Goalkeeping is tough, but Carducci has built character in more ways than one.
Header Image: Tony Lewis | @prosportfoto, approved for use on Goalkeeper.com by Cavalry FC.
The extreme scrutiny that goalkeepers are put under and the position’s unique nature mean a very specific sort of person is required for the role. Sometimes, it there is an element of natural gravitation towards the posts for that sort of person and Marco Carducci is one of them. This character has proven important not only in the 26-year-old’s career, but also his life off the pitch.
“I've been told when I was four or five years old, when my older brother and I were playing, I was the one who always wanted to go in goal,” Carducci begins his story, speaking exclusively to Goalkeeper.com. “Maybe over time the story's gotten a little bit twisted, but when I was getting a little bit older and taking soccer a bit more seriously, I put the gloves on and just fell in love with it.”
That isn’t to say that the Canadian’s route to the professional game was an easy one. In what he admits is “a common experience for goalkeepers”, Carducci initially struggled for game time at MLS side Vancouver Whitecaps and USL outfit Rio Grande Valley. As he puts it: “To get minutes is the most important thing, but to get minutes is also one of the most difficult things, so it's a bit of a paradox.”
The answer was to return to his home city, Calgary, representing Calgary Foothills for a year before joining Cavalry FC ahead of the inaugural Canadian Premier League campaign in 2019. Before then, Canada didn’t have its own professional league. “I feel fortunate because this opportunity passed a lot of players,” Carducci says. “I know a lot of older guys who never had the opportunity to play professionally in their home country. I'm honoured to help build the CPL. I think it would be really cool to look back again years down the road and say we were those first players who were there.”
Despite there being “a lot of unknowns” going into the maiden campaign, Carducci and Cavalry got off to an impressive start. Arguably the biggest achievement was beating the goalkeeper’s former club Vancouver Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship, something Carducci feels “really put the league on the map”. In addition, Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s side won the CPL regular season before losing out to Forge in the play-off final.
Individually, Carducci won the Goalkeeper of the Year award for the 2019 CPL season. “I got a lot of clean sheets that year but it's not all just me. I owe a lot of thanks to the guys in front of me,” he says, humbly. “I think it was really important for myself individually but also the league and the players and our club to show this is real. It wasn't perfect, but we proved that professional football should be in this country.”
The league faced many of the same obstacles experienced across the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the 2020 regular season being comprised of seven matches each in a bubble, while the 2021 season also began without fans in attendance. However, as he world began to emerge from the other side of the Pandemic, Carducci was handed a very different challenge in February 2022.
“I was feeling great,” he says, speaking a day shy of a year after being diagnosed with testicular cancer. “I was in pre-season training but I started to notice a different feeling, kind of an ache, and I thought this is strange. Fortunately, it was good timing with pre-season where I was like, 'Can you check this out doc?' I'm grateful that we got on it so soon, but before I knew it, I was diagnosed.”
He continues: “Obviously, that's a whirlwind of emotions, you don't really know what's going on. You're kind of in survival mode because you're afraid and you don't know what's happening. Thankfully, I had such great support around me to guide me through that process. Within a matter of 48 hours I was diagnosed, I was at the hospital, I had my operation and I was on my way home. It all happened in the blink of an eye.”
A statement was put out about the diagnosis. “There's a stigma around it and it's a difficult subject to speak about. But it was almost that exact thing that made me say I need to speak about it, not only for myself, but for the people around me.
“When it comes to testicular cancer, it is the most common cancer for young men - the age range kind of varies but centres between 15 and 35. If you look around a football locker room at a professional level, we're all in that age range, mostly. This happened to me, and it could have been anybody else in the league, in my locker room. So, I thought the value in me sharing that story to promote the awareness - which is very important to me now - was a no-brainer.”
Carducci recalls that “the response was overwhelming in the best way possible”. He adds: “the outpouring of love and support that I received from my immediate community, friends, family, fans of the team, but also the wider community locally, the football community and the country even, it was a lot.”
After going home, Carducci’s mind “immediately shifted” to getting back onto the pitch, going through rehab to ensure he was both physically and mentally ready to compete again. “I needed to ensure that I was healthy and ready to play,” he says. “You layer on the context of a cancer diagnosis and there was a lot of uncertainty. With what's going on, you're now all of a sudden getting check-ups regularly, which I still am, so there was that mental layer which was challenging.”
There was still plenty of help on offer, with the goalkeeper explaining that "as a professional footballer, I realised I'm in a position not a lot of people are, where I have a physio, an athletic therapist, a team doctor, a strength and conditioning coach who are all working to craft a programme and timeline for me to ensure that I'm healthy and ready to play as soon as possible. So, I kind of left it to them.”
Even so, there was plenty of hard work to be done. “My first couple of exercises was laying on the floor and just squeezing my abs together to build that strength in there again. That was it,” he recalls. “It was walking and putting my knee up and then a couple of weeks later I was doing some jogging and moving and then it was falling and hitting the floor.
“As a goalkeeper, we put our bodies in all sorts of positions. I think the hardest part was to ensure that I was in a position that if I had to go and make a block save, a spread or flying out on a one v one, am I in a position that everything is healed and strong enough to do that? It went really well and ran very smoothly and I'm fortunate that I was able to make a pretty quick recovery.”
Carducci looks back on the “incredible” support from goalkeeper coach Jordan Santiago, describing how "up to that point, he had been my coach for over five years, so we have an incredibly close relationship. When something like that happens, the bond deepens even further. It goes beyond football, beyond goalkeeping.”
There were also his fellow goalkeepers. “We know in the goalkeepers' union that the bond there is special; it is unique,” Carducci says. “To be able to share that with them the whole year, but especially in that time when I was just getting back in and the boys were two or three weeks into pre-season, was important. They're flying all over the place and I'm just catching a couple of volleys and not moving and they were catering to what I needed at the time. I'm so fortunate that they were so supportive.”
Having been diagnosed in mid-February, Carducci made his return to CPL action on May 1st, meaning he only missed three matches – from which Cavalry had taken one point – and was taking part in the team’s first home game of the year. Facing the previous campaign’s North Star Shield winners, Pacific FC, Carducci was part of a 2-0 victory that kicked off an 11-game unbeaten streak in the league.
“The last couple of minutes was just incredible,” he says looking back at that match. “I have pictures and videos of the guys surrounding me after and hugging and celebrating the win. It was so emotional, all those feelings came back where I was glad we won, happy to get my first clean sheet of the season, but just to be out there with those guys, to be in front of the fans. It was special.”
Surreal and grateful are the words that arose when Carducci reminisced on last season as whole, especially as he won his second Goalkeeper of the Year award at the end of the 2022 season. “Goalkeeping is such an interesting position because we're so unique in many ways, and there's challenges and pressures and it's a mentality that's so different from any other player on the pitch. But the whole experience taught me to just go out there and enjoy it.”
He adds that 'to be able to go out on the pitch and just play in front of my family and friends and to play football for 90 minutes and to be paid for it, a game that I love, it shifted my perspective. That was something I'm trying to take into this season as well. It was incredible and I couldn't have done it without people from my partner who was there every step of the way to my teammates, my coaching staff, Jordan Santiago, all the guys, and everybody that was involved.”
Ahead of the 2023 campaign, Carducci is now enjoying a full pre-season for the first time since before the pandemic. “I almost forgot what it was like,” he admits. “It makes such a difference to get those games, to build up your training load to get up to match speed.”
The hope is that this will be the foundation for Carducci and Cavalry to have a successful fifth CPL season, which has “lots on the line”. He would “love to add another goalkeeper of the year”, while Cavalry “want to be champions” and “winning the regular season has an added significance now where that gets you into CONCACAF Champions League”.
There is also a longer-term ambition for Carducci: representing Canada when they co-host the 2026 World Cup. The 26-year-old has previously played in an U17 World Cup, represented other Canadian youth teams and been called up to senior camps, although he hasn’t yet made a first-team appearance.
“In 2026, I'll be going on 30, so it's a good time for a goalkeeper, just entering your prime. It's always been something that is on my mind,” he says. “I think every player, everybody involved in the game - myself included - looks at those next milestones. For me, I want to be there and look at what I have to do between now and then to do that. It's a long way to go but it's exciting times for sure.”
Carducci is not just a goalkeeper. He’s used his platform to become president of PFA Canada, take up roles with KidSport Calgary and Area and Calgary Villains to help local children get involved in sport, in addition to doing advocacy and awareness work around cancer.
Carducci has undoubtedly overcome a lot already to be in his current position and has plenty more to achieve in the unique world of goalkeeping. This could only be the beginning of a story with many more unique chapters to write.