Match Analysis: Valour FC 0-3 FC Edmonton

Final Score: Valour FC 0-3 FC Edmonton
Goalscorers: Warschewski 40′, Ongaro 44′, Gonzalez 73′
Game of the 2021 season: 64
CPL match: 199

MORE COVERAGE: HIGHLIGHTS: FC Edmonton snap winless streak in style with 3-0 win at Valour FC | Sights & Sounds: Valour FC 0-3 FC Edmonton

Match in a minute or less

FC Edmonton took control early in this game at IG Field, with 12 shots in the first half, and they eventually found the mark just before halftime, as Tobias Warschewski and Easton Ongaro both found space and scored from assists by Azriel Gonzalez to put the visitors up 2-0 at the break. Valour made a number of changes in the second half to try and fight their way back into the contest, but it would be the Eddies who scored again — this time it was Gonzalez himself who scored a volley off a corner kick to cap off a 3-0 scoreline that would ultimately stand. The Winnipeg side came achingly close to scoring in the final moments (one goal that was called offside, and a shot that beat the ‘keeper but hit the post), but it seems this wasn’t their night.

Three Observations

Eddies come out flying despite fatigue

The pace with which both teams came out of the gates in this game was a little unexpected, with both sides having played difficult schedules recently (including each having a game on Saturday night). Somehow, though, both teams found an extra gear off the hop on Tuesday, with the first 10 minutes seeing a lot of direct play and energy.

Edmonton, having conceded early in quite a few of their recent games (including in the first 30 minutes of their last four), looked determined to set the tone themselves on Tuesday. Instead of allowing the opposition to break through in those early stages, FCE fired nine shots at Valour in the first half hour (12 in the first half), with Easton Ongaro repeatedly dropping very deep to help win the ball back and help the Eddies launch new attacks.

They were rewarded for that energy eventually, with Tobias Warschewski and Ongaro both scoring within the five minutes before halftime — and both goals thanks to Azriel Gonzalez making himself a handful along the left wing.

The Eddies probably wouldn’t have been faulted for looking a little sluggish in this match; not only have they been through a tough stretch recently, but on Monday the club was forced to deal with a flight cancellation out of Edmonton, which meant they had to fly to Saskatoon, where they trained before finally making their way to Winnipeg. Coach Alan Koch said that he’d commended his group for responding well to the difficult situation and not panicking, but it certainly threw another wrench into their already-truncated preparation for this clash.

With eight players left at home due to injury, and two brand-new youth players (Muslim Umar and Nekhi Wright) signed last-minute to help fill out the bench, it was definitely a battered Eddies crew that rolled into IG Field, but they certainly didn’t look it in the first half.

“The guys were ready to play, you could feel it,” Koch told reporters postmatch. “I was glad to see them go out and show the required energy to play but we knew in the back of our heads that it was going to fade at some stage, because it’s totally natural… To get that second goal was huge before the end of the first half, that gave us a little more confidence; you score that goal, you feel a little better about yourself. Obviously the game is certainly not over at halftime, but it gave us a little bit of an extra buffer, a little bit of extra belief.”

They definitely did settle back a little in the second half, partly due to fatigue and partly to protect the two-goal lead, but they still had their chances in the second half (one of which they scored). Ongaro was forced out of the game at halftime with a bruised foot, having covered plenty of ground in the first 45 minutes, but the strong start for Edmonton certainly made the side more comfortable going forward without the star striker.

Tired Valour lack cohesion against Eddies’ press

Perhaps the warning signs were there heading into this match: Valour entered without Austin Ricci or Rocco Romeo, two key players at either end of the pitch, due to suspensions picked up in the last match, with a number of other key players (Stefan Cebara perhaps chief among them) dealing with injuries as well.

All three Edmonton goals stemmed, at least to some degree, from defenders missing an open man in the box, which can sometimes be a hallmark of a backline that’s a little unfamiliar with each other. Amir Soto slotted into at the back for this game for just his fourth CPL start, alongside Rodrigo Reyes who, similarly, only recently recovered from a lengthy injury. Fullbacks Andy Baquero and Arnold Bouka Moutou, likewise, haven’t seen many minutes the past few weeks — and certainly not with those particular centre-backs.

“There’s some key leaders injured at the minute, or out tonight,” coach Rob Gale pointed out after the defeat. “I think that’s really where it cost us, (Edmonton) were more aggressive and active in their press in the first half, and then two goals in a few moments killed it.”

Attempting to identify why Valour have struggled in the past month, he added: “Before in the bubble we had that defensive core, we had the same back four pretty much continuously. At the moment we haven’t got that luxury. We need to get bodies healthy so I can pick a sort of base behind the ball which we had in the early part of the season to give us the platform for the attacking players.”

Thankfully for Valour, they’ll at last have a reprieve from the short turnaround of matches, with their next contest not coming until next Wednesday in the Canadian Championship against Forge FC. Not only will they have some extra days to rest and recover, but perhaps moving attention to the cup competition could help them refresh when they return to league play on September 18.

FCE flex chemistry in wide areas

A lot of Edmonton’s aforementioned energy in the early going led to a lot of overlaps with the ball on the wings, as fullbacks on both sides seemed instantly on the same page with their wingers. On the right, Fraser Aird was perhaps the most energetic part of the Eddies’ press in the early going, running all over the flank to win the ball back and spring quick, direct movements. He combined repeatedly with Tobias Warschewski in the first half — both players made nine passes to the other — and the German striker made life very difficult for Arnold Bouka Moutou out wide.

On the opposite wing, Paris Gee and Azriel Gonzalez were similarly strong, although Gonzalez was more keen on finding the space for himself and cutting it back inward rather than looking for the overlap. Still, Edmonton frequently outnumbered their opponents on the wings and forced Valour to get stuck in the middle at times. The Eddies attempted 12 crosses in open play on Tuesday — one of which was Gonzalez’s superb ball right across the box to an unmarked Warschewski — but they also cut inside often, with Aird and Warschewski in particular happy to drive at the end line before looking to take the ball inside.

When Ongaro left the match at halftime, Gonzalez shifted to the right side as Warschewski moved to the middle, but Edmonton still found success with that setup — more on the counter-attack than in established possession. It was a run between Gonzalez and Warschewski which won the corner that Gonzalez scored from.

Overall, this was perhaps the most in-sync Edmonton’s attack has looked, with a lot of evidence on display that this team has been making progress under Alan Koch. The coach offered postmatch that he felt his team deserved a lot more than they’d gotten from recent games, and certainly it felt like a performance like this was coming from this team. Koch wouldn’t bite when asked about the playoffs (Edmonton are now five points back of Valour, with two games left against the fourth-place side), but it’s not quite as outlandish a thought as it might’ve seemed a week ago. Player of the Match

Azriel Gonzalez, FC Edmonton

A superbly-finished goal and two impressive assists. Doesn’t get much better than that, does it? Gonzalez also had six shots and four key passes, with a 91.7% pass accuracy, on a tremendous night where he shone brightest in a team that played very well across the board.

What’s next?

Edmonton will move on from this one and return home, with their next match scheduled for a week from now on Tuesday, September 14 against Pacific FC (9:30 pm ET/7:30 pm MT). Valour, meanwhile, turn their focus briefly away from the CPL table, with their next game being a Canadian Championship tie at Tim Hortons Field against Forge FC next Wednesday, September 15 (7:30 pm ET). Watch all matches live on OneSoccer.