Valour FC took on an unpredictable FC Edmonton at IG Field in Winnipeg tonight. With just one win in their last eight CPL fixtures since the end of the bubble, desperation mode will soon be setting in for the men in maroon if they don’t manage a few wins in the very near future.
Between injuries and suspensions, Valour’s list of available players is quite condensed. So much so, in fact, that José Galán suited up to fill out the numbers on the bench today, despite staff admitting he’s not officially cleared to play.
With Rocco Romeo out after receiving a red card in the previous match, Amir Soto would be slotting in with Andy Baquero and Rodrigo Reyes to form the backline. Austin Ricci would be replaced as a starter by rookie William Akio up front, since Ricci is also suspended after accumulating four yellow cards on the year.
Injured players include Brett Levis, Masta Kacher, and Stefan Cebara, the last of whom hadn’t missed a single minute of Valour FC playing time until sitting out against Cavalry FC this past Saturday due to what staff have told me is a minor groin issue.
FC Edmonton has their own issues, having only won 3 games all season. They would be quite hungry going into this evening’s clash.
Possession through the first twenty minutes was rather even, with perhaps a slight edge to Valour. Despite that possession, Edmonton was able to threaten goal a few times where Valour wasn’t able to break through almost at all.
Moving beyond the first twenty, Possession seemed to swing more heavily in Edmonton’s favour. As that was happening, the pace of play slowed considerably. The slower pace appeared to be an advantage for the visitors who began seeing more opportunities to attack the Winnipeg goal. Valour was lucky to escape the first half-hour with a level scoreline.
In the 40th minute, Edmonton would finally cash in. Tobias Warschewski would tap home a cross after being left wide open at the back post. This is becoming quite a glaring issue in Valour’s game. They have been scored on in this manner (wide open opponent at the back post on the left side) on at least four occasions that I can conjure from my own poor memory alone. There could be more than that, too.
Just a few moments later, in the 44th minute, Edmonton would double their lead on a scrambling play ending with Easton Ongaro directing a chipped cross in off his chest.
The last few minutes of the first halves this year have unfortunately become a real sore spot for Rob Gale and company. I’m unable to determine with certainty whether this is a conditioning issue or a mental focus issue, but either way I have to imagine it must be quite frustrating to play so well for so much of the match but have two small errors turn into two goals against.
Valour is not typically a team that lets adversity get them down, but two quick goals at the end of a half can be quite deflating. On top of that, their usual go-to goal-scoring player, Ricci, was sitting in the press box next to me throughout this match. He’s generally the guy Valour looks to when they need a spark. We would have to wait and see how Gale and his crew would respond in the second half.
Right out of the tunnel, Gale made some adjustments to the lineup, most notably adding a man to the backline so there were four men in front of Jonathan Sirois instead of three.
A few bad luck bounces and some miscommunication led to a number of Valour giveaways in the first thirty minutes of the second half, none of which led to Edmonton goals.
Some life jumped back into the uncharacteristically quiet stadium in the 72nd minute when Connor James needed to fully stretch out to deny a Valour opportunity, but just over a minute later, the crowd would be muted again when Azriel Gonzalez made the match 3-0 for the Eddies.
In the 79th minute, José Galán who, as I mentioned above, was technically not supposed to play today, made his season debut to huge applause from the Valour faithful. At this point of the match, a comeback would be a rather huge ask but, nonetheless, hope entered the match along with the Spaniard. “José is still a week away, really, we can’t give him any more than a cameo at the moment,” said Gale on the subject of Galán’s first appearance in 2021.
In the 87th minute, Valour would find the back of the net on the back of a bicycle kick from Akio, only to see him get called for the offside position he was in. In the 90th minute, Moses Dyer would ring a shot off the post, and that would mark the end of Valour’s comeback attempts.
Valour’s roster has been decimated recently by injuries and, in the case of tonight’s match, the addition of two suspensions to key players we also a major factor in the loss. “It was a nothing match, really, for about half an hour,” said Gale. “I think they pressed well. Obviously, we’re very short of bodies today. Five injuries, two suspensions, and we weren’t very sharp out of the gate today.”
Galán had mixed feelings about his 2021 debut, saying, “It was not the night I was dreaming for coming back. Personally, I feel good after three months.” He spoke about his match fitness with his coaches, telling them “I was feeling ready.” He said it was “more bitter than sweet” for himself tonight. He confessed he would rather have taken the win than made his debut, “The most important thing today was not my coming back. I wish not to come back today and get the win today.”
Luckily for Winnipeg, they now have an extended break before their next match, with eight days until they face Forge FC in the Canadian Championship’s quarter-final round. While there weren’t many positives to take from the match, Gale seemed quite pleased that they can now take some time to recoup and regroup. “The fact that we’ve got some space between games and can actually give the boys a day off,” he said, “they’ve had no days off again.”
With the list of missing pieces at a season-high, Valour’s ability to adapt to the flow of games is quite limited. “We’re counting the bodies at the moment,” said Gale, “in the sense that there’s some time between games so we can rest up and heal.”
Valour is now in a place where the four teams below them are going to start nipping at their heels for that last playoff spot. Leadership is more important than ever, and much of that leadership was watching from the press box tonight. Gale confirmed this, saying, “There are some key leaders injured at the minute or out tonight, and I think that’s really where it cost us.”
Looking forward, Gale hopes to bring things “back to basics” for the squad, but much of that is contingent on getting his injured players back to match fit status, and keeping the rest out of suspension trouble.
As mentioned above, Valour will next be in action on September 14th in Hamilton against Forge in the Canadian Championship. Valour’s next CPL fixture is September 18, 2021, when Cavalry FC will be back in town to play at IG Field.