CPL5x5: Valour FC 2023 year in review

Welcome to CPL5x5. As we say farewell to 2023, we’ll be looking back one more time at the Canadian Premier League’s milestone fifth season, and how each of the eight clubs fared this year.

In this series, we’ll break down the full story of each team’s year within five sections: Five stats, five key players, five big moments, five quotes, and five questions for 2024.

One club will be covered each day, in reverse order of the 2023 regular season standings. We begin in Winnipeg with Valour FC.

To read the 5×5 year in review for every other CPL club, click here.

Valour FC entered 2023 with the goal of making the playoffs for the first time in club history. After ending April atop the CPL standings, they looked to potentially be on track to finish inside the top five and make that goal a reality, but a couple of difficult months — May and July in particular — sunk those chances, and the team would ultimately finish bottom of the table.

Goals were hard to come by in 2023, with the team managing just 25 in 28 league matches, with several attacking players either struggling to find consistency, or failing to hit the back of the net at all in 2023.

There is pressure on the team to improve in 2024, and head coach and general manager Phillip Dos Santos has already been active in trying to turn over much of the 2023 squad.


  • 2023 CPL regular season record (W-D-L): 6-8-14
  • Finish: 8th
  • Goals scored: 25
  • Goals against: 38
  • Goal difference: -13
  • Top scorer: Diego Gutiérrez, Walter Ponce, Kian Williams (4 each)
  • Canadian Championship: Lost to TSS Rovers 3-1 in preliminary round
Goalkeeper Rayane Yesli of Valour FC makes a diving save in the second half against Cavalry FC. (Photo: CFC Media Mike Sturk)


69.57 save percentage

Valour FC goalkeeper Rayane Yesli had the highest save percentage in the Canadian Premier League among starting goalkeepers in 2023, with 69.57 per cent. Yesli finished near the top of other goalkeeping statistics as well — second in the league with 81 saves, and third with seven clean sheets.

Backup goalkeeper Darlington Murasiranwa showed well in his two appearances, stopping eight of the 11 shots on target that he faced.

13 home points

Making their home stadium a “fortress” is a common cliché that teams use when discussing the need to pick up results in front of their home fans, but in the case of Valour FC, it was anything but that in 2023. They had a league-fewest 13 points at home this year, also bottom of the league with just three home victories. Of those victories, two of them came against CPL finalists Forge FC and Cavalry FC, but overall Valour struggled to take care of business at IG Field, and will need to improve in that regard if they’re to be playoff contenders in 2024.

100.8 mins/goal

Valour struggled to put the ball into the back of the net in 2023, scoring just 25 times in 28 CPL matches. That’s an average of 100.8 minutes per goal, or less than one per match. For comparison, the lowest seeded playoff team in 2023, fifth-place York United averaged 74.57 minutes per goal. Regular season champions Cavalry FC were nearly twice as good in this regard, scoring 46 goals in 28 matches, about one every 55.8 minutes.

This wasn’t down to one particular player, but rather a significant portion of their attacking group that struggled to find consistent form all season long.

4,390 U-21 minutes

Winnipeg has been a hotspot for young CPL players over the past few years, with the last two U-21 Canadian Player of the Year winners — Sean Rea in 2022 and Matteo de Brienne in 2023 — playing for the club, as well as 2021 CPL Goalkeeper of the Year Jonathan Sirois.

In 2023, they continued to give opportunities to young players, racking up the second-most U-21 minutes in the Canadian Premier League. Each team is required to give 2,000+ minutes to U-21 players, but Valour more than doubled it, reaching 4,390. Only Vancouver FC (5,203) had more.

De Brienne lead the way with 1,571 minutes played, ahead of Juan Pablo Sánchez (1,256), Jared Ulloa (1,047), and Eskander Mzoughi (516).

12 departures

Head coach and general manager Phillip Dos Santos has some work to do to build Valour’s roster, with at least 12 players from the 2023 season departing the club.

Leaving are several key players, including co-captains Diego Gutiérrez and Andrew Jean-Baptiste, the aforementioned Matteo de Brienne, and the club’s joint-top scorer Walter Ponce. Also leaving are Matthew Chandler, Eskander Mzoughi, Anthony Novak, Guillaume Pianelli, Kevin Rendón, Ahinga Selemani, Jaime Siaj, and Jared Ulloa. The club is also in discussions with Raphael Ohin about returning to the club for a sixth season, while the contract status of Pacifique Niyongabire is currently unknown.

Valour has signed four players thus far as they reshape their squad, adding forward Shaan Hundal, midfielders Zachary Sukunda and Jordan Faria, and defender Roberto Alarcon.

Valour FC’s Dante Campbell plays the ball during a match at IG Field (Photo: Valour FC)


Dante Campbell:

Re-joining Valour for the 2023 season after previously being on loan at the club in 2020, Dante Campbell became a key member of Phil Dos Santos’ side this season. Campbell made 25 league appearances, scoring a goal and an assist, and leading the team in tackles, interceptions, and minutes played.

He showed a versatility to play in midfield or across the backline, with the middle of the park his strongest position. Yellow cards were a bit of an issue for Campbell in 2023, with all three of the matches he missed because of suspensions following the nine bookings he received.

Campbell signed a new contract with the club on Dec. 14, for the 2024 season with an option for 2025.

Matteo de Brienne:

After a strong 2022 season with Valour FC, Matteo de Brienne came into 2023 with some high expectations, and he lived up to them. The 21-year-old from Ottawa, Ontario scored three goals and added three assists across 20 appearances while primarily playing as a left back, and at the end of the year was voted Best Canadian U-21 Player at the 2023 CPL Awards. When he missed several games with injuries this year, his absence was certainly felt.

Diego Gutiérrez:

Taking a huge step forward in 2023, Diego Gutiérrez was arguably Valour’s best player, and one of the better midfielders in the entire Canadian Premier League. The Valour captain was named the league’s Player of the Month in April, as Valour started the year strong and he adapted to a new, more attacking role in the squad. His four goals tied for the team lead, with two of them coming from the penalty spot — including a penalty in Valour’s second match of the season, at home against Atlético Ottawa.

Kian Williams:

Along with Gutierrez and Walter Ponce, Kian Williams tied for the Valour team lead with four goals in 2023, and lead the team with five assists as well. He had a strong debut campaign in the Canadian Premier League, playing primarily on the left wing, while also sometimes being deployed more centrally.

One of just seven players to enter this offseason under contract for 2024 with the Winnipeggers, Williams will be looked upon to help lead an attack that will also include Shaan Hundal after the Canadian striker signed with the club at the end of November.

Rayane Yesli:

When Rayane Yesli was given a handful of starts in the Valour net toward the end of the 2022 CPL season, taking over from starter Jonathan Sirois, it was a sign that head coach Phillip Dos Santos was looking to the future and had a lot of faith in the young goalkeeper. Yesli took over the net full time in 2023, and had a great season, leading the league with the highest save percentage, finishing second in saves, and third in clean sheets. He was nominated for the Goalkeeper of the Year at the end of the season, but ultimately lost to Forge FC’s Triston Henry.

5 Great Moments

April 16, 2023 — York United 0-2 Valour FC

Valour opened their 2023 season in style, beating York United 2-0 at York Lions Stadium. After a scoreless first half, Valour found the back of the net twice in the first ten minutes of the second half — first an own goal from Jonathan Grant in the 51st minute, before Anthony Novak doubled the lead three minutes later.

After picking up three points on the road to open the season and drawing their next two matches as well, Valour would finish April atop the CPL table, with captain Diego Gutiérrez winning the league’s Player of the Month.

June 16, 2023 — Valour FC 2-0 Forge FC

After winning that match at York Lions Stadium on the opening day, Valour drew six of their next eight matches, losing the other two. With first-place Forge FC — who were 4-4-2 at the time — coming to town, it looked like things were stacked against Valour, but in the end it was the Winnipeggers who came away with the three points.

Guillaume Pianelli opened the scoring with a towering header just before halftime, beating the side that drafted him in the 2022 CPL-U SPORTS Draft but didn’t sign him to a CPL contract. Walter Ponce doubled the lead in the 63rd minute, volleying a cross from Jared Ulloa into the top right corner, securing the three points.

All of the matches between Valour and Forge in 2023 were exciting, with the other match at IG Field ending 3-2 to the Hammers, another 3-2 win for Forge in Hamilton, and a 1-1 draw at Tim Hortons Field as well.

August 11, 2023 — Valour FC 3-2 Cavalry FC

This match was not only one of Valour’s best of 2023, but one of the more exciting ones league-wide. Three minutes after halftime, Cavalry attacker William Akio scored his second goal of the match against his former, giving them a 2-0 lead on the road that many thought would be insurmountable, but the home side had other ideas.

Klaidi Cela responded immediately, cutting Valour’s deficit in half with a header from a set piece, before Diego Gutiérrez equalised nine minutes later from the penalty spot. The comeback was completed in the 72nd minute, as Walter Ponce collected a rebound from a shot in front of goal and rifled the ball past Marco Carducci to win the game for the home side.

The match was not only an exciting one for the fans in Winnipeg, but proof that Valour could hang with the best clubs in the league on any given day, although that would not last for the rest of the season.

September 8, 2023 — York United 1-3 Valour FC

York Lions Stadium proved to be a venue where Valour had a lot of success in 2023, as their second visit to Toronto ended the same as the first — with the visitors taking all three points.

Dante Campbell had already given Valour a 1-0 lead by the time Noah Abatneh was sent off in the 39th minute, putting even more pressure on the Nine Stripes. Diego Gutiérrez and Jared Ulloa each scored in the second half as well to make it 3-0, before Kevin Dos Santos pulled one back in the 87th minute, three minutes after Ulloa’s goal.

Mo Babouli was sent off in second half stoppage time, reducing York to nine men for the final moments of what was a comprehensive victory for the visitors.

September 24, 2023 — Atlético Ottawa 0-1 Valour FC

Sometimes it’s not how many opportunities you have, but what you are able to do with those opportunities, and Valour’s win on the road at TD Place is a great example of that.

Through 93 minutes, neither side had been able to find a goal in the nation’s capital, but both teams kept pushing and pushing to turn one point into three. Valour had yet to even register a shot on target before Walter Ponce fired the ball home at the 93:53 mark, winning the kick with one of the last kicks of the match before wheeling away in celebration as Valour picked up their sixth and final victory of the 2023 campaign. It was a long season for both Valour, and that was reflected by how much it seemed to mean to them.

The win was too little, too late in Valour’s season as a whole, but it did have a huge effect on Ottawa’s season, as they would go on to miss the playoffs by two points. Who knows what might have happened if that match ended scoreless, or if the home team had been the one to find the late goal instead.


“This is pro sports – you need to win. In our first 12 games we played to six draws with a lot of them coming at home. If we convert three of those draws into wins, you’re probably in the top two in the standings in that moment and emotionally it’s a lot different because the self-belief is much higher and among teammates.” – Head coach Phillip Dos Santos after the season ended

“We have fans back home that deserve something so when we step on the field we just think about making them proud, and we’re fighting for ourselves too, or for our career. Getting a win like this against a good team that’s fighting for the playoffs, especially with the result that we had against them last time they came home, it’s amazing to be honest.— Goalkeeper Rayane Yesli on playing spoiler for other teams at the end of the season

“There’s going to be change, for sure. It’s not about a reset, it’s about making sure the right players stay and surrounding those players with what we were missing this year. I think this club needs players who want to be here and see the value in being here for their career because they are in a club that is trying to reach something it has not been able to do for years now in making the playoffs.” – Head coach Phillip Dos Santos at the start of the off-season

“I just want to see an all out war for the next seven games. We’re all in this fight for one reason, the playoff spot, but I can’t think too far ahead, one game at a time.” – Left back Matteo de Brienne during a passionate press conference as a spot in the playoffs was slipping away with a quarter of the regular season to go

“I don’t think people realize the beauty of the CPL at times. If it had been in existence earlier, maybe I wouldn’t have moved so much. Who knows? But having this option of having this top tier league in Canada and playing where you’re from is so important. To be not too far from your family and do what you love to do is a really nice perk.” – Striker Ahinga Selemani after joining the club mid-season


Can Valour increase their goalscoring output?

One of the main talking points around Valour this past year was the lack of production from their strikers. Anthony Novak scored just once in CPL action in 2023, on the opening day of the regular season, while Jaime Siaj, Ahinga Selemani failed to find the back of the net. Walter Ponce, who split time between striker and the wings, was tied for the team lead with four goals alongside Kian Williams and Diego Gutiérrez, but most of Valour’s other goals came by committee from players throughout the lineup.

The addition of Shaan Hundal should help in that regard if he gets the service he needs. Hundal scored six goals for Vancouver FC in 2023, including the club’s first-ever goal, despite his opportunities being limited in the second half of the season after the addition of Alejandro Diaz. Hundal will likely have the chance to big the main target again in Winnipeg, which in turn could lead to an increase in goals, both personally and as a squad.

Will the CPL Playoffs finally make their way to Winnipeg?

Of the current eight CPL clubs, only two haven’t made the playoffs through the league’s first five seasons. One of them is Vancouver FC, who played their inaugural season as an expansion club this year, but the other is one of the league’s founding clubs, Valour FC.

In 2021 and 2022, Valour finished fifth, one spot back of the playoffs, so when the playoff format changed this year to add a fifth team, it seemed like 2023 could be their year to reach the postseason. That was not to be, however, as Valour finished eighth, despite a good start to the season. They will have their work cut out for them if they are to make the playoffs in 2024, but with some good recruitment and some steps forward on the pitch, it is a possibility.

Can Rayane Yesli build on breakout 2023 season?

After taking the starting job from Jonathan Sirois toward the end of the 2022 CPL season, the 2023 campaign was the first opportunity Rayane Yesli had to be a team’s starter at the professional level. He made the most of that opportunity, starting 26 of Valour’s 28 matches and making the net his own en route to a Goalkeeper of the Year nomination.

Yesli finished second in the league with 81 saves made, tied for third with seven clean sheets, and a league-high 69.57 save percentage. Every team needs a good goalkeeper, and Valour have one of the best in Canada. If he can build on that in 2024, that Goalkeeper of the Year award could be his, or he can at least continue to be a crucial part of the team in Winnipeg.

Will Valour continue impressive U-21 streak?

For two years in a row, the recipient of the CPL’s Best Canadian U-21 Player of the Year award has played for Valour — Sean Rea in 2022 and Matteo de Brienne in 2023. In 2021 the club had Goalkeeper of the Year winner Jonathan Sirois, who himself was perhaps unlucky not to be nominated for the U21 award as well.

Valour only have one player signed for 2024 that meets the U21 award criteria, Juan Pablo Sanchez, but will add to that in the coming months.

How can a retooling squad bounce back?

Valour have wasted no time rebuilding their squad ahead of the 2024 season. Since announcing their departures and roster updates on November 22, they have made four additions, and extended the contract of Dante Campbell. Several key departures have also been announced, including Matteo de Brienne, Diego Gutiérrez, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Walter Ponce, and more.

Heading to Winnipeg in 2024 are right back Roberto Alarcón, midfielders Jordan Faria and Zachary Sukunda, and striker Shaan Hundal. All of these players have CPL experience, with Sukunda suiting up for Halifax in 2019, Hundal for Valour in 2020 and Vancouver in 2023, Faria for York United in 2021, and Alarcon for Cavalry in 2022 and 2023. Adding CPL experience is valuable for a team looking for leadership and composure, as is adding players in positions of need — especially in attack and across the backline.

There is pressure on Phillip Dos Santos’ squad to perform in 2023, as they chase their first-ever playoff spot. Nothing makes people forget about a disappointing season like winning, after all, so getting their 2024 recruitment right is a necessity.