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'It's Rocky IV' as Cavalry faces MLS side Orlando City

CONCACAF Champions Cup match goes Wednesday night in Langford
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Cavalry head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. runs training Tuesday ahead of their CONCACAF Champions Cup game against Orlando City at Starlight Stadium. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

CLEVE DHEENSAW

Times Colonist

Orlando City is the other Major League Soccer team in Florida. The one not paying Lionel Messi $12-million US per season.

Yet the pay discrepancy between Orlando City of MLS and Cavalry FC of the Canadian Premier League is still stark with the David versus Goliath and Rocky references abounding ahead of the CONCACAF Champions Cup meeting between the clubs tonight at Starlight Stadium.

Orlando City may have the second-lowest team salary in the MLS but that’s still nearly a $5.9-million per season payout with the average player salary on Orlando City, according to the Capology website, being $235,549 US. It is led by Argentine winger Martin Ojeda at $840,000 per season and followed by Peruvian national-team goalkeeper and 103-time-capped Pedro Gallese at $720,000, 15-time Uruguay-capped midfielder Facundo Torres at $640,000 and Sweden-capped defender Robin Jansson at $575,000.

CPL teams in 2023 operated under a salary cap of between $750,000 and $1.125-million Cdn with $30,000 the minimum salary. The average salary this season in MLS is $391,240 US, according to Capology.

“It’s Rocky IV. We’ve been training in the cold in the mountains and Orlando City was in Cancun playing [famous ­Brazilian club] Flamengo,” said Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr.

Those thoughts were ­echoed by Cavalry FC defender, ­Lantzville-product, SMUS-grad and former PDL Victoria ­Highlanders captain Callum Montgomery: “It’s David versus Goliath — we’re a combination of David and Rocky. Orlando City has guys on their team ­making five times our entire [Cavalry] team’s salary cap.”

The Cavalry FC home date was switched to the Island due to the potential sub-freezing temperatures this time of year in Calgary.

“It was a natural choice for our home-away-from-home game because we are familiar with Starlight Stadium, which is a terrific venue, where we have had great games against PFC,” said Wheeldon Jr., whose club qualified for the CONCACAF Champions Cup by winning the 2023 CPL regular-season championship.

Although the home team, Cavalry FC has chosen the away dressing room tonight because that is the one they are familiar with when playing against PFC.

“Playing in Victoria will be a different atmosphere and feel in terms of weather for the Orlando team,” said Cavalry FC goalkeeper Marco Carducci, among several Cavalry players hoping for rainy and cool conditions tonight.

“This is a fantastic opportunity that has been years in the making. This is something we have collectively earned.”

Orlando City, meanwhile, is at the lower end of the MLS pay scale but gets bang for the buck and placed second in the MLS East last season to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions Cup, this region’s equivalent of the UEFA Champions League. Orlando City is owned by the Wilf family, which also owns the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL, although the purple colour scheme is purely coincidental and pre-dates the Wilfs buying the Orlando team in 2021 for reportedly more than $400-million US.

Cavalry bench-boss Wheeldon reflected on the journey to get here to be in this match-up: “It is not lost on us how big a tournament this is and that six years ago we were playing pro-am [in the pre-CPL days as the Calgary Foothills against the likes of the Victoria Highlanders in the PDL].”

Wheeldon’s Cavalry CPL team has beaten an MLS club — the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship tournament — so an upset tonight is not out of the question. But don’t expect Orlando City to be daunted by the weather tonight after playing their final MLS exhibition game in an unusually cold downpour Saturday night in Orlando against the Colorado Rapids.

“Getting on the same field and conditions we’re likely to play in [at Victoria] is huge … being able to do that is going to be very helpful before we go to Canada,” Orlando City forward Duncan McGuire told the team’s digital content manager Austin David, following the 2-0 friendly win over Colorado.

Cavalry FC is the last Canadian team remaining in the 2024 CONCACAF Champions Cup after the Whitecaps, who also played their home game at Starlight Stadium due to a stadium conflict at B.C. Place, 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 tonight at Starlight Stadium are available through Ticketmaster or at the door. The second game of the opening-round two-legged set is Tuesday in Orlando, Florida.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com