Study some of the numbers from Valour FC’s first two Canadian Premier League seasons and it doesn’t take a Masters in mathematics to unearth one of their main issues. They simply don’t put the ball in the back of the net often and consistently enough. In 2019, the CPL’s inaugural season, Valour was held off the score sheet in 10 of 30 games while finishing fifth of the seven teams in goals. And in last year’s Island Games they managed eight goals in seven matches – four of them in a win over Atlético Ottawa – while being blanked in four contests. That, people, is a whole lot of goose eggs and it’s clearly a focus as we complete our position-by-position look at Valour’s roster with a study of the forward group.
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"It’s the hardest part of the game. It’s why everyone in the world of football, pretty much, is looking for strikers," head coach Rob Gale said. "And Harry Kane and Erling Haaland aren’t coming to us, so we have to find players who can put the ball in the back of the net. "We don’t want to be the team that looks good on paper, that looks good up until that final box and can’t get the end product and the wins that sometimes our football deserves. "That’s something we’ve struggled with. I thought we improved last year. The expected goals were there. But we don’t want to be kept off the scoresheet in games this year." Even without Ronny Maza who, like Nestor Monge, won’t be able to join the team because of visa issues, Valour does appear to have some intriguing forward candidates to finish on its current roster. Returning are Austin Ricci and Masta Kacher from last year, and joining them are University of Texas-Rio Grande star William Akio, former Vancouver Whitecaps prospect and local product Georges Mukumbilwa, and 18-year-old Jared Ulloa, who comes to the club via Sporting Cristal in Peru. "They’ve brought in a bunch of different guys who can offer different things," said Ricci. "It’ll be nice to get everyone together (after quarantine) and see how we connect and what each player brings to help us as a collective. "In a few weeks we should have a good feel for it, but things are starting to shape up already. I think our continuity will help. Coming in last year I didn’t know the majority of the guys. I didn’t know their tendencies or what they like to do, I didn’t know what they tend to do when they get on the ball or where they liked the ball. "So, knowing a lot of these guys now helps a lot. That’s definitely huge and important in our production."
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Valour’s goals at the Island Games came from eight different players and while Ricci had his opportunities, the only marker that came from a player playing up front came from Kacher. Gale said the speed that players like Akio will bring, coupled with the existing skillsets, should help unlock some defences. "What we felt in the wide areas sometimes we always have players who want to come underneath and combine… we talked about this before: you need to threaten off the shoulder," Gale explained. "A defender dislikes nothing more than not being able to see the ball and the player. If you’ve got players who can hide in the shadows and threaten that space behind it keeps the defence honest – they’re not going to step in and push up their line if you’re a threat over the top." Interestingly, Valour management has been able to find talent to put the ball in the back of the net – it’s just that they have all moved on. Marco Bustos is the franchise leader with eight career goals but signed with Pacific FC last year. Michael Petrasso (York United) and Tyler Attardo (now in Cyprus) are second on that list with six goals. Discovering more talent that can consistently score can be like trying to find a unicorn. "Ahh, the mythical unicorn… hopefully it’s not a mythical striker for us," said Gale. "They are real. They are here and they’re going to pop the ball in the net this year."