Final Score: Forge FC 0-1 Valour FC Goalscorers: Akio 61' Game of the 2022 season: 47 CPL match: 298​

Match in a minute or less

Valour FC completed a perfect two-match trip to Ontario on Wednesday night, as they defeated Forge FC 1-0 in Hamilton to improve to 4-4-4 on the season and pull within a point of a playoff spot. After a scoreless first half, Valour finally found their breakthrough courtesy of William Akio, who burst through the Forge defence on a quick counter-attack and finished well for what would ultimately be the only goal of the match. The hosts came close to equalizing late, especially after Valour forward Walter Ponce was sent off with a second yellow card, but in the end the visiting defence held firm for a crucial win for the Winnipeg club.

Three Observations

Valour stay strong in Ontario with quality in transition

Perhaps the greatest strength of this Valour team under Phil Dos Santos is the explosiveness with which they can attack when the opportunity presents itself. Forge are not a side that provide many of those opportunities -- they rarely give the ball away -- but on the occasions they did, Valour were well-positioned to strike. William Akio's goal is, of course, the greatest example of that lethality: Walter Ponce won the ball by catching Alessandro Hojabrpour by surprise with a good tackle, and from there it was a quick string of forward passes to attackers who began running immediately upon winning the ball. Sean Rea, himself a very talented player with an ability to go direct when called for, showcased his excellent footwork before playing it perfectly ahead to Akio, who did well to keep himself onside while still bursting into the gap between Garven Metusala and Malik Owolabi-Belewu. That would ultimately be the only time Valour were rewarded for their direct transitions, but they came close on quite a few other occasions. Akio's speed and technical skill to bring down balls over the top will always make him a threat on the counter-attack, but credit is also due to the ability of Rea and Alessandro Riggi to beat defenders and thus open up space for those quick balls forward. Plus, the workrate of the attacking players was important; in order to win the ball against Forge, all 10 outfield players are required to drop back and attempt to cut off passes or make timely tackles -- which means, of course, a lot of running to then get upfield quickly after coming deep. Again, the example of Akio's goal is demonstrative: Ponce, a centre-forward, was the one making the tackle within Valour's half to spark the attack. Valour had just 10 touches in Forge's penalty area, but they certainly made good use of their infrequent visits. "I think it's hard for coaches to sell that type of approach," Valour coach Phil Dos Santos said of the counter-attacking style postmatch. "It works if you're winning, it works if you're getting results. When it's not in your DNA as a team, it's hard. But today we needed to be smart. We played 72 hours ago, a game that asked a lot from our players, so we had to be smart in our approach."

Forge offer different look with defensive-minded fullbacks as Valour take away space

Bobby Smyrniotis' side has traditionally played with quite a balanced attacking setup, looking to play through the middle and while also offering threats from both flanks with aggressive fullbacks bombing forward to combine with wingers. When the likes of Jonathan Grant, Ashtone Morgan, or even Kwame Awuah have been in the lineup over the years for this team, the overlapping runs from both sides have been a key element of the attacking play. The roles of Forge's fullbacks were quite different on Wednesday. On the right side, Rezart Rama sat on the right touchline outside of Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson and he got fairly high up the pitch at times, but Rama is more of a traditional fullback than a wingback. He looked to play quick, shorter passes in toward Aboubcar Sissoko or David Choinière rather than stretch the game with pace -- though he did get into the space beside the box a few times and whipped in a couple of dangerous crosses, despite that not necessarily been his primary objective. On the other side, meanwhile, Garven Metusala -- making his return to the lineup after an extended absence -- played as an inverted left-back, an unnatural spot for him having played most of his time at centre-back or on the right. Metusala, a right-footed defender, isn't quite able to make the explosive overlapping runs that Morgan, for instance, might -- nor can he play in the left-footed crosses toward strikers. So, he often tucked in toward the middle, standing inside Valour winger William Akio when Forge played out of the back, which forced Tristan Borges to drop into a position akin to a left wingback, out on the touchline within his half. With more defensive-minded fullbacks on both sides, the Hammers were therefore slower to advance the ball into the final third, which allowed Valour's back six -- the four defenders as well as midfielders Diego Gutíerrez and Moses Dyer -- to set themselves more comfortably. Smyrniotis expressed postmatch that he didn't necessarily think the individual personnel were the root of their difficulty getting quickly upfield, but rather a matter of making errors at the wrong times that impeded momentum. "I think in the first half we make a lot of uncharacteristic passes," he said. "As they say in tennis, unforced errors; the opponent didn't force anything and we're just playing some bad passes that we don't usually do. I think in that first half, that's where we lost a little bit of our rhythm. I didn't think it was a function so much of which players, because there's players occupying the same zones, it was just different faces that were doing it today." The Forge boss attempted to rectify the situation with about 20 minutes left. He took Metusala off the pitch in place of an attacker in Terran Campbell, switching to a formation with Tristan Borges playing more as a left wingback, trying to spark more attacks from that side and play balls in to Campbell and Emery Welshman. They did get to the final third faster -- perhaps also thanks to Valour's late red card -- but ultimately still couldn't unlock the spaces they wanted. For that, credit is due in equal part to Valour's defending. Coach Phil Dos Santos pointed out postmatch that he expected his side to weather quite a storm at Tim Hortons Field, considering how dangerous Forge's attack has been lately with 14 goals in their last four games. "We prepared the guys for what happened at the end; we prepared them to get punched, and to be able to respond and punch back," Dos Santos said. "We knew there would be moments we would defend low; this is a team that has scored 14 goals in the last four games. It's a team that can score in so many different ways. So for us it was important to take away the space no matter where on the field. If we're able to step high and stay high we would do it, if not then we would have to have the mentality to defend low like we did at the end, and I think the guys were just fantastic." Andrew Jean-Baptiste continued to be an immense presence at the back for Valour, with his 11 clearances, not to mention the intelligent positioning that may not show up on the scoresheet; the visitors, across the board, held a very well-organized line.

Bekker shines as he joins the Century Club

Much of the buzz around this otherwise routine midweek clash hovered around one player: Forge FC captain Kyle Bekker. The 31-year-old joined a very exclusive club on Wednesday night, becoming the first person to play in 100 matches for a Canadian Premier League side across all competitions. Bekker, Forge's first signing in 2018 (alongside Chris Nanco) and the face of the club ever since, assumed his usual place in central midfield for this game. Playing in the trio that's become so dominant for the Hamilton club the past couple months -- Alessandro Hojabrpour holding with Bekker and Aboubacar Sissoko a little further up in the left and right half spaces, respectively -- Bekker went hunting for the ball with his trademark tenacity. The skipper came quite wide to the left at times to receive passes and help advance play, with the right-footed Garven Metusala playing left-back. Still, the advanced role and the speed with which Forge transitioned the ball upfield allowed Bekker to get into some dangerous advanced positions, from which he could combine very well with winger Tristan Borges. Bekker also dropped back on a few occasions to draw Valour's midfield toward him, opening up a gap between the lines where he could thread a pass through to Woobens Pacius for a quick break. He led his team with 15 final third entries, really engineering all of Forge's best attacks; he had an uncharacteristically low pass accuracy (78%), but that's largely down to his desire to play direct balls most of the evening to try and pick apart a stingy defence. He also won possession nine times, working very hard to close down space and inject some physicality in midfield. "You can't say enough about this guy," Bobby Smyrniotis said of his captain. "What he does, it's easy to see what he does on the field on his good days. I think I've said this in the past and over the years, Bekks is the guy on his bad football day, when passes aren't clicking or things aren't working, he's still working hard off the ball. Bekks is the guy who comes in here every day, takes care of himself and sets the standard in the team, and I think that's the difference he makes." Although the result did not fall Forge's way on the night, Bekker nonetheless deserved the laurels he received prematch, having been one of the best players in the Canadian Premier League since the very beginning. Bekker has played more games in a Forge shirt than any other CPL club has played in its history, having missed just six of the Hamilton club's games in his four years there. Bekker himself, humble as ever, took his moment at the postmatch podium to thank the teammates and coaches who have helped him along to this milestone. "Just hearing my teammates speak (about him) and that, it means a lot more than any sort of accolade," Bekker said. "These are the guys who show up every day and do the business with us so that means a lot more to me than I think they'll ever know. "It's kind of a testament to why I love this sport so much. Me getting to 100 games, it can't happen without everyone in that locker room, can't happen without all the staff we have here." Player of the Match

Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Valour FC The top-class centre-back was exceptional once again on Wednesday, making his second consecutive start for the first time since last July. He had a jaw-dropping 11 clearances, with three interceptions and two tackles won, also winning six of eight duels and creating a chance at the other end of the pitch.

What’s next?

After this, Forge will be back at home this Sunday, July 3 when they host Atlético Ottawa (4:00 p.m. ET). Valour, meanwhile, are off until Sunday, July 10, when they'll take on HFX Wanderers FC at home at IG Field (3:00 p.m. ET/2:00 p.m. CT). Watch all matches live on OneSoccer. In addition to its website and app, OneSoccer is now available on TELUS channel 980 and on Fubo TV. Call your local cable provider to ask for OneSoccer today.

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