2021 CPL regular season (The Kickoff) — Match #10 Valour FC vs. Atlético Ottawa July 3, 2021 at 10:00 pm ET/9:00 pm CT IG Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba Watch Live: OneSoccer.ca

The undefeated Valour FC roll on this weekend, hoping to make it a perfect 3-0 start against Atlético Ottawa with a clash under the lights on Saturday night at IG Field.

Rob Gale's Valour have had a dream start to the 2021 campaign, with back-to-back 2-0 triumphs over Forge FC and HFX Wanderers FC -- the two combatants of the 2020 CPL Final. There's probably no team in the league flying higher than this team right now, after silencing some critics and winning consecutive games for the first time in club history. Last time out against the Wanderers, an early goal from Andrew-Jean Baptiste (the CPL's player of the week) put them in front, and they went on to weather a tremendous storm, with HFX sending 25 shots toward goal before Valour's William Akio put a nail in the coffin.

Although the quote was, technically, about England in Euro 2020, Gale pointed out that a team with something to prove should never be counted out: "Never underestimate the underdog," he said on Friday. "The desire in the collective to prove people wrong."

Valour will head into this one on a very tight turnaround, which means it may be a slightly rotated side. Gale said on his pre-match media call that nobody is guaranteed to start, with fatigue certainly a risk. As for players still waiting to draw in, he revealed that Rodrigo Reyes is still awaiting his International Transfer Certificate, with next week more likely for his introduction, and Raphael Galhardo, who began training on Thursday, will draw in when the club feels he's up to speed.

Trying to knock Valour down a peg or two will be Ottawa, who could do with a rebound win after falling 4-1 to Cavalry FC. With a few key players missing from midfield, Ottawa struggled to get control of the ball against the high-flying Cavs, and it cost them. Miguel Acosta and Malcolm Shaw earned credit in the first half, combining for a tremendous goal from a quick transition, but ultimately they played most of the game on the back foot, after taking command for much of their season-opening win against FC Edmonton.

In fact, Ottawa's loss to Cavalry was a little reminiscent of their last (and only) meeting with Valour: In that contest at the Island Games (just the second in Atlético Ottawa's history), the two sides exchanged blows for around an hour before Valour pulled away, a quartet of late goals making it a 4-0 result in the end. Mista was fairly despondent after that one, suggesting his side hadn't properly represented the red and white stripes of Atlético, but Valour's ability to hang in and strike late was worthy of plaudits.

"Last year we lost very painfully to Valour," he recalled on Friday. "We have a lot of respect because they're one of the best teams now in the CPL."

Saturday will be their opportunity to flip the script with a statement.


  • Ottawa seeking answers in midfield: After how strong Ottawa's midfield was against Edmonton, it was nowhere near as significant a part of their game against Cavalry. That's surely due in large part to who was missing: Chris Mannella only played the second half, and Viti Martínez missed out entirely. As a result, Atleti was able to play through the middle just 19% of the time against Cavalry -- after spreading their possession evenly across the pitch against Edmonton. With Tevin Shaw and Ben McKendry together in the middle, they were able to retrieve the ball well and shuffle it wide, but neither had the passing range to be able to break Cavalry's press centrally. Mista said on Friday that Martínez will still be questionable for Saturday's game, so he's hoping the rest of the team can exert themselves a little more, and not shy away from taking risks: "We had a lot of fear in the last game, when we made the first mistake... I think the rest of the players, they had the spirit not to make the same mistake. We were a little frustrated because we didn't have the same confidence to play always, but this is the key. In the tough moments, having the personality to show everyone you will play, and you don't have to be scared about one mistake."​
  • Valour enjoying their football: Winning is always fun, but there's an energy around this Valour team that suggests they've become quite a strong group together -- look no further than the scenes after William Akio scored his first professional goal against HFX Wanderers on Thursday. Rob Gale pointed out that creating that sort of culture off the pitch has probably contributed to his team's cohesion on it:​
"It's a lot more fun on the field if you like the person, and you're a lot more willing to go the extra mile. I've been in dressing rooms where your teammate gets booted and you're all wanting to plonk one back on the opponent who's just done it, you stand up and be counted. I've also been in dressing rooms where someone's got kicked and you're like, 'Oh, good.'... "The camaraderie, the team spirit, it all transcends to the field and it's been bubbling away nicely here behind the scenes. I feel sorry for our neighbours below us and beside us because some of the singing each night has been suspect. They're a great group of fellas; it's an honour and a privilege to lead this group of men."
  • Can makeshift Valour backline stay perfect? Valour's defensive line has been as perfect as you could ask for through two games: 180 minutes played, no goals against. What's particularly surprising about that is it's not even their first-choice defensive unit; Stefan Cebara, more naturally a fullback or winger, has been very solid as a ball-playing centre-back. He's leaned on his partner Jean-Baptiste a good bit -- the Haitian-American defender has been an absolute rock through both games -- but Cebara has done well in his own right. Federico Peña, playing left-back with everyone else who might play the position (Brett Levis especially) unavailable, has been excellent as well, and Andy Baquero led Valour in touches on Wednesday.​

ALL-TIME SERIES Valour wins: 1 || Atlético Ottawa wins: 0 || Draws: 0

Previous match: August 19, 2020 – Atlético Ottawa 0-4 Valour FC


"We know they're well-drilled, they're well-prepared. I think they spent more money in their preseason than my entire staff budget so they've had lots of excellent preparation. They're well-organized, they've improved from last year for sure." -- Rob Gale, Valour FC head coach

"We will need to try to stop the counter attack, because they're very good, they have very fast strikers and they take advantage if you lose the ball in the middle and if your team is not organized. We try to recover the ball as quickly as possible if we lose it, but I think we will improve our rhythm with the ball because we missed a lot in the last week. " -- Mista, Atlético Ottawa head coach

Make your match picks prior to kickoff at canpl.ca/predictor for a chance to win prizes, including the grand prize of a trip to the 2021 CPL Final!

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