The lessons learned in soccer are often those which come the hard way – after losses, through the disappointing draws and fighting through all the lows that come in any season.
Phillip Dos Santos and Valour FC are certainly a testament to that dating back to late last year and though the first few weeks of the Canadian Premier League season, as the club has had to fight and scratch for points through its first three matches despite an ever-changing roster that has already been hammered by injuries.
Yet here they are entering Saturday’s home date with HFX Wanderers tied with defending CPL champs Forge FC atop the CPL tables with five points on a one and two draws.
“This is a resilient group, a group you know is going to fight back, that wants to win,” said Dos Santos, Valour’s GM and head coach, after a training session this week. “They’re relaxed. They don’t get into games too excited or too nervous and that’s what I want them to be about – to be a balanced team.
“That’s a big sign of maturity.”
Valour has been without veteran centre back Andrew Jean-Baptiste all season due to injury and then lost newcomer Matthew Chandler, also a centre back, in training prompting the addition of Kleidi Cela, who played well in last week’s 1-1 draw with Cavalry FC in Calgary. During that game the club also lost Guillaume Pianelli, who has been so steady in his first few CPL games.
CPL vets Marcello Polisi and Jordan Haynes and newcomer Eskander Mzoughi have all have yet to make their Valour debuts.
“It’s been incredible the way we’ve been able to adapt with such low numbers in training,” said left back Matteo de Brienne. “We’re fighting for the guys who aren’t able to be on the field with us and make sure that by the time they’re back we’re where we need to be.
“Day in, day out it’s us taking the right mentality to have everyone support everyone. We know we have the players, and we know that when we get everyone back, we could be some trouble for the league.”
After opening with two of three on the road, Valour will look to extend an eight-match home unbeaten streak – five wins, three draws – that dates back to last season.
“So far, so good and let’s hope we can carry on and even in difficult moments be able to accumulate points,” said Dos Santos. “Now we’re coming back home. We’ve earned four points out of a possible six on the road, but those mean nothing if we’re not able to get our maximum points at home.”
-Dos Santos said he hopes to have Samake and Mzoughi available on Saturday but did not have an update on Pianelli or midfielder Raphael Ohin.
“It’s not all dark,” he said. “Let’s put it like that.”
-Last season de Brienne played up front for Valour, but he’s been a revelation at left back since the change.
“I’ve really enjoyed the process of this change,” he said. “The coaching staff and my teammates have put a lot of trust in me being in a different role and that’s really helped me grow as a person and as a player.
“Now that I have that trust from everyone, it’s really made the game very positive for me.”