Valour FC players, coaches and staff will pack up and head a few kilometres to their downtown hotel today as part of the Canadian Premier League's 'bubble' -- all in advance of the 'Kickoff tournament which opens this weekend at IG Field. That alone – moving into a hotel in your home city for a few weeks – will certainly make the experience unique. There will undoubtedly be the benefits that come from the camaraderie that can be built when a team is gathered together. Still, for those who haven't been a part of a 'sporting bubble', it's worth noting it's not all room service, trips to the day spa and lounging around the hotel for hours on end. There's also the occasional mind-numbing feeling of entrapment and the constant fixation on football. Film study, meetings offset by more film study and meetings. "Honestly, for the coaching staff it's non-stop," explained Valour FC GM and head coach Rob Gale in a chat with CanPL.ca. "When we're not on the field or in the lunchroom with the team we're in the room watching footage and planning training sessions and looking at lineups and coming up with strategies. One day then blurs into the next. "That's the one thing about a 'bubble' situation. You don't go home and then decompress for a couple of days. You can't kick back with the kids for an afternoon and lounge about the pool. You walk down the hallway and you brush shoulders with Tommy Wheeldon (Cavalry FC head coach) and your juices get going again. It's 'Dammit, I want to beat that #$&@!' Every time you walk by somebody with the opposition you're thinking about the last game or it heightens the fact you want to win. You can't get it out of your mind. Football is always on the brain. "The only kind of downtime is maybe when you have a meeting with the players and it's a fun time with quiz night or a talent show. Or maybe we'll watch a Copa America or Euro game. The funny thing is your relief from football is to watch a football match."
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Valour FC does have experience with this, of course, having lived through the CPL's Island Games last August-September in Prince Edward Island. This year the team's eight matches will take them through July 24th, at which point the CPL hopes to have the teams return home to play in front of fans in their own stadiums. Now, Valour FC players raved last summer and fall, back when so many were opting to re-sign, about how their bubble days in Charlottetown helped build their team chemistry. Yet, when they weren't playing their seven matches jammed into the First Stage of the event, they were also occasionally trying not to drive each other bonkers. "Everyone has their own opinion, but it wasn't always great," said Valour forward Austin Ricci in a recent Valour Hour podcast. "You're never going to be in a hotel for that amount of time and it's going to be great. I actually think they did a decent job with the circumstances… the way they organized it was all right. We (the team) had our own room in the hotel that was a decent size, we had space for meetings and a physio area." Ricci's roommate last year was Stefan Cebara, who just so happened to appear with him on our podcast. The two of them offered up this honest taste of life inside the bubble… "You put 99 of 100 people in my position and you've got to wake up and see that face every day…," said Ricci, grinning and nodding toward Cebara. "That's the first thing you see, they wouldn't have made it the whole month and a half." Cebara laughed for a moment, then chimed in with his own tale of bubble life with Ricci as a roommate. "Since we're talking about that, let me bring something up," Cebara said. "Being roommates with this guy, I was woken up by Call of Duty every single morning. I did not turn on the TV once while I was there, so we've got him playing Call of Duty eight hours a day. "I want to go to sleep, he's playing games. He's yelling on the headset, 'Shoot this guy! No, I got 'em, I got 'em! Get the heli!' I had to leave my room… I was in José's (Galán's) room more than I was in my room to give this guy his space with COD. "We had different ways of relaxing… I would chill out and do out and not do anything and stare at the ceiling and his was playing games." The difference this year is so much will be familiar to Valour FC, what with IG Field being home. There's also this mental component, according to midfielder Raphael Ohin. "The positive thing about going into this bubble is it still feels like home," said Ohin, who lives in Winnipeg year-round. "I'm close to my family. I'm close to this city and I know I'll feel that. That makes me feel good. So, just knowing my family is so close is a powerful thing." "We have experience with this. Last year it was so new, it hit everyone by surprise. No one knew what to expect or what it was going to be like. The coaches and organizers did a really good job last year. "But now we know how the bubble works and it shouldn't be a huge difference for us. In a lot of ways it's exciting because it just means we're playing again."