There’s something good there. Rob Gale sees it. And so do his Valour FC charges.
The first two weeks of their existence in the Canadian Premier League have been a whirlwind, what with trips to Victoria and Calgary and (including Thursday night’s home date with Forge FC) five matches in the first 15 days of their schedule.
That has put the club into an early-season survival mode and forced them to fight through injuries and bumps and bruises that come with such a congested fixture list, and subsequently, a 2-2 start.
But in that, in all the lineup changes and the shifting of personnel all around the pitch, there have been moments of brilliance wrapped around the predictable rough periods that come with a new squad in a new league.
And it’s those moments the players are holding up as evidence a solid foundation is being built here.
“A bunch of us have made our pro debuts in the last four games,” began Dylan Sacramento. “There’s a lot of positives to take out of it. The two games that we lost, the two games that we won were all very different circumstances. It’s learning to improve every day.
“You see it in moments. In the Edmonton game there were times when we had the ball for two-three minutes and they couldn’t really take it off us. It was the same thing at times in the Halifax game. It’s now a matter of being more consistent with that and trusting each other in tight spaces. In Calgary we kind of shied away from playing our game, and so it’s having that belief that we can go in there and do the same thing.
“It’s just a matter of us staying comfortable and confident that we can do it, whether it’s at home or away, whether we’ve had rest or we’re tired. It’s remembering who we are.
“It’s going to come,” added Sacramento. “We’re four-five games into this. Brand new team. Brand new players. It’s going to take some time, but I know we’re on the right track.”
Valour FC’s 1-nil win over HFX Wanderers last Saturday provided the first home victory in club history, but also masked some areas that GM and head coach Rob Gale worked on addressing over the last few days. As he so eloquently put it earlier this week, ‘winning is the deodorant of sport – it covers all manner of smells.’
Added Assistant GM/coach Damian Rocke:
“You want to be positive. You want players to feel that (the win on Saturday) was a positive result. Absolutely it was. It was necessary. But, as any leader or coach or teacher or any kind of mentor you have to continue to be demanding and expect more from your players and I think that was exactly the situation.
“Yes, we got the result, but there were certain elements of the game we have to look at more objectively and say, ‘It was good, but X, Y and Z need to be better.’ That’s part of being a teacher.”
Valour FC will be facing a Forge FC squad that was hyped as one of the CPL’s best when the curtain lifted on the first season, but have a win, a draw and two losses in their first four games. Gale was asked a number of questions about Forge at Wednesday’s pre-game press conference, but the focus here is on what they are building, not what is unfolding in Steeltown.
“I would say we’re making progress, but we’re into our fifth game and we’ve had a few dozen training sessions,” said Rocke earlier this week. “To build a philosophy in a club in terms of style of play takes a while. That might take a year or two, in a way, because you have your core group of players that returns every year and they’ll already have an idea of the way we want to play.
“With 22-23 brand new players all coming from different systems and different philosophies, different regions of the world… we’re trying to bring that together, the qualities they bring as individuals, and then put that in to what we believe is our way of playing the game.”
Valour FC players continue to speak about building IG Field into a ‘fortress’, which is exactly the soccer equivalent of what you might think.
“It means we want to have this as a place where teams don’t want to come to play,” explained Sacramento. “You have ‘The Trench’ and Red River Rising that are so loud and so engaged in the game… I actually thought they were louder in the Halifax game than they were for the Edmonton game (the home opener) and to come off that four-game stretch, in the last 20-30 minutes when we really needed them they were there for us.
“That’s something that’s going to be difficult for teams to come in here and play.”
Forward Stephen Hoyle scored the first goal in Valour FC history, but has not seen any minutes in the last two matches. Here’s Gale when asked about that on Wednesday:
“We had a good chat with Steve. He’s a thinker and a careful player. It’s difficult coming halfway around the world, new team, coming off the back half of a season whereas others are coming in fresh, so he’s had to adjust to that and life. His girlfriend is here now and he’s starting to feel more settled.
“You can see little signs of him in training, that he’s starting to rebound and get to what we know he’s capable of. What we know is he’s been a goal scorer. You look at his last three years and he has 37 goals in 51 games. When he’s ready and he gets more opportunity we hope he’s ready to take them.
“We’ve had some good chats with Steve and none of us are worried about where he’s at. It’s just difficult when you’ve had to come off a season and start again.”