“There are no first-team players, reserve players, players that have prioritized minutes… it’s just battling with the team”

Dante Campbell’s first stint with Valour FC and in the Canadian Premier League was memorable, albeit for all sorts of unique and bizarre reasons.

The club announced the signing of the centre back/midfielder today and it means the 23-year-old Toronto product will return to Winnipeg and the CPL — although his initial experience would hardly be called a full-meal deal.

First loaned to Valour from Toronto FC, Campbell suited up for the club for just five matches during the CPL’s abbreviated 2020 ‘season’ – the Island Games tournament bubble that came at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – and essentially lived out of a suitcase for his entire stint.

“Weird year. I just remember it happening so fast,” began Campbell in a chat with from his offseason home in Toronto. “It was like I wasn’t even there because I was in Winnipeg for maybe a week or two and right after that we went to PEI and then that was it. I never really got to feel settled or even feel like I was actually there.

“Things happened rapidly; things happened unexpectedly and then it was over.”

Campbell returned to TFC II in 2021 and then spent last year with the L.A. Galaxy II. But he always remained on Valour’s radar.

“We know he liked it here, although he never really even had the chance to sit in his house here in Winnipeg,” said Valour GM and head coach Phillip Dos Santos. “He’s a player who has progressed a lot since he was first here. He’s never stopped playing and he’s been in very good environments, and he’s matured. For us, that’s exciting.”

The Valour coaching staff also likes Campbell’s versatility – he was a defensive midfielder during his first run with the club but played a ton of centre back in his 30 matches and 937 minutes with the Galaxy II squad. Dos Santos and the coaching staff made some calls to their MLS connections about Campbell and then watched a ton of film on him.

“We were looking at another player for the midfield, but we wanted someone with versatility that could help the team in other areas of the pitch,” said Dos Santos. “Dante’s name came up and I reached out to his circle. He was sitting on a few opportunities, but that’s when we started the normal process of doing our homework.

“We knew about his character because our staff, and in Daryl’s case (Fordyce, assistant coach) he had played with him. There was no doubt in our heads that he fit with what we are doing and when we started watching video, we liked what we saw with him.”

Campbell’s five-match inaugural run with Valour did leave a favourable impression. He cited former Valour players Moses Dyer and Brett Levis as influential during the Island Games but was particularly complimentary of Raphael Ohin and Andrew Jean-Baptiste.

“All those guys… yeah it was a tough time back then but there was a task at hand, and they helped me make the transition in weird and unusual times,” Campbell said. “Knowing that some of those guys are still around and after having conversations with Phil I felt comfortable that this is the place for me in this moment and a place where I feel I can thrive.”

Returning to Valour and the CPL potentially opens some doors for Campbell. Now he won’t be part of a parent club which can dictate – both negatively and positively – the role a player has and the minute he plays. With Valour Campbell will simply get what he earns.

“I was part of two historically great clubs,” he said. “Those years helped me mature as a player and as a person, being close to some great players and seeing their habits on and off the field.

“These past couple of years haven’t been seasons that you would necessarily dream of, but they have given me tools. Now I’m at an independent club where there are no first-team players, reserve players, players that have prioritized minutes… it’s just battling with the team. The last couple of years have given me the tools to move on and deal with things in a better manner when things don’t go your way, or even when they do go your way to maintain a level of performance. It’s been very helpful, and I think that experience will be very important in my next couple years of development.”