It was a scorcher out there on this day. The heat situation was made worse by a complete lack of a breeze, plus direct sunlight on the pitch, as if the 32°C temperature wasn’t enough on its own.
Valour FC entered the match ready for a fight. Having defeated Forge FC already this year, they were fully aware that their opponent would be looking for retribution.
Thanks to some great performances by former Valour player Marco Bustos, who is leading the league with 3 goals, Valour FC is now second in the league behind Pacific FC. A win today would put Valour back on top of the table.
DEFENCE OUT OF THE GATE
Valour FC’s backline, anchored by Andrew “The Beast” Jean-Baptiste, had to stand tall a few times in the match’s opening minutes. No defensive moment was bigger than Jean-Baptiste’s perfectly timed heading clearance from off the goal-line in the 12th minute. While we’re on the subject, Jean-Baptiste was an absolute force on defence during the first 45 minutes and, at the risk of spoiling the outcome, he was just as solid in the final 45.
One note I made in the first half was how calm Valour was to start the match. On defence, they were patient and had no panic in their movement, even when Forge was bearing down on them. They were poised and methodical on offence, a noticeable change from the previous matches where furious counter-attacks proved to be the primary method of forward progress.
All in all the first half was quite an even affair, leaving no hints as to who would be victorious in the end. Forge would push down the wings, only to be unable to get the ball inside the box. Then Valour would push slowly back up until the inevitable attempt was made to play William Akio through on goal. Rinse, lather, repeat.
I’m not sure what Head Coach Rob Gale said to his club during the half-time break, but Valour came out swinging in the second half of this match. They moved like a well-oiled machine and frustrated Forge throughout the opening minutes of the frame. Meanwhile, all of Forge’s possessions ran into what must have felt like a wall. Whatever opportunities did manage to present themselves were completely cut out by Valour keeper Jonathan Sirois.
In the 56th minute, Austin Ricci let fly a rocket of a shot that seemed to have eyes of it’s own. It could not have been better placed, going in off the post at the top right of the net. Forge keeper, Baj Maan, had played very well up to that point, and despite The Tranch’s chants of “It’s all your fault,” there was literally nothing Maan could have done better there. He was beaten by an absolutely perfect shot.
In the 75th minute, Raphael Ohin beat the last man back and had a go at the exact same shot as Ricci, only to miss the net altogether. His effort, however, is telling of how tired the Forge defensive line was. It was a lazy pass that led to Ohin’s interception and the defender didn’t have enough gas in the tank to keep up with the speedy Ohin once he started moving at pace. After that scary moment, Forge seemed uneasy for the rest of the match.
Raphael Ohin, nicknamed “The Rhino,” is a true multi-purpose weapon in Gale’s arsenal. Wherever the ball managed to end up on the pitch, you could be sure that Ohin was somewhere in the vicinity. Offence or defence, it doesn’t matter, Ohin just wants to contribute. This makes him the perfect pivot man. On top of that, the young Ghanaian has seemingly unlimited energy and conditioning, unlike anyone else in the league.
I’d like to see striker Jared Ulloa use his powers for good. He’s very fast and has exceptional ball control when he chooses to use it. The part of his game I’d like to see him drop is this business with looking to fall down when a defender is anywhere within 5 yards. From my observations, he tends to prefer drawing the foul to making the play. The flopping about is a bad look, both on himself personally and on the club, and the officials have already figured him out. He’s not going to get the benefit of the doubt on any questionable calls. If he stayed on his feet more often and put his concentration into making the play (whether that be a pass, shot, or what have you), then I think he’d find a lot more success. At just nineteen years old, the Peruvian has a lot of time to figure these things out.
Austin Ricci is looking like the goal scorer that he very much wants to be. His finish today was world-class, and that highlight will be circulating for a while. I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts turning heads in scouting systems everywhere. His positive play is one of the reasons Valour FC find themselves leading the league now with 12 points. Even Forge defender Dominic Samuel said in the post-game press conference that Ricci’s shot was outstanding.
This was the best full-team match they have played this year, in my opinion. From start to finish, Valour was driving the pace of this game. Forge FC didn’t play poorly, either. Forge Head Coach Bobby Smyrniotis said himself that he was disappointed that they didn’t get the result he thought they’d earned.
A well fought battle, the match went the way of Ricci and Valour FC with a final score of 1-0.