The original version of this article was published on Sept. 19. It has been amended to reflect the end of the 2019 season. To read the original article in French, CLICK HERE
CALGARY — A local boy making an impact for his home club. That’s the dream of so many soccer players, and it’s a dream that Calgary’s Dominick Zator is living.
The 25-year-old defender may have a soft-spoken demeanour, but he’s not shy talking about the incredible season that Cavalry FC enjoyed in 2019.
“Everything has been phenomenal so far,” Zator said, as his side approached the end of the 2019 campaign. “We won the Spring season, went to the semifinal in the Canadian Championship. Those are huge positives to work from. We’re still doing well in the fall season.
“Personally, things have been going well. I’ve scored a couple of goals. I’m just always happy to help the team out.”
Indeed, Zator has helped Cavalry out in big ways. He’s scored three of the club’s most iconic goals: the winner in its inaugural match versus York9 FC on a picturesque snowy day at Spruce Meadows, the team’s first-ever Canadian Championship goal in the opening leg of the first round, and perhaps the Cavs’ most memorable marker to date, a game-clinching tally versus the Vancouver Whitecaps at B.C. Place in the quarter-finals of the Canadian Championship.
“That first goal in the first game, all of my family is out there, all of my close friends, and to start the season out on a win and to be able to help out on that goal, it was an incredible moment, one that I didn’t think I could surpass,” he recalled of the May 4 affair at Spruce Meadows.
“That Whitecaps goal, though, that was the cherry on top. It was something really special. I was part of the Whitecaps USL team. It was a good experience, but to be able to come back and play against the Whitecaps first team in B.C. Place with that atmosphere to help us through to the semifinal, that was huge.”
He admits that a lot of that night in Vancouver is a blur, but he does remember celebrating with the Cavalry faithful who made the trek to the West Coast for the historic tilt.
“Once I saw the ball go into the net, my mind kind of went blank,” he said with a laugh. “I was losing it, but I knew I had to run over to our supporters who travelled all that way to be there supporting us, game in and game out. It was super special.”
Watching the highlights of his goals, you could dub them “Zator Specials” because they’ve all been headers on set pieces, with the defender using all of his towering six-foot-two presence to guide the ball into the back of the net.
“When I was younger, I used to play different positions. I was more of a winger, a centre midfielder. Then I went to fullback. I would score more goals in gameplay. Once I got into the centre-back position, there isn’t many chances you can just go up if it isn’t a set play. All of these set pieces are my chance to put the ball in the back of the net,” Zator said.
Scoring timely goals is just part of the multi-faceted role Zator plays in Calgary. He leads his squad in minutes played during league action, and he suited up in every second of Cavalry’s lengthy Canadian Championship run. He credits staying in a steady routine for keeping him fresh and ready, match in and match out.
“You’ve got to take care of things,” he explained. “Every game I go into, I have the mentality to go into it 110 per cent. Even if my body is aching a little bit, I forget about that. I just think about the game.”
He’s also quick to credit his teammates for his durability, especially fellow defenders Mason Trafford and Jonathan Wheeldon.
“They’re the older guys on the team, so they’ve got the experience. I’ve learned a lot from them,” he said. “When they play, they’re so committed to every tackle. They’re so composed on the ball. They’re two great people to look up to and to bring my game similar to theirs in a sense of making sure I’m composed on the ball and to work as hard as they do defensively. I think things have gone quite well so far because we’ve had a lot of clean sheets.”
Something Zator hopes to develop in the future is his leadership role. He’s worn the captain’s armband this season, and he’s trying to absorb as much as he can from the veterans around him.
“Nik [Ledgerwood] is a super good role model,” he said of the team’s skipper. “He speaks what’s on his mind. It’s very nice to have around because if you’re not doing your best in training, he’s the person that will motivate you to keep working, or if things aren’t going well, he’ll get after you to try to pick you up. He’s been through the game for many years. He’s got a lot of good experiences. He’s just trying to pass it on to all of us.”
For those efforts, Zator earned a call-up to John Herdman’s Canadian men’s national team for a fixture against the United States, too.
“Honestly, words can’t describe it,” Zator told CanPL.ca, of the call-up. “I’m overwhelmed, excited, and honoured, all that, combined. When I got that call, it was a rush of emotions through my whole body. I was at my girlfriend’s place, and Herdman called me up and just says he’s glad to tell me that I’ve been selected for the 23 players called up to the next camp. I couldn’t believe it. It was brilliant.”