Final Score: Valour FC 1-0 Forge FC Goalscorers: Austin Ricci (56′) Game of the 2021 season: 18 CPL match: 153
Match in a minute or lessConditions were hot and made for a lethargic start at both ends but Valour FC found a way to snatch all three points thanks to a moment of magic from Austin Ricci early in the second half as they took down Forge 1-0 Sunday afternoon at IG Field. Little separated the two in the opening 45' but the home side came out on the front foot to start the second half and was rewarded through a piece of individual brilliance from Ricci. From there, Valour demonstrated the sort of defensive solidity we saw from them in their opening three matches as they picked up their fourth clean sheet in five games played — keeper Jonathan Sirois is yet to concede in four appearances.
Three ObservationsDisallowed goal motivates Gale's group Valour's Rafael Galhardo curled in a beautiful freekick fresh off the bench as a substitute on Wednesday evening to make it 2-2 against York United — only for the official to rule out the equalizer due to Andrew Jean-Baptiste being deemed to be too close to the wall. Gale's team would go on to lose the match 2-1 against the Nine Stripes, dropping their first points of the season. The decision was a polarizing one online in the aftermath of the game and while Valour felt they were hard done by, they used the moment as a source of motivation ahead of a crucial test against Forge: "We were disappointed and we wanted to react in the right way," Gale told reporters after the match. "We knew it was a chance to go ahead in the table again and put some distance between us and Forge who had two really good games and everyone was saying how good they are, so we wanted to get after them."
With one moment of individual class erased by the referee's whistle on Wednesday, it was only fitting that Ricci would score the only goal in this match in spectacular fashion to secure all three points.
Valour up for aerial battle
After three straight clean sheets to start 2021 for Valour, York finally broke the deadlock on Wednesday — twice in fact, with both goals coming from headers by Lowell Wright and Dominick Zator respectively.
Perhaps Forge saw the Nine Stripes two goals as a potential chink in Valour's armour as open play crosses were 18-2 in favour of the Hammers on Sunday and yet they garnered very little threat through the air.
With players like Mo Babouli, David Choinière and Chris Nanco in their attack, Forge are much better suited to an offensive setup that consists of plenty of fluidity and interchange with the aforementioned three all more competent in their dribbling and dynamism than their prowess in the air. Add in the challenge of battling Baptiste in the air (who was involved in a match high six aerial duels) and it becomes clear why the Forge threat remained low on deliveries from wide areas despite the quantity of chances.
Kudos to Jonathan Sirois in goal as well as the CF Montreal loanee has demonstrated an impressive command of his area in his four appearances, a big part of the reason he's yet to conced in a Valour shirt.
Forge too dependent on left flank
Smyrniotis has praised Kwame Awuah on a regular basis, deeming the left back Forge's "best player" so far in 2021 earlier this week. While the title is somewhat justified, the Hammers might have leaned on the legs of Awuah on the left flank a little too heavy against Valour —particularly in the opening half where 59% of their attacking moves came from his wing as opposed to through the middle or from the right.
Awuah led Forge in touches (92), passes completed (50) and attempted passes in the opposition half (50) while his average position throughout the 90' saw him spending most of the match in the attacking half of the pitch.
Credit to Smyrniotis for adjusting at the half as the distribution of where attacking builds were occurring became much more balanced after the interval, but once Valour found their goal it was always going to be difficult to break down a well structured defensive unit.
When this squad is back to full fitness and Tristan Borges, Kyle Bekker and Co. are all available to Forge, Awuah remains an important asset to their attack, but as shown on Sunday, the rest of the league has begun to take notice of their reliance on the 25-year-old Toronto native.
CanPL.ca Player of the Match
Austin Ricci, Valour FC While it was far from his most complete performance, Ricci was full worth for this honour on the back of his pivotal strike alone. In grueling heat and playing conditions, creativity and combinations were limited throughout the match but it was the right boot of Ricci that decided the outcome in style. What’s next? Valour gets the extra day to rest as they suit up against Atlético Ottawa on Thursday, July 15 (5 pm ET/4 pm CT), while Forge takes on FC Edmonton on Wednesday, July 14 (10 pm ET/9 pm CT). Watch all matches live on OneSoccer.