Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I hope you enjoyed time with your loved ones, whether you spent that time at IG Filed or not.
As far as the afternoon meeting between Valour FC and Forge FC goes, the Winnipeg side went in knowing they would have their hands full.
Forge was tied for 2nd place ahead of today’s match, and for good reason. Solid defence and a number of scoring threats are in Forge’s toolbox, and they know just how to use them.
Valour, on the other hand, has just one win in over a dozen games played. Having just managed back-to-back draws, however, they hope the next step is a solid win. A victory would be amazing for them and their new gaffer Phil Dos Santos, who has yet to register a win as a Head Coach at the professional level.
Valour came out of the tunnel charged up. They started the match with speed and energy and it immediately paid off.
At the stroke of the four-minute mark, Rocco Romeo tapped home a delicious square pass across the six-yard box from Moses Dyer, who was only paying it forward after getting on the end of a near-perfect through-ball from Raphael Ohin.
Valour’s ball movement was excellent to begin the match, which is something to which Valour supporters have become accustomed. The question in the back of those very same supporters’ minds would be can they keep it up for ninety minutes today? We have seen Valour come out guns-blazing on many occasions, dominating the first fifteen to thirty minutes only to concede a goal at the end of the half by way of a silly mistake.
Dos Santos has been preaching the importance of being more cautious, particularly in certain dangerous areas of the pitch. Since Dos Santos’ arrival, the club has made fewer gaffs in their own area, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Fans were hoping to see that lack of attention to detail disappear. Today, if possible.
Spoiler alert: the fans would be disappointed on this day.
While I wouldn’t classify it as a mistake, so much, the inability to clear the ball from their own third of the pitch cost them. In the 38th minute, Garven-Michee Metusala would capitalize on a little chaos in the Valour area. After Stefan Cebara blocked a cross, an awkward bouncing ball would fall to Metusala’s foot, and he would bounce it into the net to draw the game level.
In a highlight-reel play that began on the foot of Ohin, William Akio restored Valour’s lead in the dying minutes of the half by running the ball from well within his own half, cutting through two defenders while outpacing two others, before sliding the ball into the bottom corner. I knew Akio was fast, but you have to go back and watch this run again to see just how fast. He left all players from both clubs in his dust.
In the 59th minute, Dyer would be set loose by none other than Ohin, again. After an awkward bounce, Dyer was able to gain control of the ball in behind the Forge defenders, where he smashed it into the bottom left corner of Triston Henry’s net.
I felt bad for Henry at this point, because he really didn’t have a chance to stop any of Valour’s goals. A total of 16 goals have been allowed by Forge in 20 games played this season, ranking them first in the CPL. Normally Forge is very defensively minded, however, Henry was hung out to dry on many occasions today. The analysts will have fun debating whether this was due to a surprisingly explosive Valour offence or just an off day for the Forge defenders.
By the 80th minute, Forge’s frustration was showing. They knew the game was not truly within their reach. They were committing unnecessary fouls and giving up the ball far too easily. Through their reckless play, Forge was goading Winnipeg to commit their own fouls and engage in the trash-talking that takes their focus off of the play.
Valour’s task, when faced with this situation, would be to avoid getting caught up in such shenanigans. The team would need to realize they were in control with a 2 point lead. They did not need to give Forge the satisfaction of letting the trailing side into their heads.
Speaking of satisfaction, Dos Santos was quite pleased with his club today after earning his first win as Head Coach against one of the most dangerous teams in the league. “I am grateful,” he said after the match, referring to the hard work his players put in to earn him the milestone moment. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.
Aside from creating many opportunities with his passing and being involved in all three goals Valour scored, Raphael Ohin was a force to be reckoned with on the pitch today. While it’s quite normal for him to impose his will on the ball and it’s no secret that his conditioning is among the best, if not the best on the team, he was even more influential on the play this day. That is why I would have awarded him Man of the Match.
I have slightly criticized Andy Baquero previously for his decision-making, but he has looked quite a bit better in the last few games. It appears that he is making earlier passes, avoiding the no-look flick type passes, and he is not running directly at defenders before forcing a ball through a far-too-narrow space. I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from the Cuban recently, and I hope his growth continues.
As far as Dos Santos is concerned, I’m quite confident he will be a solid shot-caller going forward. By all accounts, the players like and respect him, and the evolution of Valour’s game since his arrival has been impressive.
However, Valour must continue to improve as they only have five matches left this season, and they currently sit three points out of a playoff spot.
Valour’s next match is at Starlight Stadium, against league-leading Pacific FC, on October 16th. They only have one home match left on October 26th when they host arguably the hottest CPL squad right now, HFX Wanderers.