They have been revving their engine for days now, waiting for the green light from the Canadian Premier League to stomp down on the gas pedal.
Yet with every passing training session, the men who make up the 2020 edition of Valour FC are all seeing the same thing, namely their transformation into a team and the chemistry that goes along with that.
Of course that will mean zilch if and when the CPL season gets underway, but it’s better to be encouraged right now by what they are seeing than discouraged.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen is the chemistry we’ve built, both on and off the field,” began Valour FC goalkeeper James Pantemis in a chat with valourfootball.club this week. “Guys are holding each other accountable for everything, from technical mistakes to all the little things that help make a team strong.
“We’re all on the same page, we all have a common goal and that’s to prove everybody wrong. We’re all optimistic to get the season started.”
That’s been a common sentiment in the Valour camp dating back to the winter. The massive overhaul of the roster – which also included the departures of stars from the inaugural season like Marco Bustos, Michael Petrasso, Louis Béland-Goyette and Tyler Attardo, among others – has left many CPL pundits predicting Valour will be hard pressed to improve on last year’s record.
“I’ve been in football a long time. I don’t read or listen to a lot of stuff,” said Valour FC GM and head coach Rob Gale. “Nobody sees how we train or how we interact with players and the quality of players we have in our organization.
“People are there to speculate, absolutely. That’s their job to create stories… full power to them. But I know what we’re trying to build for Manitoba and what we’re investing in these guys for their futures. It’s about the development of Canadian football and that will always be at the forefront of our decision making.
“As a coach you should have that daily excitement. That’s what gets me out of bed every morning. And there’s a ton of potential with this group, as there was with the group last year.”
The exit of talent in the offseason didn’t mean quality players weren’t coming through the Valour FC locker room doors, either. That influx of new talent includes Pantemis, Arnold Bouka Moutou, Daryl Fordyce, Stefan Cebara, Fraser Aird, Brett Levis, Moses Dyler, Shaan Hundal, Masta Kacher, Austin Ricci, Matt Silva and Andrew Jean-Baptiste.
“From the first day I signed and saw what we had and then the guys that came in afterward… I was like, ‘Oh crap… that’s another amazing bonus we just added to our team,’” said Jean-Baptiste, a former first-round draft choice of the Portland Timbers.
“I can’t speak for what the other teams have, but I know we have a strong 11 and a strong bench. That’s comforting going into these matches.”
The CPL is about more than developing Canadian talent. It’s also about offering opportunities for players seeking quality playing time, for those trying to kickstart a career after bouncing around from club to club or for those coming off an injury.
This Valour FC squad looks to have all of that and then some. And that could be a powerful combination if the CPL season gets underway.
“We’ll want that start date to circle something on the calendar and get ready to get going,” said Pantemis. “But (the waiting) isn’t affecting us that much. We’re very optimistic there will be a season, but we can’t control when the start date might be. We can control what goes on the field and getting ourselves ready for when that day comes.
“We’re underdogs, and I think one of the best things is to be the underdog because there’s not as much pressure. People might think there would be pressure because the team is not expected to do well. But for the team it’s an extra boost, it’s an extra sense of wanting to show not just the rest of the league but ourselves that we’re capable of doing it. We’re thriving on that right now. It’s going to be a good year. I have a good feeling about it.”