Hot on the heels of a very meaningful Canadian Championship win, Valour FC is back home to take that momentum and apply it in a Canadian Premier League setting. Despite the victory, their official CPL form of late remains “winless in six.”
Jonathan Sirois is back in goal after his short recall to CF Montreal, the club from which he and Sean Rea are on loan. Meanwhile, Raphael Ohin was not eligible for today’s match due to having accumulated four yellow cards this season, culminating in a one-game suspension.
FC Edmonton is struggling this season, having only earned three wins thus far, one of which came against this very Valour squad on July 31st in Edmonton at Valour Head Coach Rob Gale’s least-favourite CPL facility, Clarke Field. They have had nine days off heading into tonight’s match.
LESS THAN 90 SECONDS
William Akio is fast as heck, and Rea has insane vision. Evidence in support of both claims can be found in the 2nd minute of this match, when Rea sent Akio in all alone against the keeper. Akio managed to one-touch the ball into the bottom corner before celebrating with his trademark backflip.
After the match, Akio would be asked if he had ever scored a goal faster in his career. “Actually, I don’t think so,” he said, “not even in college.” He was all smiles, adding, “It’s pretty exciting I did it at the pro level.”
Valour absolutely dominated the first twenty minutes of the match. They used the speed of Akio to get behind the defenders. They showed off a passing game we’ve come to expect, except with actual pace behind the build-up. They didn’t allow Edmonton to put together more than two passes without being in their face with intense pressure. They were making physical challenges and standing their ground with more conviction than we have seen this year. All that, and they actually showed the will to shoot the ball from anywhere near the box.
This is the valour squad that we knew existed on paper, but we haven’t seen this being applied on the pitch since the bubble. This “pep in their step” might just have something to do with that recent win in Ottawa over the weekend. That victory was their first Canadian Championship match win in franchise history, which will allow them to play Forge FC in the quarter-final round next month. They played quite well and have clearly used that victory as a launching pad to turn their CPL performance around.
The half continued to go Valour’s way thanks to the heavy efforts of each individual, but none working harder than Rea or Stefan Cebara. Oh, there’s a 2-on-1 going the other way? Nope, Cebara got back to defend the ball handler after a 30-yard sprinting recovery run. That ball is going out of bounds, ruining a forward push? Nope, Rea sprints 25-yards to keep the ball in and wins a throw-in in the process.
If I was allowed just one word to tell the story of the first half, it would have to be “hustle.”
RINSE AND REPEAT
Remember how the first half started with a goal within the first two minutes? Well, in the 48th minute (3rd minute of the second half), Ricci nearly scored another on a breakaway set up by Captain Daryl Fordyce. A laser-accurate pass, Ricci was thwarted by a phenomenal save from Connor James.
No matter though, as just four minutes later in the 52nd minute, Akio was played through and once again one-touched a ball into the back of Edmonton’s net. His second of the match brings his goal total to three on the campaign. He acknowledged that it’s a team game, however, saying, “We’re all working really well together and I’m really happy.”
Fast-forward to the 62nd minute where the Brazilian, Rafael Galhardo, held off Fraser Aird long enough to poke another one home past James. This marks Galhardo’s first goal in the CPL (that hasn’t been called back) and his first professional goal in years.
Edmonton would do everything in their power to create some offensive pressure, but the Valour defenders were much too organized. The closest they would come to breaking Sirois’ seventh clean sheet of the year would be a few free-kicks in dangerous spots near the box, but a combination of good defending from Valour and poor set-piece management by Edmonton would take care of that.
The misleading stats will say Edmonton managed 13 shot attempts, with 6 hitting the target, but only one of them caused any trouble for Sirois. This game was dictated by Valour in every category. In any event, the only statistic that would truly matter upon the match’s conclusion is the 3-0 scoreline.
Stefan Cebara had a quiet but fiercely effective game… again. He does this a lot. Cebara is Rob Gale’s “swiss-army knife” in many ways. His physical conditioning is second to none in the CPL, allowing Gale to play him every single minute of the season so far. He is deceivingly fast when he gets up to full speed, confusing would-be defenders as he changes gears and cruises around them. He can play any position and, aside from goalkeeper, we have essentially seen him do so this season. He is also considered a leader in the dressing room, and we know Gale feels this because, in the absence of Andrew Jean-Baptiste, we have seen Cebara don the captain’s armband on more than one occasion. He’s not flashy and he doesn’t seek attention or recognition so many of his efforts go relatively unnoticed. Keep your eyes on Cebara for the remainder of this season — and his career for that matter — because special plays start and end with this man on a regular basis, and I don’t think he gets enough credit for his contributions.
Speaking of “special plays,” Rafael Galhardo is one of the most exciting players in the league to watch. Every time he touches the ball, something amazing has the potential to happen. I don’t enjoy agreeing with OneSoccer’s Garreth Wheeler, but he hit the nail on the head tonight when he said, “Galhardo is growing up right before our eyes.” He has certainly hit his stride here with Valour, and I look forward to seeing what success he will have here in town and in the league as a whole.
I asked Rob Gale how he felt about having five days off, and whether he felt that was too long or not long enough. Given the demanding pace that they — and all CPL clubs — have had to handle thus far, his reply was not surprising. He said, “I’ll take five days off over two, and one of them being in the air, absolutely.”
When asked about how it felt to break the six-game winless streak in league play, he dismissed the idea. Obviously to the team, and indeed to Gale, a match is a match and the competition doesn’t matter. “We won our last game so we’ve won back-to-back,” he said. “We’ve only lost one in the last four. You can put your stats however way you want to.”
After the aforementioned five-day break, Valour will visit Starlight Stadium to take on the league-leading Pacific FC. That match will take place Sunday, August 29th.
It’s amazing to me that Valour has only won a single match in their last seven CPL fixtures, and yet they are still just one win — or three points — behind the number one club in the table.