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In a battle of two sides that badly need wins, the Halifax Wanderers hosts Valour FC at Wanderers Grounds in CPL action on Saturday. With just one win between the pair in sixteen combined league games, as the Wanderers are yet to put up a victory in 2023, while Valour hasn't won since week one of CPL lay, this will be a huge opportunity for one of these sides to potentially pick up a momentum-boosting result. For Halifax, they'll desperately be hoping that it's them, as they finally get a chance to settle at home for a bit after spending six of their first eight games on the road. Now set to play four of their next six at home, this stretch will be a great opportunity for them to put their slow start behind them, as they look to climb up from the bottom of the CPL standings. In their first season under head coach Patrice Gheisar, they've continued to play well, but just need to start turning performances into results. In particular, they'll need to find a way to put in a complete performance across 90 minutes, as they've shown good flashes in games, but haven't been able to maintain them long enough to grab a victory. A side with several new professionals, however, that's to be expected, but given the unforgiving nature of the sport, they'll need to apply those learnings as quickly as possible before it's too late. The good news? This is a good game to do that. Back at home for just the second time in the last six games, they'll look to use the energy of the always-loud Wanderers Grounds to fuel them, especially after their last match here was a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of York United. Especially against a Valour team that has similarly struggled to put up wins despite also putting in some strong performances, they'll have to be looking at this match as an opportunity to turn things around. As for that Valour side, however, they'll enter this game with a chip on their shoulder. Sitting with six draws and one loss in their last seven matches, they've felt that they probably could've turned at least a few of those games into wins, but they just haven't been able to those victories across the line. They've been putting in some strong performances, especially defensively, which is impressive given some of the injuries they've dealt with there, but now need the results to match. In particular, they'll look to start scoring some more goals and accumulating more wins away from home, both of which they'll look to change this weekend. "Right now I need to trust the process," Valour's head coach, Phil Dos Santos said of his team's offence. "The guys are confident, they know that the chances are coming every game, we've created chances and they've not been sporadic. I think there's a process, a method to the way we've committed to it, and we need to believe that once they start going in, and confidence kicks in and that element of our game will soar." Therefore, when looking at the form of both teams, it's safe to say - this is a must-win for both sides, and should hopefully lead to an entertaining matchup between two teams that usually play each other extremely tightly. "I expect a game that's going to open up," Dos Santos noted. "I expect a game where both teams are going to be very aggressive on the ball carriers, are going to limit the time and space they give the opposition, and that should make for a good game, a fast-paced game, one where players are committed and are very tight to the opposition. That brings physical contact, that brings an aggressive game, especially knowing that there are three points on the line that are very important for both teams right here."
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3 THINGS TO WATCH
- Will goals be on the menu this time around? The last time these two teams met, it was extremely difficult to split them on the day, as they were left to share the points in a goalless draw. Yet, this is just the latest example of a growing trend from whenever these two sides meet - goals are often hard to come by. Last year, just three goals were scored in total across four meetings, two of which were from the penalty spot via Sam Salter in a pair of 1-0 Halifax Wanderers wins. That means in their last five meetings, they've combined for just one open play goal, coming when Moses Dyer scored the winner for Valour in a meeting in July of last year. For whatever reason, playing each other just seems to get the absolute most defensively out of both sides, and it has led to some cagey matchups. Because of that, look for the attacking players on both teams to try and change that. Often, in cagey matchups like this, a moment of magic is needed to break things open, and there will be players on the pitch that can do that. If not, another 0-0 draw could be on the table, although given the combined 12 draws these teams have in 16 games, they'll both be hoping that's not the case.
- Can Halifax tighten ship defensively at home? At the end of the 2022 season, Halifax did well to find a good formula defensively at home, keeping clean sheets in four straight games between August 13th and September 10th. They then had a bit of a dip to end the season, unfortunately, allowing four goals in their last two games, but that prior stretch was quite encouraging to see, especially as they looked to build towards this season. As a result, they'll have to be frustrated that through two home games, they've already conceded four goals, as expansion side Vancouver FC were able to get one (and probably should've had more) in Halifax's home opener, before York dropped three on them in their latest home game. You add that they were only able to find one goal across those matches, and that led to them picking up just one point out of a possible six in those two encounters. Therefore, as they return home, look for them to tighten the ship up defensively, in particular. A few more goals wouldn't hurt, yes, but given their performances and that they're underperforming their xG of 10.22 by a whopping 4.22 goals, those will come. Plus, if they can defend well, that'll only alleviate the pressure on their forwards to score, allowing them to grab that first win. In particular, Halifax's midfielders will have to be diligent in transition against this Valour side, which will put a lot of onus on strong performances from the likes of Andre Rampersad, Lorenzo Callegari and Riley Ferrazzo, in particular.
- Valour looking to maintain midfield dominance: Quietly, Valour's done very well defensively this season, conceding a league-low seven goals in eight games. The play of goalkeeper Rayane Yesli has helped immensely with that, no doubt, but another big factor has also quickly emerged - this Valour midfield is becoming extremely tough to play against. Led by Dante Campbell in defensive midfield, and the likes of Diego Gutiérrez, Marcello Polisi and Juan Pablo Sánchez in front of him, they've done well to hold up even despite missing the always-reliable Raphael Ohin since game #2 with an injury. In particular, Gutiérrez has taken a big step forward as a leader on both sides of the ball this year, while Campbell has proven to be capable of taking a game over if need be. From there, Polisi has done well to slot in seamlessly after returning from an injury, able to contribute on both sides of the ball, while Sánchez has done well to hit the ground running in his first season, also sitting as a key source of U21 minutes for Valour. Now, the big step for this group will be to get more to happen in the final third, as they've got just one goal and no assists combined between them, but given what they've shown defensively, as well as on the ball, you'd back them to start changing that soon. If they can, it'll be a huge boost for Valour's attack, just further adding to the dominance they've been able to provide on the other side of the ball for this team.
PROJECTED STARTING XIsHalifax Wanderers: (4-3-3) Fillion; Campagna, Nimick, Loughrey, Ruby; Rampersad, Callegari, Giraldo; Fernandez, Ferrin, Daniels Valour FC: (4-3-3) Yesli; Baquero, Cela, Samaké, de Brienne; Polisi, Campbell, Gutiérrez; Niyongabire, Novak, Williams
Valour wins: 5 || Halifax Wanderers wins: 8 || Draws: 3
May 6, 2023 — Valour FC 0-0 Halifax Wanderers
May 6, 2023 — Valour FC 0-0 Halifax Wanderers
"It's getting to crunch time. Looking at how the standings are, we're at a point where there's an opportunity to create some separation if you can get three points. So it's important for any team to get three points right now. I think that if you're able to put a couple of wins together, we just saw what it did to York United, so let's not kid ourselves or try to sugarcoat things here. It's been good to go through this adversity and not lose games while remaining extremely competitive, because it allows you to embrace the next challenge better emotionally. This group is confident, they haven't been affected by any of it, so that's good, but it's also important to realize that wins and getting all three points are more important than ever right now." --Valour FC head coach Phil Dos Santos.