Even though the two teams involved today are CPL clubs, today’s match was not a CPL fixture. Today’s clash at TD Place Stadium would be Valour FC’s first match in the Canadian Championship this season. Valour has only played in two Canadian Championship matches in its short history, having lost both to HFX Wanderers back in 2019.
With Jonathan Sirois recalled by CF Montreal, Matt Silva will undoubtedly carry the weight of the back-stopping responsibility going forward. Having signed a young Winnipeg native in 17-year-old Jacob Tsai as a backup, goalkeeping will now be a bit of a question mark. Sirois was undoubtedly the best keeper in the CPL until his recall, and Silva hasn’t played enough for anyone to have a serious opinion about how he will perform as the new number one man in town.
On top of losing Sirois to the business side of soccer, Valour’s list of injured players keeps getting longer and longer. Now listed as injured are Brett Levis, Andy Baquero, Keven Alemán, José Galán, and Andrew Jean-Baptiste. At this point, Head Coach and General Manager Rob Gale might just have to suit up himself.
Right out of the gate it looked like Athletico Ottawa’s keeper would be much busier than Valour’s Silva. In classic Valour style, the squad surged out and took control of the match with tight possession.
Unfortunately, in what is also becoming classic Valour style, they would manage to concede first, despite dominating the possession and having the attacking momentum on their side.
In the 15th minute, Valour’s fullbacks were successful in blocking multiple shot attempts on a quick Ottawa counter-attack but were unable to secure possession of the ball. Just a minute later, the inability to recapture possession ended with a Brian Wright stinger into the back of Valour’s net.
Valour began to give up some of their possession, but this time we saw a little more pep in their step when they did have the ball, particularly from Sean Rea, who attempted a few shots from outside the area before finally stepping inside the box, hitting paydirt in the 30th minute to bring the game level.
Silva would have to show his quality within 3 minutes of the ensuing kick-off, denying Ryan Telfer a golden opportunity.
It was nice to see that real sense of urgency rear its head today. It has been something that has been absent, despite all the possession Valour has enjoyed since the end of the bubble. Possession alone doesn’t win games, but it’s what you do with that possession that has the potential to determine a game’s outcome.
Following young Rea’s lead, we started to see other Valour players looking for goal after this. Despite a few Ottawa counter-attack attempts, which were more dangerous than Rob Gale would like, the Winnipeg-based side was very much in control of the pace of play for the remainder of the half, nearly potting another one in the 43rd minute.
Just before the half-time whistle, Ottawa had a goal called back on one of the aforementioned counter-attacks due to Wright being in an offside position on the play.
The back-and-forth grind continued in the second half. Both teams were quite keen to break through, but they seemed equally matched and equally unlikely to do so.
That is until Rocco Romeo stepped up from the back, intercepted a pass in the middle of the pitch, then ran it up the middle himself before playing William Akio down the right side. Akio took a look and sent the most perfectly weighted ball across the six-yard box to be finished off by none other than Austin Ricci in the 60th minute. For the first time since August 4th, Valour finds themselves leading in a match.
What’s more, Valour has yet to lose when Ricci gets on the scoreboard.
I suppose the feeling of leading must have reminded them of how they played in the bubble, as just three minutes later, Ricci would strike again. This time the chance would come after an ambitious through-ball by Moses Dyer found the team’s leading scorer, who was able to shake off his first defender before running around another to get the shot off. A multi-goal lead hasn’t happened for Valour since their July 18th match against York United in the Winnipeg bubble.
In added time, a desperate push into the box from Ottawa coupled with a lack of a proper clearance from Valour allowed Victor Martinez to bring the game within one goal. With just two of the four added minutes played, the end of the match would turn into a bit of a mad scramble for Ottawa, who would come up just a little short.
Valour managed their first victory in seven matches on the day. Valour fans will hope this can be a jumping-off point for the squad when they resume CPL competition this coming Tuesday at home against FC Edmonton.
As far as the Canadian Championship is concerned, today’s victory means that Valour advance to the quarter-final round and will now face fellow CPL side Forge FC at Tim Horton’s Field on September 14th. The winner of that match will advance to play the winner of the HFX Wanderers versus CF Montreal match taking place the same day.
Up to this point in the season, Sean Rea hasn’t really shown us all of what he can do, in my opinion. On loan from the CF Montreal of the MLS, it was never a secret that Rea had skills. He showed today that he is incredibly fast, has great ball control, and is one of the smartest players on the pitch at any given time. He’s always thinking a few steps ahead, which is something his teammates are starting to learn how to read. The challenge for Gale now is when someone like Rea is reading the game on another level, getting the rest of the squad to start thinking like that is imperative.
Matt Silva played a solid game, stopping five of the seven shots Ottawa managed to get on target. Thus far, all signs point to him being a solid alternative to the fan-favourite Sirois.
Valour managed to get behind the Ottawa backline a number of times today, but the instinct to play a pass straight backwards cost a scoring opportunity and gave up possession on each occasion. If it were up to me — and believe me, I’m well aware that it is not — I’d like to see some more aggressive plays at or towards the net, instead of watching the squad try and back up after doing all of the hard work to get behind the defence in the first place.
Austin Ricci looked like the goal-scoring machine we saw through the bulk of the bubble. He took a lot of heat from fans since the bubble ended, but he has opened up today with two markers within three minutes of each other. When I asked him how he felt after getting a pair of goals today he said, “I don’t feel like it’s a monkey off my chest because I know my ability.” He was quick to point out that, “when you’re scoring, people will support you, but when you go a few games without scoring people come out of the cracks, you know?” He seems quite confident in his skills, also adding, “I know what my ceiling is, and I’m nowhere near that.”
Even though it’s only one game played, it’s fun to note that Ricci is now tied with York United’s Julian Ulbricht for most goals in the Canadian Championship with two each.