“It felt like a Band of Brothers who had been together forever.”

It was never about the hotel, visiting the nearby vineyards or exploring all the sites around the Centro De Estágios De Melgaco in Portugal.

This was a business trip for Valour FC, after all, and after returning this week from their 10-day trip to Europe they are energized and tighter as a team – two factors especially important for an outfit that has undergone more change than any other in the Canadian Premier League.

The next step is cranking up preparations for their 2024 season opener in Vancouver on April 14th.

“The truth is the real character of every individual is going to be revealed now,” said Valour FC GM and head coach Phillip Dos Santos in a chat with “The honeymoon is over. Everything starts counting now. This is the moment when I have to pick an 18 (dress roster) and I have to pick a starting lineup.

“But what the preseason in Portugal gave us was a foundation to build an identity and a family environment that we wanted to see.”

In addition to training outdoors and on grass pitches, Valour did see some preseason action, including a match against Liexoes, a Portuguese second division club, as Dos Santos experimented with his lineup. As for the preseason results, Dos Santos grinned. “The results were good,” he said, “because nobody got injured.”

Pressed for more detail, he added: “The competition was good. It was exactly what we needed. The team grew a lot in our identity and the principles we want to acquire and that was the objective.

“The results, for me, are very irrelevant because of the context – we manipulated the games to get guys to connect with each other, but with our main goal making sure we got through this with managing the loads perfectly.

“We never went full out with what we think the biggest strength of this team could be because we were managing players physically. We were able to do that without having any setbacks, physically. We’ve actually got players coming back into the group and none going out. Looking at Week 7 of training, that’s very encouraging.”

Valour opens its 2024 season with seven consecutive road matches, including the opener in Vancouver, as the club traditional start away from home for weather reasons is further compounded by the new turf being implemented at Princess Auto Stadium.

The Portugal trip was part of the preparation to get the team battle-ready and travel-hardened by the opener and Dos Santos was thrilled with what he saw from his bunch.

“The guys were good in stepping into a new environment,” he said. “They had different food to adapt to, the weather – the first four days it was very hot, almost 30 degrees and the last five-six it was raining the entire time and 8-12 degrees.

“We played games warm weather and in cooler environments, too. It was good to see how the guys adapted and showed resilience. We got a lot out of it. This group is as close as it can get right now. It felt like a Band of Brothers who had been together forever.”

The team did take a day to travel to a beach in Spain, and the players were able to explore the region around their facility. As for a personal highlight, Dos Santos — who was born in Montreal but moved to Portugal when he was 10 – simply smiled before offering a hint at his all-in intensity.

“Come on, you know me,” he said. “The highlight, for me, is always about what’s happening on the field. My highlight was watching the guys when we arrived. They looked like kids when they saw this perfect pitch of natural grass and they knew this is where we were going to be for 10 days for training. It was those moments that were most important – more than the hotel, the food – for me, it’s always about what we do on the pitch.

“And now we continue to build for the start of the season, which is just around the corner. I say this because I know when you start waking up earlier because your head is more active on what’s happening that means the season is kicking in.

“This is where we’re at. It’s exciting.”