The common soccer wisdom is that, when you open a game facing a stiff wind, you play with extra caution at the back, and know that you need to hang on till things switch around at halftime and you get the breeze at your back.
But, Valour head coach Rob Gale threw out that playbook Wednesday night, paving the way for a wild first half that ended 2-1 but felt like it could have been 3-3.
When you play the first half into a tough wind with gusts up to 50 km/h, getting to halftime tied is a win. We could say that Gale mastered the gale. Sorry/not sorry for that, readers.
And, with the wind at their back in the second half, Dylan Carreiro’s shot deflected off Pacific defender Ryan McCurdy to give Valour a 2-1 win — and cemented the Winnipeg player as a folk hero for his hometown team after just the club’s first CPL game.
Gale and Carreiro are fellow Winnipeggers; Gale coached Carreiro when the player was still in youth-size boots.
“I talked to Dylan, he’s done that for me since he was 12 years old and, as he went on, I said ‘it’s just like old times, my friend,” Gale said post-match. “You’re going to go on and win this game for me.’ And as soon as it came on his right foot, I had a flashback to when he was 13. Honestly, he’s done that with the provincial teams and for him, a Winnipeg lad, to score the winner away from home, first-ever game, that’s a little bit of a fairy tale for him.”
But it was Gale’s first-half tactical surprises set the stage for Valour to be on the front foot in the second half. And he made the call to bring off Stephen Hoyle, scorer of the team’s first goal, for Carreiro, in the second half.
Off the opening kickoff, Gale stuck to a formation with just three at the back, and placed Michael Petrasso, who isn’t known as an attacker, up front with Hoyle. With the likes of Ali Musse and Calum Ferguson out with injury, Petrasso became an emergency forward. Gale tasked his team to press high. He did everything you wouldn’t expect a coach to do when playing into the wind.
It’s not often that the road team is the one to take the initiative, but as soon as Pacific got punched in the mouth, it set off a chain reaction of breathless action.
The way that the two teams went at each other, like two heavyweights with iron jaws, you wouldn’t have guessed that seven of Pacific’s Wednesday starters were in the team’s starting XI just three days before, and that Valour FC will play again on Saturday. This was anything but cagey. This was a track meet.
It was set off when Valour stunned the home side halfway through the first half. Diego Gutierrez stripped the ball from Pacific’s Noah Verhoeven, and got the ball to Petrasso, who deftly backheeled it to Hoyle. The striker’s first attempt was stopped, but the rebound fell to Petrasso, who set Hoyle up for the open net tap-in
Pacific FC’s equalizer was a perfect example of how close-knit the Canadian soccer community is. Players are facing old friends, or old club-mates, on a regular basis. Jose Hernandez, an Edmonton kid who came out of FC Edmonton’s Academy, headed a deflected pass from former FC Edmonton midfielder Ben Fisk. The ball eluded diving Valour keeper Tyson Farago, who used to play between the sticks for, you guessed it, FC Edmonton.
It really was a case of my friend, my enemy.
And there could have been more. Pacific’s Marcus Haber hit the post twice on the same attack, while both Valour keeper Tyson Farago and his Pacific counterpart Mark Village made sprawling stops to keep the score down.
In the second half, before Carreiro’s deflected winner, Fisk and Farago, the old Eddies teammates, had one more duel. Fisk pushed the ball past Farago, and the sprawling keeper collided with the attacker without making any contact with the ball. But referee Juan Marquez didn’t give the home side a penalty.
“The guys came out and tried to fight,” said Pacific FC coach Michael Silberbauer. “We did not maybe play our best game, but I felt that we had more than enough chances to get something away from it and who knows if the referee would have called that penalty.”
And, one final observation. We’ve been wondering what soccer in Canada would be like. We know that, through the first couple of games, players have shown a “let’s get on with it mentality.” But there was a moment in the first half that hammered home the idea that this might not be the best league for theatrics and protestations. After a clash with Pacific’s Noah Verhoeven, Valour midfielder Diego Gutierrez aggressively pleaded his case with referee Juan Marquez. The referee was going to let him get away with a scolding but pulled out the yellow when Gutierrez refused to stop talking. Guiterrez looked over to his bench for a little moral support, and cameras caught Gale flapping his hands, letting his player know that chirping the ref just wasn’t acceptable.