Through May and June, the games between Valour FC, Forge FC and FC Edmonton will be doubly important.
Not only will the precious points matter in terms of the Canadian Premier League’s Spring standings, the games will determine which one of these three teams goes to the CONCACAF League, which acts as a qualifying tournament for the CONCACAF Champions League.
The double-whammy games begin with Valour’s May 4 home opener against the Eddies.
Valour FC coach Rob Gale said that while the games are important, it would be counterproductive to suggest that they are more vital than the matches against non-CONCACAF League-eligible teams. It would simply be too much pressure to put on a first-year club.
“Every single game in your first year as a club is as important as the next,” Gale told CanPL.ca.
“For sure, there’s lots of stake with Canada Soccer when it comes to the places, but we’re not going to treat games against Edmonton or Forge any differently. We need to approach every game the same way, and that is to build up our brand of football.”
Canada Soccer determined that three of the seven Canadian Premier League teams will be eligible for the CONCACAF League spot in 2019.
But, while Gale said that Valour wouldn’t be placing extra importance on the games against FCE or Forge, he knows he’ll see a lot of the teams in the first two months of the season. From May 4 to June 26, each of the three Founding Clubs s will play their two rivals home and away. So, for Valour, that means home and away to FCE and Forge in the space of less than two months.
With so many games early on, Gale said that the team that’s the fastest to build chemistry within its players will have the advantage.
“I don’t think there are many secrets in modern football,” he added. “But I think every player on your team will have to play a part, and I think it might come down to which of the three teams settle in the quickest.”
This is where it may just be advantage Edmonton; there are players who are familiar with each other. And the FCE academy products have played together for years — along with NASL veterans like Tomi Ameobi and Allan Zebie. Forge has players who have roots in League1 Ontario. Meanwhile, Gale hasn’t yet held a Valour training session — though it should be noted that defenders Jordan Murrell and Skylar Thomas were former Syracuse University teammates.
For the team that has the best record in the CONCACAF-qualifying mini league as of June 26, the demands of the season increase. Coaches will need to manage rosters for trips to Central America and the Caribbean, plus the domestic schedule. If the winning team also goes deep in the Voyageurs Cup competition, it’s going to be demanding.
Gale said that while there will be stress on the roster, qualifying for international competitions, well, that’s what teams play for.
“Why not relish it?” he said. “Here’s the question: Would you rather be in it, or be out?”
If Valour is the team that goes to CONCACAF competition, Gale said the learning curve will be steep. As someone who has coached youth national sides in CONCACAF competition, he had this to say about road trips in the region.
“You know it, I know it — there are no easy places to play in CONCACAF.”
CONCACAF League Qualifiers
May 4 — Valour FC vs. FC Edmonton
May 16 — Valour FC vs. Forge FC
May 29 — Forge FC vs. FC Edmonton
June 1 — FC Edmonton vs. Valour FC
June 15 — Forge FC vs. Valour FC
June 26 — FC Edmonton vs. Forge FC