The return of fans to the stands had a huge effect on the mood in the stadium immediately from the start of the warmup. Smiles abounded amongst supporters, players, and coaches alike. Among their new songs is a tune that contained the lyrics, “It’s been twenty months, we’re back in the trench.” I’m not sure if that was my favourite or if it was the one that went, “We need beer,” over and over, given that there was no alcohol available at the match after 10 pm, due to local COVID regulations.
With several new songs at their disposal, the Valour FC fans hoped to influence the undefeated home team in a positive manner. Sitting on top of the table with 3 wins in as many games, Valour hoped to extend their winning streak to 4.
York United has yet to win a match. On this day, they would be hoping to knock off the undefeated hosts and drag themselves away from the bottom of the table. A win would have them leapfrog Athletico Ottawa, Forge FC, and FC Edmonton to go from 7th place to 4th.
The fans were so excited to be in the building and wanted to see some Valour goals. They certainly did not have to wait very long, as Andrew Jean-Baptiste was able to convert a corner kick by Keven Alemán to put Valour up 1-0 in the 5th minute. “The Beast” Jean-Baptiste has been an absolute pleasure to watch in this Kickoff event.
Not even ten minutes later, York’s Lowell Wright would reply with a goal of his own on a header that proved just too awkward for Valour keeper Matt Silva to handle, officially marking the first goal conceded by Valour FC this season. Silva was given the start instead of Jonathan Sirois, who had 3 clean sheets in the first 3 Valour matches.
When I asked Head Coach Rob Gale about the goaltender situation he said that Silva “didn’t get a game in the bubble last year. Back in another bubble, I think it’s important for the mental health of the players.” He also likes to make sure every player feels involved and that they are contributing. “We felt that today against his old club, York, he’d have the motivation.” He also mentioned that part of the decision was based on the intensely tight-packed schedule faced by the club, noting that playing Silva allowed Sirois to take a needed break, adding, “you have to realize the strains on these guys, physically and mentally.”
The rest of the first half was quite back-and-forth between the two sides. There was a lot of long-ball attacking and not as much mucking about in the middle of the pitch, which kept the play moving at a frenetic pace. As the play went on and as the fouls racked up, there did seem to be a bit of animosity growing between the two sides. Surprisingly there was just one card given, despite a few very hard challenges.
It has to be said that the more dangerous chances went to York in that half. While Valour did see their fair share of opportunities, none were quite as threatening as what York was able to coordinate.
The two sides found themselves in a 1-1 draw at the mid-way mark. The match would now come down to the final 45 minutes.
SECOND HALF STRUGGLES
The first half started in a flash, so why not have the same in the second? In the 48th minute, York’s Dominick Zator flicked on a header that, due to a very odd decision by Valour’s Silva, bounced into a wide-open net.
For the first time in 2021, and after 318 minutes of play, Valour FC was finally behind in a game. This is where we learn something new about Valour. We’ve learned everything we could while watching Valour when tied and when leading, so the next thing to dissect is their game when trailing.
In all honesty, nobody in the Valour camp seemed panicked. If you remember from the previous matches, Valour’s second goal didn’t come until after Gale made some substitutions. At this point of the match, Gale had made no such maneuvers.
By the 70th minute, Gale had made all of his allowed substitutions (short of an injured goalkeeper).
In the 81st minute, Rafael Galhardo had his feet swept out from under him just outside York’s box, leading to a huge potential moment for him. Down a goal, having just come on as a sub a few minutes prior, he has an opportunity to show his quality, while simultaneously making his coach look like a genius. While he did, indeed, score on the play, the goal was called back due to an illegal position taken up by Jean-Baptiste in front of the wall.
The rule here is that, if the defensive wall is made up of three or more defenders, no offensive players may stand within one meter of the wall. Jean-Baptiste was ruled to be in violation of this regulation and, even though his doing so had no direct effect on the play, it was the call by the official to negate the goal.
There will be much discussion on this, as it was made apparent on social media by Jean-Baptiste himself that he was not in violation, pointing out that the man he was closest to was not, in fact, part of the wall.
What a shame for Valour too, because Galhardo’s free-kick was a thing of beauty. Have a peek at the highlights to see just how sweet his placement was.
While that was the “dagger” that finally cost Valour the match, it must be said how well Valour battled after going down by a goal in the 48th minute. They played with heart and passion. While the result wasn’t there, they showed us that trailing in a game is not something they will allow themselves to be affected by.
It seems to me that Gale used the perceived weaker team in York United as an opportunity to experiment with formation, line-up, and getting back up keeper Silva some playing time.
Galhardo isn’t quite ready for over thirty minutes of playtime yet. His conditioning will require some work, which is to be expected given his very lengthy quarantine, plus the fact that it’s been two years since his last professional match. That said, when he does get that match fitness, it will be extremely exciting to see what he can do.
Not to get too deep into the officiating, but Valour fans will not be too happy with how Referee Yusri Rudolf handled certain moments in the game. There were many moments that the fans (and in truth, myself as well) thought there should have been a card or foul when there wasn’t one given, and the cards that were given (both ways, in my opinion) were not seen as deserved. It was a rough night for the man in the middle, and that happens. At least the officiating seemed to be odd in both directions, even though the supporters of the host side likely won’t see it that way.
At the end of the day, Valour will want to do better. This season, Gale has said after every game that they need to tighten up the little things that are within their control. This match was no different.
Gale has shown time and time again that he doesn’t let the team stagnate, whether after a win or a loss. Adjustments will be made and they will hope to have those adjustments ready by Sunday’s rematch with Forge FC.