Pacific FC takes on Canadian Premier League’s leading light

Pacific FC is in Calgary today owing a debut of gratitude to its opponent, as does every other team in the Canadian Premier League. Cavalry FC has provided the inaugural season of the CPL what it required most — credibility.

After dispatching fellow CPL teams Pacific FC and Forge FC in the first two rounds of the Canadian Championship, Cavalry recorded what could be the defining moment of the fledgling CPL’s first year. The Calgary club shocked the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer in the third round before giving another MLS club, Montreal Impact, all it could handle in a competitive fourth round.

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The headline on a story this week on the CPL website reads: “Canadian Championship exit still a bitter pill to swallow for Cavalry.”

These guys clearly expected to beat the Impact. The CPL website story details how Cavalry head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. watched the all-MLS Canadian Championship final between Toronto FC and Montreal and labelled it “bittersweet.”

“Cavalry has shown how close it is between the CPL and MLS,” Pacific head coach Michael Silberbauer said after a recent training session at Westhill Stadium.

If a team such as Cavalry didn't exist, the CPL would probably have had to invent something like it — the leading-light organization whose success has lifted the whole league.

PFC plays Cavalry today at Spruce Meadows in Calgary.

“Calgary set the standard in Year 1,” said Pacific general manager and CEO Rob Friend, a Canada-capped former Bundesliga professional.

A big help for Cavalry is that it is one of the two organizations that came into the CPL with continuity. The other, FC Edmonton, was previously a pro franchise in the defunct NASL.

Down Alberta Highway 2, meanwhile, the working guts of the successful Calgary Foothills amateur organization in the USL Premier Development League (now USL-2) moved up to become the Cavalry organization in the CPL. The Foothills had dominated teams in the PDL, including the Victoria Highlanders, in going to the league final in 2016 and winning it in 2018. (The Foothills, now affiliated with Cavalry FC, won their third PDL/USL-2 Northwest Division title in four years this summer).

Cavalry, with Wheeldon Jr. and Victoria product and director of soccer Martin Nash, simply applied that template to the CPL with continued success.

“Cavalry had a head start,” Friend said. “But now fans are seeing us and the other teams catch up, and there is more parity.”

As a sign of Cavalry’s success, long-term preliminary plans are being discussed for a 12,000-seat stadium at Spruce Meadows.

Cavalry won the CPL spring season with an 8-2 record to guarantee a spot in the league playoff final next month against the fall season champion. Cavalry hasn’t missed a beat in the fall and is only once beaten at 6-1-4.

“Because of the Foothills connection, Cavalry came in with a real advantage,” said PFC president Josh Simpson, the Canada-capped former European pro.

“We went a different angle with a team of young pros. But we’re catching up and we consider [today] a huge game versus the potential league champions.”

PFC began the fall season 0-3 but has rallied and is 4-5-3 after going 3-5-2 in the spring. Its record against Cavalry this season is 1-3-1, including two losses in the Canadian Championship competition. The last meeting between the clubs was a 1-1 draw, leaving PFC optimistic and looking for more today.

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