June 27, 2021. Forge FC vs. Valour. First-Half. Valour FC celebrates after Austin Ricci scores a first-half goal
“We know we have a strong supporting cast. It didn’t really matter about the outside noise; we had a gameplan and it worked well.” | Valour FC 2, Forge FC 0
June 27, 2021
They refused to refer to it as a statement win or, for that matter, one of the most-significant victories in the young history of Valour FC.
Instead, Valour FC boss Rob Gale and forward Austin Ricci simply referred to Sunday’s 2-nil win over the two-time defending Canadian Premier League champion Forge FC at IG Field as merely the first of the 2021 season.
But… talk about your buzz kill.
Look, in every respect the message Valour delivered during and after Sunday’s victory matched their description: it was a win and three points in the first of eight matches inside the CPL’s Kickoff bubble.
But given the opponent, given that the team’s defending was so resolute and the concerns about where the goals might come from was answered inside the first 26 minutes, well, to the outsiders this looked and felt like much more than just a garden-variety ‘W.’
“It feels great. Everyone in our locker room believes in ourselves,” began Ricci in a post-match media Zoom call. “We know we have a strong supporting cast. It didn’t really matter about the outside noise; we had a gameplan and it worked well.”
Ricci was one of many standouts for Valour in the season opener as he drew a yellow card on a challenge by Dejan Jankovic inside the Forge box that led to the first goal – a penalty kick marker by Moses Dyer.
It was simply a sensational performance for a player that generated so many chances at last year’s Island Games but couldn’t find the back of the net.
“He’s a terrific lad. He’s a great character, he’s a terrific player,” said Gale. “I know he’s a terrific player. I defended him last year when he didn’t score goals, I defended him this year when he scores goals. He’s a leader for us. He won the penalty, scored one and then set up Sean (Rea) with a gilt-edge chance. He was a threat all game long.
“… I was just pleased for him that he broke the duck and we’re expecting big things from him this season. I have full confidence and belief in that boy.”
In fact, it could be said Ricci’s goal celebration – he ran toward the sideline after scoring while plugging his ears with his fingers – might be the perfect gesture overall for a team trying to silence its doubters and critics this season.
“There’s just a lot of outside noise,” Ricci said of the celebration. “A lot of comments, a lot of critics but, it’s expected, right? A little unlucky last year so this year hopefully we get a little bit different of an opinion.”
Shorthanded to start the season with newcomers Rafael Galhardo and Rodrigo Reyes not yet available and with Arnold Bouka Moutou still in France, Valour’s back line was further impacted by an injury to fullback Brett Levis in the 39th minute.
Freshly-signed Andy Baquero came in for relief of Levis and coupled with the dominant work of Andrew Jean-Baptise and Stefan Cebara in the middle of the back line and Federico Pena at left back – plus the work of rookie goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois, celebrating his 20th birthday and the solid play of the midfield – Valour authored its first clean sheet of the season.
“In the room, nothing changes,” said Gale if the result helps growth the team’s collective confidence. “We want to win back-to-back matches, we haven’t done that (in any of the previous seasons).
“It’s just one game and it fuels the fire to win again and win again. So, the lads can enjoy it. Everyone sends you messages when you win, nobody sends you messages when you lose. I’m pleased for the boys. Respect to them, give the credit to them. They’re the ones who executed the gameplan. It’s Xs and Os without the players and they executed to a man today.
“We’re facing the defending champs. I don’t care what anybody else says outside the room. We’ll worry about ourselves and build from this.
“It’s just one game and three points. It’s nothing to go parading down Portage Ave on unicycle even if I was allowed.”
‘V’ NOTES -A salute to the members of the Valour Army who might not have been allowed in the stadium, but gathered outside Gate 2 to cheer on the team during the warmup and stayed for the full game while watching the game on one of the IG Field jumbotrons.
“They were magnificent,” said Gale. “They were social-distanced wearing a mask in 27 degrees, bouncing up and down for an hour… I mean, brilliant. Tell me another club that has that.”
Next: Valour FC vs. HFX Wanderers, Wednesday, June 30th, 6 p.m. IG Field.