When you attempt to play beautiful champagne football, you’d expect some, well, champagne for your efforts.
Valour FC has slowly grown into its controlling, possession-based style of play. The Winnipeg club has averaged 55% possession over the past four matches, including 57% away to the Wanderers in the Canadian Championship.
The problem? The bottle-popping moments have been few and far between in the club’s inaugural season; they dropped that aforementioned CanChamp match 2-1 to the Wanderers and needed a bit of individual skill from Michael Petrasso to edge FC Edmonton on the weekend.
“If you don’t get any end product, there’s no point being easy on the eye,” Valour FC head coach Rob Gale said Friday, pointing to his side’s lack of goalscoring threat so far in the season.
At a record of 3-4-0 across all competitions, you have to wonder when the bubbly will be flowing for Gale’s side.
How do they stack up?
Valour has emerged, along with Forge, as one of the best possession-based sides in the CPL. Galecertainly thinks so.
After all, he has some great ball-playing pieces in his lineup; Louis Beland-Goyette cycles the ball through midfield with great touch and awareness, and centrebacks Skylar Thomas and Jordan Murrell boast passing percentages in the upper 70th percentile.
You can’t deny keeping the ball creates chances, either … but Valour only has six goals over their seven matches so far.
When you dive a bit deeper, it becomes evident that Valour doesn’t create enough quality chances. In turn, they don’t score enough.
Valour is second in chance creation in the league (55), right behind the other “possession-first” side, Forge FC (65), which has played an additional match in the league. To that end, Forge has 12 goals and lead Opta’s heightened “Big Chance” stat with 16 to Valour’s nine, from which Gale’s side has scored from only a third of those opportunities.
As teams continue to sit back against Valour and invite pressure, they need to find ways to break through. After all, what’s the ball good for if it’s not going in the opponent’s net?
Marco Bustos and Michael Petrasso
Marco Bustos and Michael Petrasso are Gale’s two pillars in this system: A marquee possession-retainer and a premier chance-creator.
Bustos joined the team late, making his first appearance against HFX Wanderers in the league on May 11, which is the last time Valour held the ball less than 55% of the time. Bustos has recorded an 83.93 passing percentage in the final third, good enough for top five amongst the league’s regular playing midfielders. He’s everywhere, roaming touchline to touchline, staying far enough away from centrebacks to pull midfielders all over to cover his slick movement. Without his play, as proven early in the season, Valour is not the efficient possession-based side they are now.
In steps Michael Petrasso.
It was a good week for Valour’s talented wingback: Two low crosses from the right side, two goals (Valour’s only two goals from their two matches, I might add).
Petrasso’s success – along the wing, showing great touch and speed with the ball – has been one of Valour’s only forward-thinking, defensive-line-breaking players.
🔥 @petrasso20 makin moves on FC Edmonton from the sideline!
As CanPL.ca’s Oliver Platt pointed out in his“By The Numbers” piece this week, Petrasso has created a league-leading 12 chances from open play this season, despite playing more than 100 minutes fewer than his two closest rivals, Forge’s Tristan Borges and Kyle Bekker. They are on nine apiece.
‘Very promising for us’
So, the question is, how do you find more “chance creators” in this Valour side?
“When you have pieces like Dylan Sacramento and Dylan Carreiro around (Petrasso and Bustos) who can break lines and find the attacking pockets, then it’s very promising for us moving forward,” Gale told CCL!
Gale put his side in a 4-2-3-1 formation against Edmonton, a change from the 3-4-3 variations they played with at the beginning of the year.
With attacking midfielders Bustos, Carreiro, Nicolas Galvis and, later on, Dylan Sacramento behind Calum Ferguson up top, they moved the ball quickly and efficiently, something possession-first sides absolutely need to succeed and score. Petrasso slotted in at right fullback, but pushed up to create width, just as he did in the lone goal of the match.
While they didn’t get the same result in a similar lineup away to the Wanderers, it did show their attacking options; Sacramento was a standout, with his speed and quick touches leading to his side’s only goal, Carreiro seems comfortable playing up the middle and using his passing ability and even Stephen Hoyle made an appearance, with the centre forward providing a physical option amongst their diminutive attacking group.
“We got to find the ones who are hungry and are going to turn that possession into an end product,” Gale said Friday.
With his side collecting holding the ball for longer and longer periods of time, Gale’s attention should be on turning those moments into more chances — with whoever that may be.