For many Calgarians, Spruce Meadows is synonymous with the elite equestrian sport. However, as of spring 2019, that may change. A professional soccer team is making its home at the historic venue and it’s bound to offer new opportunities for the soccer community.
Tommy Wheeldon Jr., head coach of Cavalry FC, says the team was created as a way to bridge the gap between players aged 17 to 23 that “Wasn’t being serviced here, or across Canada.”
When the Canadian Professional League (CPL) approached Wheeldon Jr. about the possibility of a new league, he knew he had something worth pursuing. Unfortunately, he also knew the team wouldn’t have the finances to make it happen and that’s when Spruce Meadows entered.
After a friend connected Wheeldon Jr. with Spruce Meadows, Wheeldon Jr. sensed it would only be a matter of time before a deal was struck. Sure enough, when meeting Ian Allison and Linda Southern Heathcott.
“Within literally a week of meeting them, they’re like ‘We want in,’” says Wheeldon Jr.
For Spruce Meadows, the deal could also be beneficial. Ian Allison, vice-president of Spruce Meadows agrees with the vision.
“We have a terrific facility here that could undergo a renovation that would allow it to improve not only as a show jumping facility, but become one of the most unique venues for professional soccer in the world,” he says.
With Wheeldon Jr. busy building his team and his staff, he says that every day brings a new challenge. These challenges come in part due to the newness of the CPL itself.
“It’s a new league. It’s not like, you know, say we were just joining the NHL and we’re an expansion franchise like the Golden Knights,” explains Wheeldon Jr.
New hope for Calgary
Despite the struggles that accompany the creation of the team alongside a relatively new league, hopes are high for the contribution the Cavalry will accomplish for soccer in Calgary.
Marco Carducci, goalkeeper for Cavalry thinks the team will help “Inspire the next generation” and provide a “Hometown team where you can have local heroes you can look up to.”
Wheeldon Jr. agrees, saying the team will provide a “Professional pathway for the young players in their own city. They no longer have to have an EU passport to go and play professionally overseas.”
For many, including Carducci, the chance to play professionally in their own city is an amazing opportunity.
“It wasn’t something I imagined I’d have an opportunity to do in my career lifetime, but now that it’s here, it’s just kind of a dream come true.”
Carducci says the hope for the first season is to be “Champions of the CPL for the first season.”
With the Cavalry moving into Spruce Meadows at the beginning of April, the 6,000-seat stadium will be built in the Meadows on the Green ring, an area previously allocated for equestrian competition.
Introducing soccer to Spruce Meadows will also have major effects on the facility.
“It’s introduced a number of new fans to the Spruce Meadows venue itself,” says Allison.
“It’s really been fun to build something from the ground like, we’ve done with international showjumping.”
Allison expects the addition of the Cavalry will allow an “Additional 15 dates to be utilized” at Spruce Meadows. He adds that the games, which will run from May to October, will “Hopefully attract capacity crowds of 6,000 people,” to each game.
Looking to the future, the hopes are to have Calgary and the Cavalry involved with the World Cup, which North America is expected to host in the coming years.
“I think the 2026 runway gives us, as a Calgary soccer community, an opportunity to be involved,” says Wheeldon Jr. He wants to know, “What’s Calgary’s involvement going to be?”
Editor: Antoine Fecteau | email@example.com