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Islander Montgomery returns home for CONCACAF Cup

“It’s a dream … on a field I know well … in the biggest tournament in North America,” says the Nanaimo product.
Callum Montgomery, right, will be with Cavalry FC when they meet Orlando City in their CONCACAF Champions Cup game Wednesday at Starlight Stadium. TONY LEWIS, CFC MEDIA

It will be home sweet home and familiar surroundings for Callum Montgomery when Cavalry FC of the Canadian Premier League meets Orlando City of Major League Soccer in their CONCACAF Champions Cup game Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Starlight Stadium.

“It’s a dream … on a field I know well … in the biggest tournament in North America,” said the Nanaimo product, out of St. Michaels University School, who plays for Calgary-based Cavalry FC.

The six-foot-three defender, who played for Canada in the CONCACAF qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, will have about 30 friends and family out for the match-up.

“There are a lot of special people in my life here,” said Montgomery, 26.

He mentioned in that group Steve Simonson and Brett Large from his years as captain of the Victoria Highlanders and league all-star from 2016 to 2018 in the USL Premier Development League. That’s when Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr., then coach of the Calgary Foothills, first saw Montgomery play and kept a mental note. When the opportunity came in the CPL, Wheeldon pounced to sign the talented Islander last season.

Montgomery and Cavalry earned their CONCACAF Cup berth by winning the CPL regular-season championship last year after Island-based Pacific FC led for much of the season. Cavalry’s opening game was shifted to Starlight Stadium because of the sub-freezing temperatures this time of year in Calgary.

“It’s David versus Goliath — we’re a combination of David and Rocky,” said Montgomery.

“Orlando City has guys on their team making five times our entire team’s salary cap.”

The Islander was once at that heady level as FC Dallas made him the fourth overall selection in the 2019 MLS draft. But a series of injuries set him back.

“It’s been a tough couple of years but I’ve worked through it and now I feel I’m over the hump,” said Montgomery.

Therein lies the value of the CPL, Canada’s long-awaited national domestic soccer league established in 2019. Montgomery said he wished it had been around during his formative years. But it was there when Montgomery needed it now.

“It serves as an important path for Canadian players,” said Montgomery, who led SMUS to the 2014 B.C. high school title.

The gap isn’t as big as some people might think: “It’s the little details. It’s not the big things. We’ve easily got guys on our team who could be on MLS rosters, but more as role players. It’s just that mistakes get punished much more severely in the MLS than they do in the CPL.”

As for his own journey, Montgomery added: “I dream of getting back to the MLS, of course. The CPL provides that opportunity. There has already been a lot jumping up from the CPL to MLS, including players from PFC, and there are a growing number of eyes on the CPL.”

Montgomery had an elegant yet tough style on the Higlanders’ back end. Centre-backs see the whole pitch and are described as the quarterbacks of soccer.

“I am a defence-first centre-back,” he said.

But the position has evolved.

“Centre-backs make 70 to 90 passes a game in modern soccer,” said Montgomery.

“The old days of just kicking the ball down the field are gone.”

Cavalry FC is the last Canadian team standing in the CONCACAF Cup after the Vancouver Whitecaps of MLS, who also played their home game at Starlight Stadium, and 2023 CPL playoff-champion Forge FC of Hamilton both went down to Liga MX clubs Tigres UANL and Chivas Guadalajara, respectively, in their opening-round two-legged sets.

Tickets for the Cavalry-Orlando City game Wednesday at Starlight Stadium are available through Ticketmaster. The second game of the two-legged set is next Tuesday in Orlando, Florida.