Watch OneSoccer’s hour-long review of Valour FC’s Island Games campaign at OneSoccer.ca.
Valour FC entered their second season of existence wounded but healing.
They left wounded again.
Running the joint Wooden Spoon winners in the 2019 Canadian Premier League season, coach Rob Gale had his work cut out for him. First-year standouts Marco Bustos (Pacific FC), Michael Petrasso (York United FC), and Louis Béland-Goyette (HFX Wanderers FC) jumped ship, setting up a difficult season.
While the 2020 campaign wasn’t exactly ideal – or expected, considering the COVID-19 pandemic – for the Winnipeg side, it turned out much better than previously expected.
While not as impressive as their fellow Wooden Spoon-winning side HFX Wanderers FC’s 2020 turnaround, credit is still due for Valour’s rebound from their Year 1 performance. Valour was a prickly proposition in PEI, and proved many critics wrong as a tough defensive opponent. A final day chance at the second round will be seen as a success in Winnipeg.
High-profile signings like Fraser Aird, Brett Levis, and Arnold Bouka Moutou turned heads this Spring, as Gale assembled a new core in Manitoba’s capital.
The COVID-19 pandemic scuttled early pre-season plans, with Gale continuing to assemble his team in the background. By the time The Island Games rolled around, Valour had 20-odd players signed and only seven returnees from their 2019 roster. A big turnover, even with Panamanian centre-back Amir Soto unable to travel to Canada due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Valour began their PEI campaign unceremoniously with a 2-0 defeat to Finals 2019 runners-up Cavalry FC. Gale was happy to get what he called the hardest game of the season out of the way, but the Winnipeggers failed to record a shot on target – a misstep that was corrected a few days later with the team’s biggest win in club history: a 4-0 crushing of expansion side Atlético Ottawa.
“Everyone was telling us how rubbish we were after the first game,” Gale said in reference to Valour’s shot-less opener. “The guys wanted to prove a point, and I’m glad the fans have something to smile about.”
A listless stalemate against York9 FC, the only goalless draw of the Island Games, saw Valour’s defensive unit rise to the fore – a storyline that would follow the team throughout.
“If you defend well, you have a platform to go forward,” said Gale, who preached patience with his side’s quiet attacking core on the day.
“With the stability and the organization behind the ball, we have the chance to play the football I try to play… Last year we couldn’t get a settled back four, which didn’t help us and give us the platform to build forward.”
After losing to Pacific FC, Valour faced a critical tilt against FC Edmonton – and took all three points in a season-defining result. Daryl Fordyce converted a rebound off a penalty and, quite tastefully, refused to celebrate against his former team. Easton Ongaro grabbed a second-half equalizer which set up Masta Kacher’s dramatic one-hit volley that scorched the back of the net and gave the Winnipeg side life.
Life was good for Valour, who sat on the bubble for a top-four spot with two matches left: HFX Wanderers FC and Forge FC. But an ugly streak of injuries was slowly accumulating under the surface, and would soon rear its ugly head.
Valour had two-thirds of the ball against the Wanderers but, just as they looked to strike, the injuries mounted again. Jean-Baptiste left the game with an injury only for his replacement, Chakib Hocine, to do the same minutes later. Stefan Cebara also went down, joining a long list of injured players including Moutou, Levis, and Aird. The Wanderers took all three points that day and left Winnipeg needing a win against soon-to-be-champions Forge FC.
While they came close to Forge in a “magnificent” 2-2 draw, Gale couldn’t help but think what could have been.
“Injury after injury, Forge on a week’s rest…We gave it everything we got. We showed the courage and pride that we preach about in this organization.”
“Fraser Aird, Brett Levis, Raphael Ohin, Yohan Le Bourhis, and James Pantemis all played through knocks today,” Gale stated. “I can’t fault the lads. We didn’t think we would have 16 players today.”
Gale would surely lament the lack of goalscoring prowess, too. Valour scored eight goals in its seven matches, the goals coming from eight different players, and was held off the scoresheet in four out of their seven matches in PEI with a big win over Ottawa inflating an otherwise poor attacking output. Goalless strikers such as Shaan Hundal and Austin Ricci, despite being impressive in flashes, caught the ire of Valour faithful.
Ironically, the Winnipeggers left 2020 how they entered it: battered, bruised, and licking their wounds. But, unlike 2019, this side has a core to build around.
A total of 10 players have been re-signed for 2021, including standouts like Jean-Baptiste, Kacher, Levis, Ricci, and Moses Dyer. Gale is eyeing to retain two-thirds of his 2020 roster, meaning more players could be coming back.
It’s a promising omen with players ready to make Investors Group Field their home.
Valour just missed out on the top four, landing sixth in the table but remaining in it until the bitter end. Here’s how their 2020 looked, by the numbers:
Record (W-D-L): 2-2-3
Goals scored: 8
Goals against: 9
Goal Difference: -1
Top scorer: Eight-way tie (1)
Assist leader: Shaan Hundal, Brett Levis (2)
“Everyone was telling us how rubbish we were after the first game. The guys wanted to prove a point, and I’m glad the fans have something to smile about.” – Valour FC coach Rob Gale following their massive win over Ottawa.
“Misfortune… We’ll welcome all prayers because the football gods were not on our side today. Games are decided by tiny, tiny margins here. Anything can happen.” – Valour FC coach Rob Gale on pivotal loss to HFX Wanderers.
“There was also the optimism we left with after the bubble tournament. We felt like we left a lot of stuff unfinished and we want to bring back a lot of the same guys, and maybe a few extra pieces, so that we can have a bigger fight next season.” – Defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste.
Most memorable moment
Valour shines in their second match of the 2020 CPL season – a record 4-0 win over Atlético Ottawa.
Final Thoughts: Valour FC’s 2020 Season
CanPL.ca’s Charlie O’Connor-Clarke and Marty Thompson are joined by CanPL.ca contributor Ryan Brandt to talk Valour FC’s 2020 campaign.