engagement, and a couple need to take just about any opportunity to get people interested. Even just showing up on local fields is an opportunity to engage with the soccer community and get a few extra people out.
Every day matters.
Indeed, Cavalry show up every day. Even when they look a little tired, they’re always ready to ride.
There’s too much talent to bet against them in any real way. I do think that lack of flexibility is going to hurt at some point, and they’ve bet even harder than normal on vets due to the cap circumstances. If it turns out Fraser Aird can’t come back to full rage-mode, or Camargo gets hurt again there are… not so much holes, because they have guys who can fill them and Tommy is clever enough to get the system to work around what he’s got, but they start losing the ability to control games, relying more and more on individual battles and work ethic and the other things Cavalry probably still do better than anyone else in the league.
But that gap has closed a lot and I’m not sure this group, on paper, can do it well enough to will themselves through the summer haze and into a second final. They’re losing 4-5 easy outings against the Eddies and replacing them with 4-5 against VanFC, which may well end up a good rivalry. It’s more travel, more turf, more tiredness.
They’ll be in there somewhere, and with the new format they’re likely to host a playoff game. But maybe not the one the fans want so badly.