'He's our orchestrator': 'OG' Cavalry FC star Sergio Camargo hitting peak form as playoffs begin
There aren’t many members left from the original cohort of Canadian Premier League players - the OGs, as the saying goes.
As the league has developed, the talent level has increased significantly, while more and more young players have found their way to break in.
Because of that, it’s made it hard for those who were there from day one to stick around, as they’ve had to adapt to that rising tide of a growing league.
Yet, despite that, a couple of CPL OGs had a moment to remember for Cavalry last weekend against York United. There, in a match they needed to win to potentially clinch the regular season title, the CPL Shield, (with a bit of help from rivals Forge), Cavalry’s Sergio Camargo and Marco Carducci put in performances to remember for their club.
In a 1-0 win that was ultimately enough to win the title thanks to Forge’s 3-1 over Pacific, Camargo ended up scoring the winning goal, while Carducci made four saves to preserve the victory.
🚨GOAL 🐎@CPLCavalryFC have taken the lead over @yorkutdfc, as Myer Bevan puts in the perfect ball for Sergio Camargo to put home.— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) September 23, 2023
Massive moment for the Cavs!
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/NwEjIxrrmU
The two lone remaining players from the Cavalry side that won the regular season title in 2019 (although it wasn’t officially recognized at the time), it was a full-circle moment for the pair, who have found a way to remain key pieces for a team that has continued to grow and evolve around them since then.
In particular, it was a big moment for Camargo, as it was a perfect way to cap off what has been a resurgent campaign for the 29-year-old. Carducci has remained a consistent pillar in the net for Cavalry over the few years, winning two Golden Glove trophies in his previous four seasons (and is a leading candidate to win a third), but Camargo has battled injury over his time in Calgary.
Because of that, while he’d scored an impressive 13 goals and added seven assists in 60 games, good numbers for a midfielder, he’d never seen the field for more than 1350 minutes in a full CPL campaign (regular season+playoffs).
🚨GOAL🐎@CPLCavalryFC have opened the scoring against Atlético Ottawa, as Sergio Camargo finds the back of the net from a tight angle right before half time— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) September 2, 2023
This season, however, he’s found a way to change that, as he’s already made a career-high 24 regular season appearances (out of a possible 27 as of writing) and is already up to 1352 minutes, already besting his previous career-high.
He’s making the most of the time he’s spending on the field, too, as he’s scored six goals and added two assists across those games.
Therefore, when his goal breached the target against York, it wasn’t just a milestone marker for Cavalry, but a big moment in what has been an important year for Camargo, too.
And that he was able to share that with fellow OGs, Marco Carducci and head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. (who is one of just two year-one managers remaining in the CPL), only added to the occasion for Camargo, who was pleased to reflect on what the moment meant to him when asked.
“It’s very special,” Camargo told OneSoccer this week. “And we had a little bit of a talk and reflection between us three this week, Tommy, Marco and I, where we talked about how cool it was that Marco made some amazing saves, should have been player the match and I don't know how he didn't win the Player the Week after all those saves that he made, and then I was fortunate enough to get on the end of Myer Bevan’s pass to clinch all three points for us so we could clinch the league.”
“It’s nice experiencing all these opportunities with people that you love, people that you respect, and people that you've become family with over the last five years.”
Yet, that Camargo was keen to share that moment with his teammates over anything else shows why the midfielder is so popular in the Cavalry dressing room.
Also the club’s vice-captain alongside captain Carducci, he’s really stepped up and become a leader on this Cavalry side this year, helping this team find their feet after going through a bit of a transition this offseason.
Having seen fellow OGs such as Mason Trafford, Elijah Adekugbe and José Escalante move on over the past year, after the likes of Nik Ledgerwood and Oliver Minatel had moved on the year prior, however, Camargo was ready to step up.
No longer surrounded by key leaders such as Trafford, Ledgerwood, and Jay Wheeldon, he was eager to fill the void that they left behind on this year’s team, helping share the wisdom that those veterans had brought to him when he’d first come to the club back in 2018.
Literally the club’s first official signing (along with Ledgerwood) after a season with Calgary Foothills, Camargo had done well to absorb those lessons along the way, and knew that he had a big role to play because of that.
That’s something that Wheeldon Jr. knew right away heading into this year, having seen Camargo grow from a player just trying to find his feet as a professional after failing to stick on at Toronto FC as an academy graduate, to the seasoned veteran that he’s become today.
“Yeah, and that's why we made him the vice-captain this year,” Wheeldon Jr. said of Camargo. “He's got such an infectious personality, and his energy is infectious in such a good way. But he talks with wisdom, he’s a university graduate, and he knows a bit about the world. He's just a really good guy, and he's a great competitor. It doesn't matter if it's the board game at the hotel, soccer tennis or a professional game, he's so competitive.”
“That’s a side of Sergio Camargo that not many people have seen, but I get to see on a daily basis, and I’m fortunate as a manager to have worked with him for going on almost six years, as he's made me a better coach and hopefully, in turn, I've helped him be a better player.”
GOAL🏇— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) May 21, 2023
Sergio Camargo finds the back of the net following a free kick to open the scoring for @CPLCavalryFC over @atletiOttawa in #CanPL action🔥⚽️#CavsFC | #ForOttawa
TUNE IN | 🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/fehXjo8OwH
And on the other side, Camargo has responded very well to his new leadership role, taking the responsibilities in stride. There’s a reason why Cavalry has such a tight-knit locker room, with their performances across this season reflecting that.
That’s been shown in key moments, such as when they’ve had to deal with injuries and other absences, which Camargo attributes to how close his team is off the pitch.
“It's hard to pinpoint different things that make a team successful, versus not,” he explained. “I think the biggest thing with our team is that we have such a range of guys, as we’ve got guys who are young and hungry and who want to move on to bigger things in their career, and we have guys that like myself who are just trying to play for as long as possible and enjoy every single moment of it and win trophies before our careers come to an end.”
“I think one of the biggest things that I've seen in this year's team is the amount of communication, the amount of dialogue, and the amount of conversations that are going on day in and day out in our team. Whether it's Jesse Daley talking to Maël Henry about what he thinks is a good way to press an opponent, or whether it’s me talking to Myer Bevan about what spaces I want him to go into when I have the ball, these are just conversations that are going on every single day.”
“I don’t know if it’s because I’m part of the leadership group now that I am witnessing it and noticing it more, or if it’s because it's actually happening more than it had been in the past, but either way I think Tommy has been a great advocate of the way that we are right now in terms of wanting everyone to buy in and to feel like they're a piece of the puzzle, and that’s why we’re having these conversations because everyone knows they are part of a shared success, which is what we've been saying from the very beginning.”
“Just to replace a special player like Goteh Ntignee speaks volumes to the depth of the team, for example,” Camargo continued. “The scouting that the staff has done to bring in players that can step in and do a job is key. Bringing in William Akio, for example, has been a huge energy boost for our locker room, and every guy who has come in has bought in, as they know they change something in a game or to start and play the full 90 minutes.”
Beyond the leadership, however, it’s worth noting that Camargo has matured a lot as a player, too.
He still does well to run around with the infectious energy that made him a fan-favourite in year one, but he’s also become adept at knowing when to slow the game down, and to control the game in between the lines.
In particular, he does a great job of bringing his teammates into the game, helping put them in dangerous scoring areas. It might not register in his assist numbers, for example, but he’s often a key creator, helping play the ball before the ball, if you will.
Therefore, while someone like Ali Musse will rightfully take a lot of the headlines given what he does in those final actions, for example, don’t discount Camargo’s value in the build-up.
Wheeldon Jr. certainly feels it goes underappreciated, and that’s why he was quite pleased to see him step up with the big moment that he did against York, as it allowed Camargo to earn some due praise.
“Oh, it was amazing,” Wheeldon Jr. said of Camargo’s title-winning goal. “And in his hometown, no less.”
“But you could see what it meant to him. I think Sergio has quietly gone about having the best season of his career, and he's done that not just through his own individual statistics, but through his leadership and ability to take people with him.”
“He's our orchestrator of the attacking band, and he's got such a great personality, but he has great game intelligence, he’s really clever with his pressing, for example. So for him to chip away and score the important goal that sealed our title, and then have Marco Carducci make a couple of big saves there to keep the shutout, it was all symbolic that both of them did that as our OGs.”
Through that, it was enough for the club to win its first official piece of silverware, as their achievements in 2019 were never rewarded with a trophy, making it fitting that the two remaining players from that team helped right that wrong, in a sense.
Yet, while they’re pleased to have now gotten their hands on the Shield, make no mistake, this Cavalry side isn’t done there - they want to win the double, and that’ll mean winning the playoffs and taking home the North Star Cup.
And now, thanks to their performances in the regular season, they’ve got the easiest path towards doing so, with the new playoff system.
Guaranteed two shots at the final, both at home, and then potentially able to host the final if they win their first crack at the final, a clash against the second-place team on the weekend of October 14th, they’ve got a real shot to make that double a reality.
Given that no one has had a double yet, and no one has won a final at home, Cavalry wants to change that, and Camargo had no hesitation in pointing out his team’s ambitions to do so, either.
And based on the form that they’ve been on as of late, having claimed 43 points across their last 19 games (2.26 points per game) after claiming just nine across their first eight (1.125 points per game), it’s hard to imagine them coming up short right now, either, and they know that.
“Yeah, I mean, everyone's pushing for the double, it hasn't been done yet, and no one has won a final at home,” So for us to be able to have an opportunity to do that and win the double, It'd be such a special season for Cavalry, especially with the way that we started the year, everyone was talking about the five ties to start, but I think the beginning of our season allowed us to really reflect and talk to each other about how we wanted to play.”
“And for the way we play, you need to be very fit, so maybe we just also weren't fit enough yet to see our games through at that point in the season, because we kept conceding late, we were giving away leads every time that we went up. But these were all stepping stones towards what was our ultimate goal, which was to be the regular season champion, giving us a chance to win the double, and if we're able to now do it, that would be amazing.”
For what it’s worth, however, it’s important to note that this isn’t the first time Cavalry have been in this situation. Just go all the way back to that 2019 season, one where they were crowned unofficial regular season champions at the time as they claimed 62 points, winning both the spring and fall seasons (as part of the format at the time).
Because of that, they were heavily favoured as they faced Forge in the first-ever CPL final, which was a two-legged affair between them and Forge, who accumulated an impressive 56 points across both seasons, finishing 22 points ahead of third place York.
Unfortunately, for Cavalry, they wouldn’t be able to conjure up the magic required to win across that tie, however, as Forge edged out two impressive 1-0 wins, including one in the second leg in Calgary, doing well to withstand Cavalry’s pressure along the way.
Since then, Forge has gone on to make the final every year, winning two more of them, while Cavalry hasn’t even been back since.
So as they push to return to that first final in four years, Camargo is using that as fuel, having had the pain of that defeat stick with him ever since, something he’ll look to share with the rest of his squad.
“For sure, myself, Marco, Tommy, and even Nick Ledgerwood on our coaching staff, we will just try to share the feelings and the emotions that we felt in 2019,” Camargo admitted. “And share our experiences so that everybody who may be new to this experience of hosting a final or hosting a semi-final at home can give a boost so they can be as prepared as they can be and so our team comes out flying in the playoffs.”
Before then, however, Camargo will also enjoy the thrill of victory, as he also knows how hard it is to experience that in this sport, as it’s never easy to be crowned a champion, be it of a regular season campaign, the playoffs, a cup or other.
Many great players go a whole career without lifting a trophy, so when Camargo and his teammates get the chance to lift the CPL Shield in their last regular season game on October 7th at ATCO Field, they’ll certainly make sure to enjoy it.
GOAL🐎🐎🐎— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) June 11, 2023
Just like that the Cavs are flying!! Sergio Camargo scores a simple header to give @CPLCavalryFC a 3-1 lead over @vanfootballclub
Could we see a repeat of last week?🤔
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/xnMK45GRqB
Then, it’ll be back to business as usual, as they look to show that this Cavalry team can also get it done in the playoffs.
As a CPL OG, Camargo is looking to enjoy every step of the way, too, helping his team get to that promised land that they’ve waited so long to get to.
“It's been a great last couple of days, I’m just trying to soak it all in,” Camargo finished. “We’ve won (the regular season) before in the past in 2019, but this feels a bit different (with the trophy) and more meaningful with the Concacaf Champions Cup spot that we wanted.”
“Still, I think everyone is on the same page in terms of trying to enjoy the moment and relish it for now, but at the same time stay hungry because we know there's still so much to play for.”