Valour FC made their way to Vancouver Island to take on Pacific FC who, along with Cavalry FC, sit just one point behind them.
Winnipeg’s side, who wish to prove their success in The Kickoff bubble was not by accident, will need to shut down the highest-scoring club in the league. Newly tested Valour defender Rocco Romeo stood in the center-back position alongside Rodrigo Reyes and their test would be to somehow stop Alejandro Diaz, Josh Heard, and former Valour striker Marco Bustos who have a combined 10 goals between just the three of them.
Valour had the second-most goals for (13) and the fewest goals against (6), where Pacific had the most goals for (15) and is tied for the second-fewest goals against (9).
Knowing all of the above, you can definitely see how this match was a true battle for the top spot in the CPL.
FIRST HALF – TIT FOR TAT
The bulk of the first half was very back-and-forth with each team taking its turn driving up the pitch, attempting to break through the backline, then having the defenders squash the attack and then preparing to defend the counter. Rinse and repeat.
Reyes and Romeo stood tall in front of keeper Jonathan Sirois. A number of times it looked like Bustos and company were going to get a good look at the net, but the two center-backs each took their turns cutting out the attack and making the clears.
The 6’4” Romeo then had the opportunity to show his attacking quality on a corner kick served up by Sean Rea. In the 41st minute, Romeo would flick a header past a helpless Callum Irving to make the match 1-0.
Far from being what one would consider “in control” of the match, Valour would want to make some adjustments to their strategy over the half-time break in order to stifle any potential comeback by the home team. Pacific FC is a dangerous squad and a 1-0 lead against the most powerful striker core in the league is precarious at best.
Josh Heard was served up a beauty of a cross just twenty seconds into the half but could not equalize. Heard was subbed in at the beginning of the half to relieve Diaz in a move that nearly yielded instant results for Pacific Head Coach Pa-Modou Kah.
After the initial attack, things settled back into the to-and-fro, ebb-and-flow style of game we grew accustomed to in the first half, but with a much more intense attacking mindset on both sides of the ball.
Bustos, however, would not be content to continue trying to break through the defence. He took it upon himself to try a blast from about twenty-five yards out, but Sirois would be there to make another quality stop. Sirois would be busy for the next few minutes until the 66th minute when Pacific center-back Lukas Macnaughton would finally follow Bustos’ lead and pound one into the far bottom corner from outside the area, levelling the match at 1-1.
Both teams would continue the blow-for-blow war with a few beautiful opportunities in both directions.
In all the chaos, keeper Callum Irving made a huge mental error by handling the ball outside of the box, denying a “clear and obvious” scoring opportunity in the eyes of the officials. This gaff resulted in a red card and an ejection from the match in the 76th minute. Nolan Wirth would come in to relieve Irving, forcing Kah to pull Alessandro Hojabrpour. From that point forward Pacific would be forced to play with just 10 men.
The number 10 would prove to be significant as Bustos, wearing number 10 in purple, would manage to sneak away from Federico Peña on a cross to the back post, scoring to make it 2-1, despite being down a man.
Peña, who is generally quite responsible defensively, absolutely blew his assignment on the play. You’ve got an extra man on them AND the man you let go was Marco Bustos, of all people. If there is one player you don’t want to let wander freely about the pitch, it’s Bustos. I have a feeling that’s a lesson Head Coach Rob Gale won’t let Peña forget any time soon. “We’ve left the shortest player on the pitch a free header at the back post,” said Gale. “It’s sloppy. You can’t give up that easy of a goal.”
Valour will be disappointed with the result, as they certainly played at least as well as Pacific. This tilt was no mismatch, to be sure.
For the first time this season Valour find themselves behind someone on the table. Pacific jumps into first-place as a club, while Bustos as an individual takes first-place in the scoring race with 5 goals in his 10 games played.
This match was another example of Valour being heavily outshot. Jonathan Sirois continues to prove why he’s considered the best keeper in the CPL, despite the loss. Not only did he make some highlight-reel saves off of shots, but his ability to cut out crosses and his aggressive charges out of the area have given Valour more defensive assistance than they could ever ask for.
Rocco Romeo is under no illusions that he’s being compared to Andrew Jean-Baptiste. When I asked Romeo if he was feeling any pressure to fill Jean-Baptiste’s shoes, he was quick and confident in saying, “Not at all. I’m Rocco Romeo, and I know what I’m here to do. I’m Rocco Romeo and he’s Jean-Baptiste.”
Despite the three-game losing streak, there are many positives to look forward to with this young, skilled squad. If the gents on the roster listen to Gale, I don’t think there is any reason to panic at this point of the season. Gale himself summed up this point by saying, “Lots to build off of going forward.”