Spruce Meadows is ready to send in the cavalry — The Cavalry Football Club, that is.
Saturday marks the inaugural home opener for Calgary’s new entrant in the Canadian Premier League (CPL), with Atco Field at Spruce Meadows their home turf.
“What’s great about the Atco Field at Spruce Meadows is it’s like a coliseum,” Tommy Wheeldon Jr., Cavalry FC head coach and general manager, told Jock Wilson on 770 CHQR. “The seats are right over top of it, the pitch is sunken down into the ground.”
The coliseum-like bowl should provide spectators and supporters the opportunity to see the new team up close.
“We want to make sure that when fans are coming out, they’re excited to see the type of football we’re playing,” Wheeldon Jr. said. “But also to look at the players on there and affiliate with them and go, ‘You know what? They give it their all out there.’”
WATCH BELOW: New professional soccer returns to Calgary
Coaching one of seven teams in the coast-to-coast CPL, Wheeldon Jr. took the league’s “for Canadians by Canadians” manifesto to heart when putting together the team’s roster.
“If this is a Canadian league for Canadians, we also looked at Calgarians and those in southern Alberta,” Wheeldon Jr. said. “We thought, ‘Right, who are we going to look at first, that’s close to home that is deserving of a chance?’”
After Calgarians filled a third of the roster, Wheeldon looked to find national players with a professional pedigree. And six of the seven allowed international roster spots are filled with players with backgrounds in clubs like West Ham United, LA Galaxy and AS Monaco.
Calgarian Nik Ledgerwood captains Cavalry FC in their first season. With his five years of professional experience in European leagues and 50 caps for Canada’s Men’s National team, 34-year-old Ledgerwood hopes the young team will follow his lead.
“It is now my duty and role in the team not only to be a player but to help mentor these younger kids in this next generation that will hopefully be wearing the Canadian jersey here in the next few years,” Ledgerwood said.
LISTEN: Cavalry FC captain Nik Ledgerwood talks pro soccer’s return to Calgary on Sports Talk with Jock
Despite the young ages on the team — the median age is 23 — the talent level is the team’s strength for Ledgerwood.
“As far as the level goes, I think it’s going to surprise a lot of people. You know, the pace of play, the attractiveness of it and the professionalism of it.”
Despite making waves in the CPL preseason by keeping clean sheets in preseason play, Wheeldon Jr. said the team’s strategy is to be more than just solid defensive play.
“I think you have to be good in both directions,” Wheeldon Jr. said. “We’ve been very good in the preseason — we haven’t conceded a goal in seven games. But that’s not the tale of the tape because I’m sure someone will get a lucky bounce here or there and we’ve got to be able to adapt and overcome that.”
“We want to play what I call front-foot football — we want to be attacking more than we’re defending. We want to pressure high up where possible. But we’ve got different variations to our tactics.”
Cavalry FC will put those tactics to the test Saturday against York9 FC.
“We’re a very cerebral team, very intelligent, very dynamic.” Wheeldon Jr. said. “Whatever they roll the dice with, we’ll be prepared.”
LISTEN: Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. previews the team’s inaugural season in the CPL
Wheeldon Jr. hopes selfless and tireless play will become a hallmark of the team, inspired by the city they play in.
“Part of the reason we got our name of Cavalry wasn’t just the horses and the connection to Spruce Meadows,” Wheeldon Jr. said. “It was the actions of Calgarians when the Fort McMurray fires were on and everyone is rallying around together. Or when the floods hit downtown, everybody gets together.
“We tried to build a team that epitomizes that.”