Having played their first match of the year, Valour FC will be able to celebrate the win on Sunday. In what the play-by-play announcer on the OneSoccer broadcast called “a serious upset,” the Manitoba-based club took league-favourite Forge FC to the mat in this 2-0 victory.
VALOUR FC COMES OUT SWINGING
The first half belonged to Valour FC, one hundred percent. The defending champions looked disjointed and overwhelmed, despite controlling the bulk of the possession (67%). Valour FC employed a couter-attack strategy that turned out to be very effective. Between Valour’s relentless badgering when on the defensive side of the ball and the quick transitions when they did win possession, Forge was unable to figure their way through.
All that said, Forge did manage some decent scoring opportunities in the first frame, but the Valour backline stood tall, with a little help from a smart and well-positioned keeper in Jonathan Sirois, who is on loan to VFC from Club de Football Montreal in the MLS.
Headed into the dressing room down 2-0 to the tournament hosts, Forge needed to adjust their strategy.
SECOND VERSE, SAME AS THE FIRST
Valour immediately ended up with some fantastic counter-attack opportunities within the first five minutes of the second half, demonstrating that the strategy changes needed by Forge did not take.
Forge FC is not a side that is accustomed to losing games, and the frustration of being down 2-0 is quite evident.
Usually, Forge FC are the feared and favoured team in any given arena, as shown by their winning two out of two championships so far, and only losing one game in the entire “Island Games” tournament last year in PEI.
In today’s match, however, they seem to be following a sort of “if at first you don’t succeed, keep hitting your head against this wall” strategy.
This begs the question of whether or not Forge is aware of Albert Einstein’s definition of “insanity?” We see them slowly building their attack from the back, only to be dispossessed and then be unprepared for an extremely effective counter by Valour… over and over again.
Forge Head Coach, Bobby Smyrniotis, said of their performance, “It’s not our best football in-game, but we moved the ball around and we’ve created situations in and outside of the box with good opportunities. Today wasn’t the day for the ball to go into the net.”
When I asked about this year’s Valour club versus last year’s crew, Smyrniotis praised the building effort Valour has made while stating that he “wasn’t surprised” by Valour being strong. He admitted Valour “is a good squad” and acknowledged they are difficult to play against.
We have to assume that as the season goes on, Forge will regain their feet and become the same dangerous force they were in the last two campaigns. Until that happens, Valour FC and the other clubs will be more than happy to continue frustrating the champions and stealing wins.
THE SPIRIT OF THE TRENCH
Due to the pandemic, Winnipeg’s CPL team isn’t allowed to host any fans, despite winning the right to host the entire CPL Kickoff in its entirety at IG Field, the home of Valour FC.
As a season ticket holder, I can tell you it was eerily quiet during the warm-ups ahead of the clash between Valour FC and the two-time defending champions. Normally VFC’s famous fan section, officially named The King’s Head Supporter Section, lovingly nicknamed “The Trench,” is a cacophony of cheers, jeers, and general excitement.
How would Valour FC perform at home without their loud, boisterous cheerleading section? Well, they didn’t REALLY have to find out. Gathered outside IG Field’s Gate 2, a dedicated group of Trenchers, organized by Red River Rising, stood singing all the supporter songs, banging on drums, and generally lending their energy to the home side.
Gale said of the Red River Rising group, “They turn up for us all the time.” He made sure to point out the group was small and socially distanced and said, “it gives everybody a boost, for sure it does.” He later added, “professional sports without fans is nothing.”
Goal scorer Austin Ricci told me, “There’s definitely a ton of moments in games where you need that little extra boost, and maybe you’re a little gassed or a little tired. That’s where the fans come in. You can hear them when you’re breathing deep and that definitely gives us a little extra firepower.”
Gale also said he was “pleased that we’ve given the fans at least something to cheer today, and the people of Manitoba because it’s been a rough road.”
While the noise generated from outside the gate pales in comparison to the decibel level reached by the in-stadium crowds of the first season, the OneSoccer stream was certainly picking up their audio. The support seemed to be motivating the squad, and jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first half shows how comfortable Valour looked to be, given that Forge has generally had their number since the league’s inception.
A solid fan section can be an unquantifiable advantage, and despite the ability to occupy their usual seats in section 144, Red River Rising and the rest of the Trenchers that showed up today have shown that this year, support of your club just requires a little improvisation and adaptability.
KEYS TO TODAY’S VICTORY
How Valour FC achieved this victory is a great sign for the rest of the campaign. They employed a double-edged defence and a single-minded attack.
The double-edged defence comprised of a very patient jockey-style marking, waiting for the attacker to make the first move, followed by a very aggressive jump when the opportunity presents itself. By not jumping in, they are avoiding that “getting burned” experience we saw Forge inflict on so many teams over the last two years, and that in-your-face aggression when the ball is not fully under Forge control has caused a number of turnovers, many leading to decent counter-attacks and a seriously vexed Forge side.
On top of that, Valour’s conditioning was excellent. All the way to the end of the match, Valour ran at full pace. OneSoccer’s Kristian Jack said Valour “played at a different speed” than Forge today, and really that was the difference.
It’s great to see how well Valour is shaping up out there, given the number of new signings, new personalities, and that is not to mention the utter lack of a pre-season. I believe this is a huge area for which Rob Gale should be praised, based on his ability to take a bunch of guys that haven’t met one another, let alone played together, and turn that pile of random individuals into a real squad.
Speaking of individuals, Austin Ricci stood out in today’s match. After drawing a foul in the box, leading to a penalty converted by Moses Dyer in the 6th minute, he decided to add a marker of his own in the 26th minute on a very slick, composed move.
The two goals with which Ricci was involved were enough to win the match, largely due to the contribution of goalkeeper (and birthday boy) Jonathan Sirois.
After the match, Gale did admit that the Forge were “not in top form” today, but went on to say that isn’t an excuse, as “we have all had short pre-seasons.” He knows that Forge will improve, but also said of his Valour crew, “We have to get better, we will get better.”
While he seemed very happy with the result overall, Gale did want to establish that they won’t be resting on their laurels. “It’s just one game and three points, nothing to go parading down Portage on a unicycle, even if I was allowed.”
The future of Valour FC looks bright this year and I, for one, am quite excited to see it unfold.