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Orlando City flashes MLS credentials against Cavalry at Starlight Stadium

Two teams play again Tuesday in Orlando
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Cavalry FC defender Callum Montgomery clears the ball away from Orlando City striker Facundo Torres during CONCACAF Champions Cup action at Starlight Stadium on Wednesday. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

It was strange to see the ­Cavalry FC mascot, Sarge, roaming the sidelines Wednesday night at Starlight Stadium instead of Pacific FC’s Stewie the Starfish.

It was weirder still to see Island soccer fans rooting for Cavalry FC, one of PFC’s greatest rivals in the Canadian Premier League. But it was OK on this one occasion because the Calgary club was in a sense representing the entire CPL in the 3-0 CONCACAF Cup opening-round, opening-leg loss to Orlando City of Major League Soccer.

There wasn’t quite the atmosphere of the opening-round CONCACAF Cup game between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Tigres UANL of Liga MX at a packed and pulsating Starlight Stadium — also this month due to a scheduling conflict at B.C. Place — but the crowd of 2,428 Wednesday was pleasantly surprising considering there was no hometown Victoria interest. It was enlivened by patches of fans who had flown in from Calgary and Orlando. And clever they were with the Orlando fans chanting in unison: “B.C. is cool, B.C. is cool. We just hate Alberta, we just hate Alberta …” and “We should have played Pacific, we should have played Pacific …” That was pretty good for a bunch of Floridians.

Ironically, the game could have probably been played in Calgary after all, where it would have been minus-1 C and partially clear at halftime. It was 8 C and showery at the half at Starlight Stadium. But the decision needed to be made in the fall and they had to go by historical averages and couldn’t take the chance and just hope there would be a fairly mild winter happening in Cowtown.

“It was very good fan support,” said Orlando City head coach Oscar Pareja, a Colombian.

“This city is nice and it is different here than Florida. It is long travel but this is our job.”

Duncan McGuire opened scoring in the 21st minute and then did a Justin Jefferson-inspired Griddy Dance to celebrate, which was only appropriate since Orlando City is owned by the Wilf family, which also owns the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL. Uruguayan international Facundo Torres, capped 15 times, made it 2-0 at 37 minutes and 3-0 at 75 minutes. Goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, capped 103 times for Peru and a national hero, recorded the clean sheet for Orlando City. He was surrounded by a group of adoring Peruvian-flag waving fans following the game and spent time signing autographs and taking selfies with them. So did coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. and the Cavalry players with their Calgary fans following the game.

The second game of the two-legged set is Tuesday in Orlando, Florida, with the 2023 CPL regular-season champion Cavalry club having a Rockies-size mountain to climb in the competition that is this region’s equivalent of the UEFA Champions League.

“We don’t have an MLS budget and had to be creative with our training and planning. We started eight Canadians in our 11, and that’s great,” said Cavalry gaffer Wheeldon.

“There are no excuses. We are in this to be in the experience of the CONCACAF Cup. Lessons learned. It was not a 3-nil game. We want to be brave [heading down to Orlando].”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com