2022 Canadian Championship — Preliminary Round Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. Valour FC May 11, 2022 at 7 p.m. PT/9 p.m. CT BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia Watch Live: OneSoccer.ca // Tickets available here

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For the first time in club history, Valour FC will face off against an MLS side on Wednesday, when they’ll take on the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place in the preliminary round of the Canadian Championship. There, a stiff task awaits them, as they get set to face a Whitecaps side filled with some quality players, such as Ryan Gauld, Brian White, Lucas Cavallini and Cristian Dajome, who make up the core of a solid team, one who made the MLS playoffs last season. “This is a (big) opportunity for this club,” Valour head coach, Phil Dos Santos, stated confidently in the lead-up to this game. “It's the first time we're playing an MLS team.” Despite that, however, Valour have reasons to be optimistic about their chances against their Vancouver-based foes in that game. While they might’ve made the playoffs last year, this edition of the Whitecaps have been anything but a playoff-calibre side, finding themselves at the bottom of the MLS standings through the first couple weeks, sitting with just seven points through their first nine games. Along with some struggles in the injury department, which are continuing into this game with Thomas Hasal, Caio Alexandre and Tristan Blackmon all out for Wednesday, with Leonard Owusu and Cristian Gutierrez both doubts, that hasn’t helped, either. Plus, there’s also the fact that this competition hasn’t exactly been kind to the Whitecaps in the past. Even though they’ve been one of just three teams to participate in every edition of this tournament, they have just one Voyageurs Cup to their name, a far cry from the other two original participants, CF Montreal (formerly Montreal Impact), who have won five, and Toronto FC, who have won seven. Not only that, but the Whitecaps have especially struggled in recent editions of the competition, too, falling to Cavalry FC in the third qualifying round back in 2019, and to Pacific FC in the preliminary round of the 2021 edition, meaning that they haven’t won a Canadian Championship game since 2018. So while the Whitecaps might be favourites on paper, they head into this game with the daunting duo of poor recent history and rising pressure sitting on their backs, making this a must-win match for them, and they recognize as much. “This is a priority, I’d say even a bigger priority than MLS,” Whitecaps head coach, Vanni Sartini, admitted of the Canadian Championship. “We want to approach this tournament like it is the most important objective of the year.”

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On the other side, however, Valour, who currently sits 6th in the CPL table with one win, two draws and a loss, are feeling anything but that pressure at the moment. In this first clash against an MLS side, they know that just getting a chance to be in a game like this is a big deal for the club, arguably making it the biggest match in their four-year history. Coming off a decent run in the Canadian Championship last year, one where they narrowly lost by one goal to Forge in the quarter-finals, they’ll believe that they can make it to the top four this time around, too. Even without starting goalkeeper, Jonathan Sirois, who is out of this game due to a clause in his loan contract, and centre back Andrew Jean-Baptiste, who is returning from a hamstring injury, Valour is confident in the group that they have, backing themselves to be able and snatch a result on the road. They might be up against it on paper, but they know that with this match being a single-elimination outing, anything can happen across 90 minutes (and maybe penalties), giving them the belief that they can grab the result. You throw in the Whitecaps Canadian Championship history, and that they’ve never beaten a Canadian Premier League side, a lot is actually in Valour’s favour, something they’re looking to channel into a strong performance. “It's an opportunity for us,” Dos Santos said. “It's an opportunity for us to see what we can do against guys that have played in leagues that have a very high reputation, against players that have seen a lot of international games as well. “It’s also an opportunity for our guys to see where we’re at right now, and I think we need to enjoy the moment and not play with fear but play with responsibility.” As a result, there’s expected to be plenty of incentive to win on both sides. Along with several connections between the pair of the clubs on and off the field, there is a lot more history than one would expect between two teams who have never played each other, adding to what many are circling as the ‘must-watch’ game of this Canadian Championship preliminary round.


  • Familiar faces, not so familiar places: Speaking of those connections, it’s worth noting how strong some of those connections are, especially on Valour’s side, as they have a lot of former Whitecaps in their organization. On the pitch, for example, there’s regular starter, Brett Levis, who was a longtime Whitecaps prospect and then first-teamer, before he joined Valour in 2020. Otherwise, Matteo de Brienne also spent some time in the Whitecaps academy, but never broke through with the club, while Sirois also famously joined the team for a one-game loan at the MLS is Back tournament in 2020. As well as Diego Gutierrez, whose twin brother, Cristian, is a key piece of the Whitecaps (and nearly joined his brother at Valour before signing with Vancouver), there will be several hungry Valour players on the pitch when they emerge from the BC Place tunnel on Wednesday. “They’ll probably want to show to their former club that they're doing a good job,” Sartini noted. “And they have extra motivation for that reason.” Plus, they’re not even the biggest story of them all, either, as there is of course Dos Santos, who was an assistant on the Whitecaps under brother Marc for two-and-a-half seasons, before they were both relieved of their duties in the aftermath of the team’s elimination from the Canadian Championship to Pacific last year. Because of that, you’d expect him to be well-geared up for this game, even if he might not admit as much publicly, knowing that he’ll have a prime opportunity to one-up his former employers, joining several of his players on that revenge hunt. “Yes, emotionally, it’s engaging,” Dos Santos said of his return. “But I know that once the whistle is blown and once the game starts, it will be another 90 minutes, another game, (especially) once you get in the fire and in the action.”
  • Whitecaps aiming to get back to basics: Currently mired in their worst start in MLS history, the Whitecaps have been hard at work the last few weeks ahead of this game, as they try to rescue what has already been a very tough campaign, of which winning the Canadian Championship would certainly be seen as a beacon from. Recently given the fortune of a bye week due to the Seattle Sounders’ participation in the CONCACAF Champions League final, they used that extra time off as a ‘second preseason’, giving them a chance to hit the reset button on several aspects of their game, from their formation to the individual mindsets of players, as they tried to put the first eight games of the year behind them. And considering that in the first game back from that break, they beat Toronto FC 1-0 with a late-winner, they feel that work is already paying off for them right now. Because of that, their goal is to build off of that ahead of this game. Having switched from a back three to a back four against Toronto, it’s expected that they continue with that tactical change, having kept just their third clean sheet of the season. Along with the boost that the formation switch gave them offensively, allowing them to generate more than 2.00 non-penalty Expected Goals (xG) in a game for the first time all year, Vancouver feels that it’ll allow them to turn the corner as a whole, giving them a boost as they get set for this crucial matchup. “We have to be very humble,” Sartini said of his team’s game plan. “(Have to be) very committed to our tactical principle, and do the game at the top of our intensity, because that's the only way to give us the chance to do what we are supposed to do to win.”
  • Valour’s front four looking to have fun: Through the first few weeks of the CPL season, the team that leads the league in goals? This Valour FC side, who through four games, sits with a whopping nine goals, one ahead of second-place Pacific (who amassed that total in two more games, too). As a result, it’s expected that Valour comes into this game hungry to score, and understandably so. Of course, Valour did have the fortune of bagging six of those goals in a big win over Ottawa, and are coming off a game where they were shut out by the HFX Wanderers at home, so the numbers are a bit skewed, but despite that, as those totals show, they can do some damage on their day. Because of that, as they get set to face off against a Vancouver side bottom five in MLS in xG against so far this year, look for that front four, likely consisting of Moses Dyer, William Akio, Sean Rea and Alessandro Riggi (with Levis on the periphery of that), to potentially have some fun against this Whitecaps defence. Even with Vancouver coming off of that aforementioned clean sheet, it’s worth noting that came despite having to stomach 1.75 xG from a depleted TFC team, which is less than ideal. So against a Valour side that has shown to be dangerous when they click, especially in transition, it could be a long night for the Whitecaps defensively, especially if they give those Valour attackers any kind of room in space in any dangerous areas in their final third. “It's about finding consistency and we believe there are things to exploit in the way we're going to attack the Whitecaps,” Dos Santos said of his front four. “We need to be extremely aggressive attacking the spaces that they give us, because Vancouver's a team that is in their element when they're defending a bit more set. So we can’t let them set, and we need to exploit the spaces and use this the pace that we have up top.”


First meeting between these sides.


“We don't want to go there with fear. We want to go there with the sense that there's an opportunity here for us and that these are good games for us to play. It's a game where we need the only responsibility that we have is the one that we put on ourselves. It's a game, and we want to win it just like any other game. Now, are we aware that it's difficult, extremely difficult? Yes. But is it impossible? No, it isn't, because it's been done in the past.” -- Valour FC head coach Phil Dos Santos.

“It's a good team. It's a team that plays this 4-4-2 with midfielders, they do a lot of rotation with the midfielders when they roll out, then their fullbacks, they go high, and their wingers come inside to play. So it's a team that if we let them play, and if we are not intense like we have to, they can create a lot of problems. We will need to prepare like we’re facing any other opponent in MLS, because if our level of commitment or level of intensity is not 100%, it's gonna be a very hard night.” -- Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini.

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