Of the Canadian Premier League’s original seven clubs, none have undergone as much change this off-season as Valour FC.
On the back of their North Star Shield winning season, Forge FC has kept the bulk of its championship squad intact for 2020 by welcoming back 17 players from last year.
At the other end of the spectrum is Valour, who’ve only retained five members from their 2019 squad, and who lost key players in midfielders Louis Béland-Goyette (now with HFX Wanderers FC) and Michael Petrasso (York9 FC), and forward Marco Bustos (with Pacific FC).
It’s little wonder that coach Ron Gale decided to clean house after a season that saw Valour finish second-last in the overall standings and with the worst defensive record in the CPL.
Gale has been very busy rebuilding his roster – of the 15 players currently under contract to the Winnipeg-based club, 11 have been signed this off-season – all with an eye towards making his side far more competitive.
But which newcomer will have the biggest impact for Valour FC in 2020?
CanPL.ca’s Charlie O’Connor-Clarke, Marty Thompson and John Molinaro weigh in on the matter.
The 23-year-old goalkeeper on loan from the Montreal Impact could make a huge difference at the back for Valour as part of their broader defensive rebuild. Pantemis, whose career trajectory to date could pretty reasonably be compared to Marco Carducci’s, offers the Winnipeg club an upgrade in goal, although both Mathias Janssens and Tyson Farago had their moments last year.
Still, Pantemis certainly has the talent (and the resume) to challenge Carducci’s claim to the “Best Goalkeeper in the League” title. He’s been to several Canadian senior team camps, and the Impact are very keen on him — hence their choosing to loan him to Valour rather than have him languish on the bench in MLS. It’s very hard for a young player to develop without meaningful minutes, and it’s almost impossible to find those if you’re a goalkeeper.
Defence begins in goal, and many players will tell you that it’s much easier to defend without hesitation when you have full confidence in your ‘keeper. Expect to see a much more organized and defensively sound Valour once the 2020 CPL season gets underway.
– By Charlie O’Connor-Clarke
Let’s not mince words here. Valour was a train wreck on the defensive side of the ball last season. The Winnipeg-based club conceded a league-high 52 goals (for an average of whopping 1.85 goals per game) and also sported the worst goal-difference (minus-22) in the CPL.
Changes to a porous defence had to be made after such an abysmal campaign, and Gale launched into action this off-season by showing four defenders from 2019 the door (Skylar Thomas, Jordan Murrell, Adam Mitter and Martín Arguiñarena) and bringing in enforcements for his new-look back line.
Of the slew of newcomers to Valour, Andrew Jean-Baptiste could be the most important as he’ll be relied upon to quarterback the club’s defence. Jean-Baptiste arrives in Winnipeg with an impressive resume, with MLS experience under his belt (he was selected eighth overall by Portland in 2012 MLS SuperDraft, and played for the Timbers and Chivas USA during his time in the league), and most recently featured with Umeä FC, helping them win promotion to Sweden’s second division.
Internationally, Jean-Baptiste has made 12 appearances for Haiti, scoring two goals. He played 90 minutes in five of Haiti’s six matches at the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup – including their 3-2 quarter-final victory over Canada.
With a wealth of club and international experience, Jean-Baptiste is exactly the type of centre back that Valour needed to bring in after a 2019 season that saw them leak goals at an alarming rate. Look for Gale’s team to be far more defensively solid with the Haitian in the centre of defence.
– by John Molinaro
While Gale’s defensive overhaul is impressive and rightfully highlighted by my colleagues, goalscoring is still a much greater concern for Valour. Brett Levis could be the CPL’s next chance-creating, goal-scoring winger – better than Nico Pasquotti or Mohamed Kourouma, and with even greater dynamism.
A direct winger with incredible speed, Levis looks set to replace Michael Petrasso in Valour colours. The former Vancouver Whitecaps wide-man will thrive in Valour’s direct counter-attack style – especially if Daryl Fordyce offers a back-to-goal link-up option. Levis, who is comfortable in tight spaces and making darting runs in the box, could prove a handful for defenders.
Mix this in with talented attacking midfielders Masta Kacher and an under-utilized Dylan Carreiro, and suddenly a direct, inverted winger such as Levis could be the final piece for Valour to unlock opposing teams. Dare I compare him to Marco Bustos as well? While he can’t single-handily fill the void left by Petrasso and Bustos, Levis does offer similar attributes and a chance to pick up where they left off.