Last time he spoke to CanPL.ca, Cavalry FC coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. said that his side would play games in the Sahara Desert if it meant getting the season underway faster. Thankfully, they won't have to go quite that far, but with the CPL opening the 2021 campaign with The Kickoff in Winnipeg, Wheeldon's squad finally has something concrete to work toward. Though they've been able to train in Calgary for several weeks, Wheeldon admitted that seeing matches on the calendar -- including their opener on June 27 against York United FC -- does wonders for motivation. "Now it's more real, right?" Wheeldon said this week. "If your prizefighter is forever sparring with no fighter in mind, no opponent, no location, no date, you're only ever going through the motions. But now, the fact that we have a location, we have a place where we're gonna be going, and we have games on the schedule, now things change gears." Similar to last year, the Cavs -- along with their seven CPL foes -- will be heading into a closed environment to kick off the year. At the Island Games in PEI, Cavalry started well (finishing atop the table after the first round), but they ultimately succumbed to the heavy toll of injuries and missed out on the Final. Wheeldon explained that there are definite similarities between last year's situation and this year's in Winnipeg, but it's not quite the same -- for one thing, there will be a little more runway to get up to speed and some more margin for error, since this will only be the beginning of a much longer season, unlike the unforgiving tournament style of the Island Games.
RELATED READING: CPL off-season roster tracker: Who’s in and who’s out? || 2021 CPL season: What you need to know before 'The Kickoff'
"We gave everything we had, really, at the Island Games, and with it, we fell short," Wheeldon said. "It cost us with injuries and things like that, but I think now, we've just got to put things into context that we won't be our best version of ourselves by any shape or form, because of the amount of time there's been between games -- and double that, because there was a gap between 2019 and 2020, and between 2020 and 2021. "Form and chemistry, that all takes time. We're going there to start and see what we're like, with a view to coming back home with as many points as we can in the bank, and then building from that." As Cavalry enter their final preparations before The Kickoff begins, their squad is nearly complete. Almost all of the 20 players currently signed are in training, the only exception being English striker Joe Mason. Wheeldon revealed that the current plan is for Mason to join up with the Cavs at some point midway through the season's opening stanza in Winnipeg, once his visa process and quarantine are complete. The former Cardiff City striker will certainly provide a boost to Cavalry's attack -- Wheeldon, a longtime Everton FC fan, added that the fact Mason has scored against Liverpool is a bonus as well. With three spots left to fill on the roster, Cavalry does have some new faces yet to reveal over the next couple weeks. "We've got a couple of really young, exciting prospects we feel," Wheeldon said. "And there's one more ace in our sleeve that we'll announce just before we get to Winnipeg." With so many newcomers bolstering the Cavs' squad already this year, it's hard to imagine what that final piece might look like. Regardless, the new Cavalry FC promises to be a fascinating side heading into the third CPL season.