WINNIPEG – “You can lead a horse to water … can’t make him drink, though.”
Those were the words of Valour FC head coach Rob Gale, who lamented the fact that his team had a sniff or two around goal in a 2-0 loss to HFX Wanderers FC (4-1 aggregate), but were still shutout and eliminated from the 2019 Canadian Championship due to a lack of positive pressure conversion.
You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that storyline sounds familiar.
“Deja vu, you lose words to describe the same thing continually,” Gale continued. “We had so many opportunities to shoot inside the box that I think Marco Bustos could have had a hat trick of assists.”
Of the many opportunities Bustos – and others – generated, only one in the first half stuck out; a combination between Bustos and Stephen Hoyle. Both had touches in the box, but neither had a go at goal before another touch led to an Ali Musse shot from a standstill. To his credit, Musse did nearly curl it in.
“It comes back to bite you,” Bustos said after the match. “I think we had three or four really good opportunities to score and it just didn’t happen.”
And when those three or four chances failed to result in goals, the Wanderers took the only chance they needed to secure their advancement and face Ottawa Fury FC in the next round of the tournament, with Mohamed Kourouma scoring off a free kick. A late second goal on an empty net from Andre Bona sealed the win for the Wanderers.
Gale already mentioned the tiresome topic of his Valour FC being known as a possession team but not yet a goal-scoring team. His players want to change the narrative, but Gale admits it’s getting a bit frustrating in the interim. Bustos agreed.
“Personally it puts a little bit of pressure when I know everyone’s talking about it that we’re a team that’s not scoring,” Bustos said. “But at the end of the day we just have to show up to training and work hard, you can’t fault the guys and we’re doing something good.”
To try and spark the offence, Gale attempted a change in tactics for this match, opting for a 4-2-3-1 formation over the usual 3-5-2 used most of the season. It opened areas for Bustos to work on the ball and covered against the sort of counterattacks that have led to goals against in the past. But still, one free kick from Kourouma undid whatever good that change may have brought.
And with their exit from the Canadian Championship came another potential loss for Valour, as winger Michael Petrasso was subbed out at halftime after going down the the pitch with an apparent groin injury in the first half. Petrasso has already missed time this season with a hamstring injury, though when healthy, he is one of Valour’s most important attacking threats.
“It’s unfortunate for (Petrasso) so he’ll have a little spell on the sidelines again unfortunately,” Gale said, without giving too much detail about timeframes or status.
The club has spoke of trusting the process in employing a playing style that can carry them through seasons and not just a match or two; they’ll get another chance at righting the ship with a visit to Forge FC on Saturday.