Prior to the start of the Canadian Premier League’s kickoff tournament in Winnipeg, Valour FC soccer boss Rob Gale spoke about the challenges his team faced when it came to health and a lack of training time to prepare for the season.
Three wins later, and sitting atop the CPL standings, the question asked of Gale on Tuesday was if he was trying to pull the wool over a few sets of eyes, but the Valour coach and general manager was having none of that.
“We had four weeks of pre-season. Some teams have had four months,” countered Gale during a Zoom session with media ahead of Wednesday’s 9 p.m. start versus York United. “Pre-season goes out the window once the season starts. These are games we have to get better in, game to game.”
So far so good though, as Valour has put together three consecutive 2-nil victories over Forge, Halifax and Atletico Ottawa in a seven-day span. And for a franchise that struggled mightily to keep the ball out of the net during year one, Gale sees that as an extension of the progress made during the team’s first five games of the tournament last summer in P.E.I. when Valour also got off to a great start in the goals against column.
“Most of the defensive personnel has stayed the same, so continuity helps,” pointed out Gale in reference to returnees like Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Stefan Cabrera, and Federico Pena on the backline as well as Raphael Ohin and Moses Dyer in the midfield.
“Probably you’re looking at the defence, but it’s ahead of that. It’s the forward line, the work to press. The midfield unit sharing the workloads, the wide areas so that you don’t put so much pressure on your back four. You don’t give away as many set pieces. It’s a front-to-back effort,” explained Gale.
And for Wednesday night’s match, Valour will have up to two thousand fully vaccinated supporters cheering them on. That should be perceived as an advantage, although Gale is taking a wait-and-see approach after what he witnessed during the 2019 campaign. “I thought the first year affected the Manitoba boys, playing at home in front of friends and family,” said Gale who feels, in looking back, the effect was not of a positive nature.
“Whether they got over-excited, over-nervous, over-happy. When you’re doing well people fill you full of praise — and then it comes crashing down around your ears if you let that get to you.”
Gale does see an older more mature group handling that situation in a more productive way, but he says Wednesday night, and the four games to follow, will provide proof. And he’s certainly not taking anything for granted against York United who are coming off a pair of draws after a season-opening 2-1 loss to powerhouse Cavalry FC of Calgary.
“They’re pacey, they’re direct. They love to get at players,” was Gale’s assessment of York. “They’ve got a lot of tools and they’ve got a lot of young Canadians in there so I think they’re going to get stronger and stronger. They obviously had a pretty disjointed season as well. It’s a very difficult, very challenging opposition. ”