During a dominant 2023 in which they won the Canadian Premier League regular season by 13 points, while scoring the league’s most goals (46) and allowing the fewest (just 27), Cavalry FC consolidated their place as the best regular season team in league history.
Having earned a spot in the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup through that performance, Cavalry know this off-season they will need to add depth and quality for their first foray into continental competition against the best teams in the region. In light of that, they have consulted a familiar playbook. What will likely stand as their biggest off-season signing comes with a distinct profile that has been key to the Calgary club’s success.
Over the past few seasons, Cavalry have found significant value by adding players from within the league. Players like Ali Musse (formerly Valour), Maël Henry (Vancouver FC), Shamit Shome (FC Edmonton), Fraser Aird (FC Edmonton), and William Akio (Valour via Ross County) were all significant contributors for the regular season winners in 2023.
Their latest intraleague addition, announced on Tuesday, is former Valour FC captain Diego Gutiérrez. The signing of the 26-year-old midfielder, who has 79 games of CPL experience and has already proven to be one of the league’s premier midfielders, has the potential to take an already exceptional Cavalry side to an even higher level in 2024.
“We felt we needed another high-quality midfield player to add a different dimension to our squad and give us depth centrally,” said Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. in a press release. “Guti fits that profile, as he is an intelligent all-phases midfielder that is excellent on both sides of the ball, with an exceptional range of passing. He is also a player that can fit in all three roles within the midfield, which is rare and highly beneficial for us.”
As Wheeldon Jr. mentioned, Gutiérrez is all-action, but what stands out most about the midfielder is his calm ability on the ball to pick the right pass. The 26-year-old rarely loses possession, with an 86.22 passing percentage on 1,415 passes in 2023, the eighth-most attempted in the league. He played the fourth-most passes into the box in the league (141) and finished with the second-most chances created of any player, with 48.
In doing so, Gutiérrez somehow managed only to record one official assist for a Valour side that scored the fewest goals (25) of any in the league this past season. Joining Cavalry, who scored nearly twice as many times this past season (46), would suggest that more of those chances he creates will be converted in 2024.
With Valour, Gutiérrez was able to provide that influence from multiple positions throughout the midfield, which will fit Cavalry’s tactically and positionally fluid squad incredibly well. He has always been a smart footballer capable of reading and adapting to different situations — making him a dream signing for Wheeldon Jr.
What Gutiérrez added to his game in 2023, however, was more of an offensive influence. After failing to find the back of the net in his first three seasons in the league, the midfielder scored four times in 2023. Challenged to play more offensively by Valour head coach Phil Dos Santos, Gutiérrez took 21 shots — his previous career high in the CPL being 10 in 2022.
One such goal, which he scored against York United in September, shows exactly what makes Gutiérrez such an exciting signing for Cavalry. With York’s Clément Bayiha rushing the other way, Gutiérrez wins the ball back, quickly plays a simple pass into the path of Valour forward Walter Ponce, before running into the box and finishing off the chance with a stunning outside-of-the-boot strike.
Another aspect of Gutiérrez’s game that will be right at home in Calgary is his ability from set-piece situations. Assistant coach Leon Hapgood and the Cavalry team have earned a deserved reputation as the dead-ball destroyers of the Canadian Premier League, as they are the league’s best at scoring from free kicks and corners. This past season, Gutiérrez led the CPL with 36 successful crosses, as well as a league-leading 26 chances created from set-pieces.
When his team is without the ball, Gutiérrez is no less impactful. He finished third in the league in terms of possession won this past season, doing so 167 times. Gutiérrez wisely chooses his moments to get stuck into tackles, winning 30 this past season, with a 75 per cent success rate.
All this combines to make ‘Guti’ an exciting addition for the 2023 CPL Shield winners. He will join a quality central midfield corps that already includes the likes of Jesse Daley, Shamit Shome and Sergio Camargo for 2024. In doing so, he will look to become just the latest CPLer to elevate their game while wearing the red shirt of Cavalry FC.
All highlights courtesy of OneSoccer