Coming off back-to-back 2-0 wins this week against the top two teams from last year, Forge FC and HFX Wanderers, Valour FC took on Athletico Ottawa on an intensely rainy evening. Ottawa won their first match 1-0 against FC Edmonton before dropping a big one against Cavalry FC, losing 4-1.
Valour hoped to be the first team this season to win three consecutive games, which would also make it the first time in franchise history that they would have done so.
SPOILER ALERT (click to expand)
A CONTROVERSIAL START
Would it be a Valour FC match without a little controversy? In the 13th minute, Athletico Ottawa was under the impression they had scored, only to have the goal called back due to a foul on the goalline, perpetrated by their Captain, Milovan Kapor. In real-time everyone missed it, including the play-by-play announcer on OneSoccer’s feed. Upon review, the referee did, in fact, catch a blatant shove to the back of the defender (Keven Alemán), which allowed Keesean Ferdinand to head the ball into the open net.
The Athletico Head Coach, carrying the mononym “Mista,” didn’t comment on the play after the game, saying he needed to review it before saying what he thought.
The lack of real action might have something to do with the heavy rain that began just ahead of kickoff. The ball was a slippery mess and keeping control proved difficult. In weather such as this, passes have to be extra accurate because receiving or controlling the ball at the other end of the pass is a nightmare.
In an ironic twist, that same slippery ball was the main reason Ohin’s 45th-minute shot found its home. If that ball was dry, you have to imagine Athletico keeper Dylon Powley gets a lot more traction with his gloves, which would have stopped that ball from hitting the back of the net.
Of the three matches this year, this was (in my humble opinion) the best first-half Valour has played this season.
In a change of momentum, Athletico decided that the start of the second half would be where they would start making more mistakes. They gave the ball away easily, missed clearances, and generally gave all the meaningful possession to Valour for the first ten to twenty minutes.
This was yet another match that demonstrated Valour Head Coach Rob Gale’s game management, in which we saw another brilliant strategic use of substitutions. Jard Olloa came on in the 71st minute and through his speed and fresh legs, he drew a penalty kick that Moses Dyer (also subbed on in the 81st minute) buried behind Powley in the 90th minute.
After this moment, Athletico seemed to essentially quit. The final moments were all Valour FC, including two near-goals from Rafael Galhardo.
Raphael Ohin, nicknamed “The Rhino” by Gale, had probably the best game I’ve seen him play. He’s been waiting two years to score his first professional goal and as he says, “today was the day.” When I asked him if he was hoping to score more in front of the fans, since two thousand in-stadium tickets per match are available starting Wednesday of this week, he said, “It would have been much more special if The Trench [Valour’s dedicated supporter section] was in the stadium… they’re not in the stadium, but we could still hear them.”
William Akio is crazy fast. This young man has some serious get-up in his step. He caused so many problems for the Athletico defence, which in my opinion indirectly led to the eventual foul in the box on Ulloa. The defenders were just so tired from chasing Akio for the first seventy minutes, after which the fresh-legged Ulloa proved to be too much.
Another player that took a little of my attention was Rafael Galhardo. He only came on in the 87th minute and yet he somehow managed two solid opportunities at goal before the end of the match. Rob Gale said of the Brazilian, “he’s nowhere near fit, obviously, he’s been in quarantine for over a month,” before letting us know he’s looking forward to folding him in more and more as his fitness dictates.
With three straight wins, Valour now sits atop the table with their 9 points, but Gale is quick to remind us all that, “it’s just three games.” Gale, who demands more than just wins from his club, also said, “I wasn’t happy after the Halifax game, despite the result. I felt like we didn’t execute well enough.” He said the focus of tonight’s game was about getting that execution down saying, “Today was about the next step in our process. The ability to adapt to the opposition. It wasn’t adapting to nullify today, it was adapting to hurt them.”
During his post-game interview, Ottawa’s bench boss, Mista, took a moment to praise Valour saying, “At the moment, Valour is the best team in the CPL.”
The position in which Valour find itself may not last all season, but that won’t stop the team or the fans from celebrating the current successes.