Ask any soccer expert in this country and they’ll tell you that Valour FC topping the table is an absolute shock. With their 12 points in 5 games heading into today’s match, they are in control of this league.
Only 2 points out of the bottom spot in the league, Athletico Ottawa was looking for any kind of spark. With just 2 wins and 3 losses, they have a lot to prove to themselves and to their “parent” club, Athletico Madrid. That, and they’d like to avenge their loss in the first meeting between these two sides.
In spite of some rather bizarre referee decisions, about which neither coach would comment after the game, Valour FC dominated the first half of the match.
The only reason I bring up the officiating is that, in my own opinion, it was one of the main factors that led to the more chaotic moments in the half where Valour seemed to get a little frustrated. Aside from the aforementioned outbursts, Valour maintained a calm, composed approach to the half that seemed to aggravate Ottawa.
Were it not for Valour missing the net on their many opportunities, this half could have ended 3 or 4-0 in their favour. The most egregious miss was the 3-on-1 where Ricci had seemingly unlimited time to place his shot, only to miss by a few feet on the far side of Ottawa keeper Dylon Powley. Ricci, with 2 goals on the season already, will certainly want that one back. Given Valour’s play of late, he will likely get many more opportunities like that to prove he’s one of the CPL’s top-notch goal scorers.
In all honesty, Ottawa should count themselves quite lucky that the score was 0-0 at the half. They were seriously outplayed for the entire frame. They didn’t look like they had any idea what Valour was doing out there until it was already done. Besides some spectacular goalkeeping from Ottawa’s best player in Powley, a few mad scrambles on defence were the only answers they could muster.
TOUGH SECOND HALF
The second half was a little more even than the first. While Valour continued to play their game, and this did allow them to continue controlling most of the flow, Ottawa was able to take advantage of a few mistakes made by the Winnipeg club to get some looks at goal.
After being nearly invisible in the first half, due to the ball being exclusively used as part of the attack, speedy midfielder-turned-defender Stefan Cebara stood tall along with Andrew “The Beast” Jean-Baptiste on the backline. In my opinion, Cebara was Valour’s best player in the second half, denying Ottawa multiple chances. Head Coach Rob Gale said, “He probably gets a little bit frustrated sometimes because he is used to attacking dynamics being a winger, and then we converted him to a full-back last year.” Gale then praised the man that he says was “overlooked by a lot” and joked, “If I can get him on another contract he’ll be expecting to play in goal because we’re slowly moving him back.”
It felt like there would be no breaking this deadlock until, in the 84th minute, Ottawa defender Miguel Acosta committed a hand-ball in his own box, which meant a penalty kick for Valour. Who else but Valour’s own PK specialist Moses Dyer would take the kick? With that notch, Dyer finds himself tied with Pacific FC’s Marco Bustos for most goals on the campaign at 3, all of which are from spot-kicks. In the post-game press conference, Dyer praised the fans. “It’s an amazing feeling when we win, or when one of us scores, we get to celebrate with our fans,” he said, adding, “our fans are amazing.”
At this point in the match, it became full “panic mode” for Ottawa, who didn’t want to watch another potential draw get squandered. Their effort was commendable, but the push came too little too late for the newest franchise in the already very young CPL. The damage had been done.
William Akio is so fast that people think he’s cheating. In the second half alone, there were three separate offside calls on Akio that, when watched back in slow motion, were clearly not actually offside. When I asked the bench boss about how they might deal with this, Gale said, “You can’t deal with it, we’re just relying on the referees to make the right decisions.” He also pointed out the call has to be made on the fly. “We don’t get the benefit of replay on those decisions, and there’s no VAR so you just keep doing the right things, making the right runs, stretch the opponent when you can.” He went on to finish by saying, “You hope you get your rewards.”
It was a good sign to see Rafael Galhardo be named one of the starting eleven. His match fitness has been getting much better every single day since his extended quarantine, and the fact that Gale decided to play him from the outset instead of subbing him in mid-way through the second half is an indication that Gale thinks the Brazilian was ready to go. Gale hoped he’d get “about sixty minutes” today, which is roughly the amount of time he spent on the pitch today. We saw a lot of great positional play from the man that Gale says is “still getting used to the CPL.” I look forward to following along with his progress.
Ottawa is a better team than they allowed themselves to be today. They showed flashes of it during the second half, but ultimately they will know they could have done better. I particularly didn’t like watching them time-wasting starting around the 60th minute, which to me indicated they were hoping to lock in the draw and escape with 1 point. Instead, this strategy backfired, as it often does, and they left with nothing.
Valour is every bit the team that deserves to live at the top of the standings. They have played great soccer this year, and have proven that beating the top two teams from last year in their first two games this season was not a fluke. They are king of the hill now, and they control their own destiny.