The whirlwind week of kit reveals, ticket sales and a freak snowstorm on an April afternoon ends as Valour FC joined the rest of the Canadian Premier League in the Dominican Republic this weekend. Coach Rob Gale’s side will continue building for the inaugural season with the added challenge of a pre-season road trip and a chance to play some local teams in official matches.
Gale allowed me to pick his brain about the pre-season trip and what he is hoping to get out of it as the group touched down in the Caribbean.
Ryan Brandt: Most of the guys have been in Winnipeg for a while, getting used to the city and every experience of camp so far. Now it’s a new challenge, new surroundings and finally some matches against other squads in the Dominican. How exciting is this for you to see it all come together in time for the trip?
Rob Gale: Yeah, we’re down to it now with a league-wide pre-season and everything that’s going to be entailed with that – league meetings, meeting with the refs all those factors are going to be in, it’s vital for the preparations of each and every team. This gives us two tough games which we can’t get here domestically so we need that next challenge. As a club, we can hone in on some of the identity pieces, the team building, individual culture and stuff we’re bringing on as a staff and then start to build around that approach. The warm weather is going to be a welcome break as well.
RB: What do you want to accomplish while you are there?
Gale: I think for us now it’s really all about adding that off-the-field aspect, more team bonding. The fact that we’re away 24/7 there are no distractions. Some teams say that away games and trips can sometimes build that easier than home days. They can focus on their football with no pressure from the outside and get to know each other, eat together and even at the end of the day they’re still all together. We want to work on being a group and take it out onto the field.
RB: This is kind of unique for a pro team to build chemistry from scratch, your whole roster are first-year Valour FC players. And you’ve brought in groups of players with similar backgrounds: Players from South America, locals from Winnipeg, guys from Ontario. How have they handled coming together as a team and not have small groups form in the room?
Gale: They have all been good like that because they are all with different people in terms of apartments, you got the United Nations off the field. You got Callum (Ferguson) and trialist Louis (Beland-Goyette) looking for a place together, one from Scotland the other Quebec. Stephen Hoyle (England) is living with Josip Golubar (Croatia). As staff we’re just making sure to vary up the tables every meal and change the groups in meetings.
But, I think the biggest piece is we got great leaders, Tyson Farago, the two Dylan’s (Sacramento and Carreiro) from Winnipeg along with Skylar Thomas Jordan Murrell and Josip Golubar. Lots of experience there. Now for each player, it’s going to be about finding your own identity. You have to ask yourself what does Valour Football Club mean to you? What are you going to bring to the table? For each player it’s different, the young guys get a certain amount of minutes so you’re going to be relied on in a different way than one of the veterans on the team. They are going to have to take ownership, be accountable to each other and themselves in terms of what they are going to bring in terms of that collective jigsaw puzzle. We will do a tonne of work on that and get them to find within what makes them tick, what they’re playing for, and what their hopes and dreams within that collective ideal are going to be.
RB: And now you add Stephen Hoyle to that mix. He seems to fill that pure centre forward role you’ve been missing. How much of the trip will be about finding a way to work him into the team?
Gale: He’s got players that have the ability to find him but they have to understand his movement, his runs. Does he like to drop into the pocket? Does he like to peel off the back shoulder or is he a fox in the box? That’s what they have to find out. We’re looking to find those player partnerships to understand all that. These other guys had a few weeks to do that so we can see that gelling and now Stephen has a month for all that. The same goes for Callum Ferguson we wanted to add him as well because while young Tyler Attardo is learning the ropes it’s important to have competition. It also gives us options up front, we could play with an extra centre forward or all three of them…if we need to.
RB: This trip is pretty neat for you and the coaches as well. You have connections to them all and will see them down there. What’s being said between you and guys like Stephen Hart (Halifax) and Jim Brennan (York9)?
Gale: We talk fairly regularly anyway and with the exception of Michael Silberbauer (Pacific FC), we have a lot of history so we have a lot of conversations. All of us are in on the league calls and we’re actually in a WhatsApp group which is always entertaining. But it’s good to catch up just see how the preseason is going. We’re all in the same boat and until we’ve all done it and are on the captain’s deck really steering the ship and charting a course, we can relate to each other – whether it be negotiating a contract, dealing with agents, the media, trying to build a brand. It all factors into our daily lives. We enjoy each other’s company and we look forward to getting together, haven’t seen them since the trials so a lot has happened.
RB: I’ve noticed it’s a little bit warmer in Punta Cana than Winnipeg…You know all about CONCACAF from your time with the national teams and the mental hurdles it sometimes presents. It’s a lot of travel, you could have some really hot days, torrential rain and a playing surface your players don’t know much about. What challenge does that add?
Gale: We’re lucky because the facilities in Cap Cana, called Los Establos, is kind of the Spruce Meadows of the Dominican Republic…so it’s going to be pretty good quality. For us, it’s more how do you deal with travel, heat, different food, different beds, the time change it’s all part of professional sport. Sometimes adversity is the best revealer of character so it will be good for the group dealing with these things together and staying positive.
RB: And you’ll see your team in a real game next week, you’re going to be playing your first official friendlies in the Dominican Republic. What is the most important thing you want to get out of those games?
Gale: I think the biggest test is now you have better players up against you, real pressure on the ball. We have clean technical players buying into what to do but in intrasquad or a training game it’s not the same as when you’ve got people not holding back, putting tackles in, boots are flying, are we going to stick to our principles? Can we play the game how we want to play? It’s like the old adage of pressure creating diamonds we want to see if they will be a top quality diamond.