Cavan FC off to Provincial Elite League after unbeaten season
Team finishes first in Provincial East division after players step it up
When Cavan FC fielded its first men’s team in 2017 the goal was to make it to the Ontario Soccer League’s Provincial Elite League in five years.
They’re ahead of schedule. In 2018 they won the OSL’s Central Region East title to gain promotion this year to the OSL’s Provincial East. With some key additions, they were more than ready for the step up in calibre. Cavan posted an undefeated season — 12 wins, one tie — to clinch first place and promotion in 2020 to the Provincial Elite.
“It was shocking to all of us,” said Cavan FC captain Mark VanBeek.
“We knew we had a challenge ahead of us and we were up for the challenge, but we didn’t think it would go the way it went. It was one of those stories where everything went well for us this year.
“We started training early and we had a good turnout and everyone was committed to building the team, especially after a positive year like last year where we showed everybody what we’re all about. That Peterborough isn’t just farmers. We actually have some skill and talent that is hidden away.”
“I knew we could compete and I thought we’d stay up,” said head coach Alex Penello, “but didn’t think we’d have as stellar a year as we had. The boys were really committed. Very dedicated to the game. I’ve known these boys since they were 10 or 12 years old. The thing is they’re friends, too, and they’re real competitors.”
The team is a combination of three age groups.
The foundation is a group of 1998-born players Penello’s youngest son Michael played with who he coached to success all through youth soccer. The group included keeper Jared Foxon, Mitchell Cummings and Seth Mahabir, among others.
When they reached senior age, Penello decided to field Cavan’s first men’s side realizing they were too young to be competitive without some veteran help.
He brought back older players he coached in previous years as youths at Cavan and Peterborough City including a group of 1988s like VanBeek, Brandon Bigelow and his son Matthew Penello.
“They’ve been buddies since they were, in Brandon and Matt’s case, five years old,” said Alex Penello. “Mark moved into this area when he was 11 or 12.”
The next group was the 1994 players who played with his sons Joey and Josh, a 1995 who played up a year, like George Gill and Shaun Lauzon.
They finished second in their inaugural season in the regional league before winning it and the Frank Docherty Cup last season.
Moving up to the provincial league they recruited two new starters from Kingston — Joey Pineo and Jean-Michel Poulin.
“We were fortunate to get these two guys,” Penello said.
He says they’ll need a few more recruits next year but he’s confident they can compete in the OSL’s top league.
“I don’t think we’ll be demoted. We do have certain areas we need to strengthen, that’s normal, but we’ll do well. The calibre of soccer is enjoyable to watch and we are starting to develop a following,” he said.
VanBeek played eight years in the elite league where he won a scoring title and championships with Durham Celtic and Ulster Thistle. He’s confident Cavan can have success right away.
“It will be a long season next year with 18 games starting in the spring, so you have to have depth,” VanBeek said. “We’re going to gain that when we move up and the word gets around that Peterborough actually has a team in the elite league, which is unheard of, really. We’re a city of 60,000 to 70,000 and we’re going against the GTA. If we can amalgamate all the players from Peterborough, the Kawarthas, Durham to come play with us, we’ll have that.”
Also important is a team-first dynamic which is one of their strengths.
“We are exactly what the essence of a team is,” VanBeek said. “We care about each other and want to do well and have the same goals.”
In 2018 Cavan FC won the Ontario Soccer League’s Central Region East title to gain promotion this year to the OSL’s Provincial East. With some key additions, they were more than ready for the step up in calibre. Cavan posted an undefeated season — 12 wins, one tie — to clinch first place and promotion in 2020 to the Provincial Elite.