The Canadian Premier League might be starting the 2021 regular season with “all hands on deck” at Winnipeg’s IG Field this weekend, but coach and GM Rob Gale of Valour FC doesn’t see there being any type of advantage for his squad.
“No,” was the immediate response from Gale after being asked that question.
“We had our last three training sessions at different training fields. I think other teams have had more training at IG Field than we have. Opposite really, because you got your friends and family — you’re there but you’re not there. Doesn’t feel like we’re at home,” Gale admitted in reference to Valour players and staff being quarantined at the nearby Marriott Hotel along with the other seven teams and league personnel.
Atletico Ottawa and FC Edmonton, along with Victoria-based Pacific FC and HFX Halifax, will meet in Saturday’s opening games at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. local time, respectively. Valour plays its first game until Sunday at 1 p.m. versus two-time defending champion Forge FC of Hamilton. So from a glass-half-full perspective, does that give the Winnipeg-based outfit a chance to measure themselves right out of the gates against the very best?
“We started against Cavalry (Calgary) last year, so those two teams are the standard-bearers,” said Gale.
But he also pointed out that there’s a very tight gap in overall points the previous two years between the third- and seventh-place teams.
“Two teams stand out and obviously Forge got it done on both occasions when it mattered.”
But with a wide discrepancy between the training schedules of Atletico and other teams like Valour and Forge, Gale is going to take the outcome of Sunday’s opener with the proverbial grain of salt.
“I think this first one won’t be a proper reflection on either team, if I’m truly honest,” said Gale. “Just the shortened pre-seasons and everything that has gone on. It’s been difficult for both teams to get going.”
Gale was extremely evasive when it came to revealing what his opening day lineup would look like on Sunday, only saying that veteran defender Arnold Bouka Moutou was still in France getting some visa and family issues straightened out before arriving in Winnipeg.
But the Valour soccer boss was a lot more straightforward when asked about what it would take for the franchise to take that next step after going a combined 8-4-16 in the spring and fall leagues in 2019, and then 2-2-3 in the Island Games Tournament last August and September at UPEI in Charlottetown.
“Win more games. It’s as simple as that,” summed up Gale. “It’s a business, it’s a football industry, we understand that. I think we’ve played good football over the two years. We’ve had horrific luck with injuries both seasons to key personnel. That’s why you need more depth, more players who are capable at this level and we think we’ve addressed that once they all get here and are available. But we’ve got to turn some decent football and character in the room into wins.”
Two immediate areas of improvement would be scoring more goals — and avoiding the costly lapses that plagued the team, especially in year one when they were outscored 52-30 in their 28 games. Valour was able to shave that goal differential to just minus-one on Prince Edward Island last summer.
Gale pointed out one particular incident he saw as a turning point.
“There was that feeling that we could be bullied, we could be got about, and I think that changes when Andrew Jean-Baptiste got kicked in the face inside eight minutes in the Cavalry game,” recalled Gale. “He stood up and he’s got a nice little hole in his face — and then we conceded a goal and he’s got them in a circle.
“And I thought, you know, we’re a different animal. We’ve got some personality in the room. We’ve got some people who will stand up and be counted. And that’s what we needed. That was the difference between year one and year two, the mentality shift was in the room that can’t be coach-driven.”
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