2021 at a glanceValour FC is set to play at home – sort of – at The Kickoff presented by Volkswagen, taking to the pitch at IG Field in familiar confines. Roster turnover from both 2020 and 2021 off-seasons means only a handful of Valour players have actually played a competitive game IG Field – but that doesn't mean coach Rob Gale hasn't established a foundational core. A total of 13 players are set to return to Valour from the shortened Island Games campaign, including defenders Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Federico Peña, midfielders Raph Ohin and Masta Kacher, and attackers Austin Ricci and Moses Dyer. Those players guided Valour to a somewhat promising Island Games performance, missing the second round (more on that later) but proving a much-improved side from the joint wooden spoon-winning team of 2019. Whether the first eight matches "at home" will be an advantage or not, expectations will be raised for this Valour group – especially considering impressive recruits coming in.
- 2020 CPL record (W-D-L): 2-2-3 (6th overall)
- Goals scored: 8
- Goals against: 9
- Goal difference: -1
- Top scorer: Eight-way tie (1)
What happened in 2020?Valour FC entered the shortened Island Games season a much different-looking team by retaining just six players year-over-year. Gale produced a side that started slow but, by the end of their time in PEI, was downright difficult to play against. An opening 2-0 loss to short-rested Cavalry FC was a bitter pill to swallow as they failed to record a shot on target. Gale's side rebounded in emphatic fashion with a 4-0 win over a ten-man Atlético Ottawa a few days later – the biggest win in club history. The lethal and ever-present Jean-Baptiste-Julian Dunn centre-back pairing grew into the tournament while Ohin shined in a nil-nil result to York and a first-round morale-boosting 2-1 win over FC Edmonton thanks to Masta Kacher's late winner. Despite the early success, Valour's issues – injuries and a lack of goalscoring prowess – quickly started to hinder their odds at a second-round berth. The team failed to convert in a pair of 2-0 losses to Pacific FC and HFX Wanderers (the latter of which saw Winnipeg out-chance the CPL Finalists) and went into the final match with Forge FC having scored in just two-of-six matches... though they did have an outside chance of qualifying for the final round. Valour shined when it mattered, taking the lead against Forge in their final match thanks to a Moses Dyer header but eventually succumbed to a 2-2 draw – something Gale credited to as many as nine injuries and 19 total matches lost in camp by the final whistle in their Island Games finale.
How have they changed?PLAYERS IN: Jonathan Sirois, Tony Mikhael, Rodrigo Reyes, Rafael Galhardo, William Akio, Sean Rea, Jared Ulloa, Keven Alemán PLAYERS OUT: James Pantemis, Diego Gutíerrez, Raphaël Garcia, Yohan Le Bourhis, Chakib Hocine, Julian Dunn, Dante Campbell, Solomon Kojo Antwi, Dylan Carreiro, Fraser Aird, Shaan Hundal Valour kept the core together for 2021, something Gale was quick to publicize as a major off-season goal for the club. The majority of departures were bit-part players on PEI save for a handful of notable exceptions: James Pantemis and Julian Dunn returned to their MLS clubs following their loan deals, club captain Dylan Carreiro left the club and later retired, while Fraser Aird headed west to FC Edmonton. Gale has returned to the loan market for The Kickoff with four deals; Jonathan Sirois (CF Montreal), Sean Rea (CF Montreal), Jared Ulloa (Sporting Cristal), and Rodrigo Reyes (Chivas). Similar moves last year produced some real game-changers. Valour also signed former Brazilian Serie A team of the year member Rafael Galhardo. The ex-Gremio and Santos right fullback arrives with arguably the best pedigree of any CPLer to date.
Projected Starting XIJonathan Sirois; Brett Levis, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Rodrigo Reyes, Stefan Cebara; Raphael Ohin, José Galán, Rafael Galhardo; Masta Kacher, Austin Ricci, Keven Alemán CF Montreal loanee Jonathan Sirois follows closely in James Pantemis' footsteps by joining Winnipeg from the MLS side as a CPL-ready youngster. Matt Silva looks set to play back up again in 2021. Speaking of MLS loanees, Gale's first-choice backline has retained some continuity save for Julian Dunn's return to Toronto FC. Chivas centre back Rodrigo Reyes – a highly-touted defender on loan from the Mexican giants – replaces Dunn and joins Jean-Baptiste as another rock-solid first-choice defending tandem. Versatile wideplayer Brett Levis looks poised to own the left fullback role with Alemán's addition, seeing as the latter thrived as an inverted winger for Edmonton last season and former French first division defender Arnold Moutou has yet to arrive in Canada. Stefan Cebara looks to share right back duties with the younger more attack-minded Federico Peña. Valour's midfield is somewhat predictable – save for 29-year-old Galhardo. Rob Gale has suggested the career right back could play a no. six, no. eight, or no. 10 role in midfield. Bringing the club's biggest signing in their short existence into a central role is not a bad idea and the fact Gale is suggesting it hints this could very well happen. Ohin and Jose Galan return for their third seasons in Winnipeg and, in this top-choice XI, bring valuable experience with one another. Depth in midfield could bring more attack-minded players like Alemán, Kacher, or Daryl Fordyce into more subdued roles, though Ohin looks set to play more of a carrier role in 2021 anyways. Valour has retooled its attack following the aforementioned final-third woes on PEI. Younger loanees Jared Ulloa (Sporting Cristal) and Sean Rea (CF Montreal) are joined by former NCAA standout William Akio in a spunky core that easily usurp the status quo listed above as Kacher, striker Austin Ricci, and Alemán. Ricci, 25, is an intriguing element of Valour's attack considering he didn't score a goal in six appearances on PEI but was as consistently good. A much more physically imposing presence than he was at York, Ricci was a ruthless no. nine who was brilliant in holdup play. Alemán and Kacher remain in inverted winger roles – both of which thrived in during their seven-match run in 2020.
Coach's profile: Rob GaleAlways good for a soundbite, hometown hero Rob Gale returns for a third season as the CPL's answer to Harry Redknapp (credit to Ian Smith of Red River Rising for that quip). Gale's positivity is infectious and, perhaps like Redknapp, his propensity for a big splash on the player market can never be underestimated. Recent off-season recruitment of Monge (who couldn't make it to Canada), Galhardo, and Reyes show Gale's continued success of bringing top players to IG Field and, now with a solid core in place, that might be just what this team needs to become a CPL contender. You can't deny Gale played good football in the shortened 2020 season. The club completed the most shots on target in the box and passes into the box of any team, setting up a full season in 2021 that could very well see Winnipeg shore up its attacking woes with a bit of finishing and luck.
What they're saying"Now we’ve got more continuity and we want to hit the ground running as quickly as possible, but we know at least that by the end of a full season we’ll have a truer reflection of who we are. We’ve got time to get our people in and used to each other. It’s a shortened season in terms of time, but at least it’s a chance to get a true sense of where we stack up." – Valour FC coach Rob Gale