BY MICHAEL WALLWORK
GROSSE POINTE WOODS – Claudio Cavallo was kicking a soccer ball before he could even walk very well.
“It’s not anything crazy, but ever since I was a kid my parents would always be holding me up and I would be kicking a little ball around since I was three or four years old. I didn’t play soccer yet, but I think that’s what initially got me engaged,” said Cavallo, the talented senior soccer standout at Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett.
Fast forward to 2023 and Cavallo is enjoying one fine encore season for the Division 4 top-ranked Knights – and the standout has one last postseason run left before his high school career comes to an end. Cavallo and the Knights will host Sterling Heights Parkway Christian (1-15-0) at 4 p.m. on Oct. 17 in a district semifinals match.
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Cavallo and Liggett enter the postseason this year in an eerily similar position as last year. In 2022, the Knights were 14-0-1 in the regular season, went undefeated in the Catholic High School League winning both an Intersectional-1 Division crown and the Cardinal Championship Tournament, and finished the regular season ranked second in Division 4 where they had positioned almost all year.
This year the Knights were 14-1-1 in the regular season, went unbeaten in the CHSL-Intersectional while capturing another division title and another Cardinal Championship. Liggett has been ranked No. 1 in the state since the second week of the season. Cavallo and his talented teammates have outscored the opposition 55-7 this season with 13 shutouts, including a stretch in the middle of the season with nine straight shutouts.
But that is where the Knights want the similarities to end. Last year’s team became a district semifinals casualty in the state tournament, losing a shootout to Birmingham Roeper in a very deep district field.
So Cavallo and the Knights re-tooled this season.
Cavallo was All-State First Team last year in Division 4 as a forward. But the Knights purposely moved him to attacking midfield this year in an effort to change the dynamic of their attack.
“He’s really assumed a completely different role this year,” said Liggett head coach David Dwaihy. “For years, he was our go-to guy for goals. He was on the finishing end of everything. He always had that creative ability, but he was the one who put it in the back of the net. This year, it’s almost like he’s completely shifted his focus. He’s still scoring plenty of goals as his stats would suggest. But he’s really become more creator. We put him in the midfield a little bit more often than we used to. Back in the day, if we put him in the midfield, it was because he wasn’t getting enough of the ball. Now, we put him in the midfield because he’s going to make everyone around him better.”
One beneficiary of that change has been Cavallo’s long time running mate up top Cass Cooley. The pair first met at Eastside Stars when they were in seventh grade. After both moved on to Detroit City FC’s development team, they eventually found their way to Liggett to play high school soccer. All that time together is paying off this year. Cavallo once again lead the team in scoring with 21 goals and 12 assists. Cooley has 16 goals and 10 assists, and as a pair they have either scored or assisted on 47 of Liggett’s 55 goals this year.
The overall end product is a more dynamic offense that the Knights hope will be harder to stop now that the state tournament is here – enabling them to make a deep run.
“We had a really balanced team last year, but our attack was a little bit more one dimensional than it needed to be. Cass was coming into his own last year as well, but I think we relied pretty heavily on Claudio for goals. This year, he’s creating as much as he’s scoring. As a midfield player, he’s also making sure that everybody is talking the ball in our attacking six,” said Dwaihy. “And the combination play has been a little bit more consistent. That’s one thing at the high school level, it’s hard to get a critical mass of players with that ability. And I think we have that this year. So we’re actually able to pass through the other team’s defense, rather than just give it to Claudio and hope he can run it through.”
And that’s the focus right now. Cavallo is undecided on where he will attend college or if he’ll play college soccer once he does commit to a school. But he will join some elite company at this prep season’s end. Cavallo will graduate as a rare four-time All-State player, making the All-State Third Team as a freshman, the All-State First Team the last two years and is a shoe-in for All-State First Team honors again this season. Being All-State First Team three straight years is also nearly unprecedented in Michigan high school soccer lore.
But the immediate future is the Division 4 postseason and trying to win a state title that has eluded Liggett since 1999, though the Knights did make an appearance in the final in 2019 when Cavallo was in the eighth grade. Liggett advanced to the regional finals in each of Cavallo’s first two years before going out in the district semifinals last fall.
“I think this year our team is so much stronger,” said Cavallo. “All I know is the team chemistry, the way we play, we just have so much more energy and motivation in each other, and I feel like confidence on the ball. So I’m really confident in our starting eleven and even players coming off the bench that they’ll put in the same amount of energy and give more.”