Calgary Herald


Game against Vancouver FC also doubles as local team's Canadian Championsh­ip debut


This home opener is more than just pomp and pageantry at ATCO Field.

It's got importance ...

Big-time importance in that it doubles as Cavalry FC'S debut in the 2024 Canadian Championsh­ip.

“Yeah ... definitely exciting for all of us,” said Cavalry midfielder Shamit Shome, ahead of Tuesday's tilt against visiting Vancouver FC at Spruce Meadows (7 p.m., Onesoccer, “Cavalry's history in the Canada Cup has been pretty good. You know ... we've gone on some deep runs. And I think all the guys want to get back to that again.

“And we know we can, and it helps that we get to play that first game at home this time.”

Sure does.

A year ago, Shome and Cavalry were on Vancouver Island to play their only match of the Canadian Championsh­ip.

That first game ended up a loss — 5-3 on penalty kicks after playing to a 1-1 draw — to host Pacific FC, marking the Cavs' quickest exit from the domestic footy tournament.

With the natural-grass home setting of ATCO Field always offering up a huge advantage for Cavalry, the feeling is they can at least push beyond Match 1 in the 2024 bid to hoist the Voyageurs Cup.

“We're excited to return home,” Cavalry general manager and head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. said from ATCO Field on Monday morning. “I think we haven't seen our fans since it's almost six months now. We miss this place. We miss our fans, and it's the magic of the cup. So all those things are very exciting as you prepare for the match.

“These boys have travelled and played our CONCACAF game on the road. And we've now played two very tough teams (away from home) I expect to see in the running (in the Canadian Premier League) ... We will be delighted to see our fans again come Tuesday.”

Perhaps Cavalry (0-1-1) won't be as delighted to see Vancouver FC (2-0-0) as first thought, though.

Last year's second-from-bottom squad, after just an eightwin campaign, has turned the tables this season to sit tied atop the table.

“They really had a good off-season, much like Atlético Ottawa in a way where they've strengthen­ed and they'll be competitiv­e,” Wheeldon said. “They've had a really strong start to the season, playing some really nice football. I like some of the new strategies that (head coach) Afshin (Ghotbi) and his coaching staff have put in. They've got the players to suit, so I think what they'll do is they'll certainly bring in their best self. I imagine they'll come in with confidence.

“So it's certainly a game we're taking very seriously.”

What awaits the winner is the two-time defending champion, Major League Soccer's Vancouver Whitecaps FC, in a twolegged quarterfin­al tie.

“The league is the marathon,” Wheeldon said, “and cup competitio­n like the Voyageurs Cup and playoffs, they're just like a sprint, so I think what you've got to do is have a mindset going into it like how can you win the game in the first half, how can you win the game late and how can you close a game out, because it's different than getting three points. It's putting your name in the hat for the next round.”

All totalled for this year's tournament is 13 teams — down one from last year's 14 — vying for the Voyageurs Cup.

The 17th edition of the Canadian Championsh­ip, the premier men's domestic cup competitio­n in Canadian soccer, features the eight CPL sides, the three MLS squads and three League1 Canada clubs — League1 Quebec-winning CS Saint-laurent, League1 Ontario-champ Simcoe County Rovers FC and League1 Ontario team TSS FC Rovers, which replaced the League1 B.c.-kingpin Victoria Highlander­s FC just ahead of the tourney.

Last year's finalists, the Whitecaps and fellow Mls-side CF Montréal, have earned byes through to the quarters.

The tournament consists of four rounds, with the quarterfin­als and semifinals being two legs and the preliminar­y round and the finals being single legs, meaning loser goes home between the host Cavs and Vancouver FC.

“I wouldn't say there's more desperatio­n,” Wheeldon said. “I'd say there's more excitement.

“These lads are competitiv­e anyway. So every game we play in training and every league game we play, always the result is your judge. I think when you put football in its simplest form, it's 11-v-11 game where the score line is your judge. But in these cup competitio­ns alone, results do matter — because you win and you're in and if you don't, you don't.”

Of course, Cavalry kicked in the door in winning fashion during its Voyageurs Cup debut back in 2019, when it rolled all the way to the semis before losing to MLS' Montreal Impact in a two-game semifinal.

After COVID-19 limited the 2020 edition to just a championsh­ip game between league winners Forge FC and Toronto FC, Cavalry reached the quarters in 2021 before falling to Pacific 1-0 at ATCO Field.

And in 2022, the host Cavs lost in the quarters to the Whitecaps 5-3 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw. Then came last year's firstround loss away from home.

“I think that's a huge plus for us to play in front of our home fans,” Shome said. “And it's something that we're all looking forward to — hopefully, beating Vancouver and going on to the next one.”

 ?? JIM WELLS ?? Cavalry coach and general manager Tommy Wheeldon Jr. says his team is excited for their Canadian Championsh­ip match against Vancouver FC Tuesday at Spruce Meadows.
JIM WELLS Cavalry coach and general manager Tommy Wheeldon Jr. says his team is excited for their Canadian Championsh­ip match against Vancouver FC Tuesday at Spruce Meadows.
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