There’s still work to be done – always is – but Valour FC GM and coach Rob Gale likes the look of the work in progress that is the club’s 2021 roster.
Sure, it’s an unfinished painting right now in need of a dab of colour here and some touches there. But the foundation is solid and the piece, overall, is coming together just as planned.
“We’re really pleased,” Gale told CanPL.ca. “We’ll end up with close to 13 returnees and that could rise with potential loan options.
“We’ve recognized what we’re strong at and, like every club, you want to try and improve from year to year. We feel we’ve done that from the first year, certainly. And pretty much everybody in our leadership group is returning, so we know what our mentality is going to be like.
“Then we deliberately looked to attract some top-level talent in areas of need. The last piece of that now is filling out (the roster) and making sure there’s competition for places and bringing in young players with the talent to compete for those first-team spots.”
After the struggles of the inaugural season, 2019, Valour worked to shore up its defending and added veteran pieces such as Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Arnold Bouka-Moutou.
RELATED READING: CPL off-season roster tracker – Who’s in and who’s out for 2021?
Valour has been working to add some punch to its attack in 2021 and is keen on the addition of Venezuelan forward Ronny Mazza, who will add to the potential of a group that already includes Austin Ricci, Masta Kacher and Moses Dyer.
As well, the club benefitted greatly from working out loan agreements with MLS clubs, deals that landed goalkeeper James Pantemis from Montreal and Julian Dunn and Dante Campbell from TFC II.
It’s with that in mind that Gale & Co. are keeping their options open for the weeks and months ahead. Those loan agreements, after all, likely wouldn’t come into focus until after MLS clubs have started or gone through training camps.
“We’ve got keepers and other players in MLS clubs that are interested in coming to us, but part of that contract is they have to go to their pre-season,” Gale explained. “You’ve got teams with new coaches starting their season and so they start the year with an open mind as to who might make the first-team squad at that level. Then there will be a number of players that don’t fully make the step up or not quite at the first-team level that will become available for signing or loans.
“It’s something to utilize in our league and I think it’s also good for the development of the Canadian players. It’s something we’re open to without relying on.
“It’s key to be patient in these times to see who becomes available,” Gale added. “I think it’s prudent for us to make sure with the remaining four or five spots that we have that we get the right personnel in for our squad.”
During our conversation with Gale we asked him to go through the current roster by position and provide an update on where things stand with players.
Here’s his take:
The 2020 crew: James Pantemis, Matt Silva
Signed for 2021: none signed yet
Gale says: “There’s a number of options available to us right now. (Goalkeeper coach) Patrick Di Stefani is working through them including some young Canadian nationals that could possibly come on loan.
“We’ve had discussions with Matt Silva about coming back and what that role might look like. We have many options and leads on those. We’re just trying to find the right balance between the two goalkeepers that we bring in.”
The 2020 crew: Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Arnold Bouka-Moutou, Federico Pena, Stefan Cebara, Dante Campbell, Yohan LeBourhis, Chakib Hocine, Raph Garcia
Signed for 2021: Jean-Baptiste, Cebara, Bouka-Moutou, Pena, Amir Soto
FYI: Not returning this year are LeBourhis, Hocine and Campbell. The club has not yet committed one way or another to Garcia, who battled injury troubles at the 2020 Island Games.
Gale says: “We’re excited with what we have here, also knowing also that Brett (Levis) and Raph (Ohin) could move back there if need be. Keeping that backline together is important and we thought that before Andrew got injured we had the best backline in the tournament.
“We’re certainly keen and interested (in having Dunn return). We have to see what plays out for Julian and the new coach at TFC, but there’s a desire by the player, agent and us to bring him back and TFC are open to it.”
The 2020 crew: Raph Ohin, Brett Levis, Moses Dyer, Fraser Aird, Dylan Carreiro, Diego Gutiérrez, Daryl Fordyce, Jose Galan
Signed for 2021: Ohin, Levis, Dyer
FYI: Aird has signed with FC Edmonton, Carreiro is no longer with the team and Gale said it’s unlikely Gutiérrez would return this season. The club hopes to have both Fordyce and Galan back.
Gale says: “We’ve got some good pieces here still and we’ll soon be announcing another one or two that will really bolster things.”
The 2020 crew: Masta Kacher, Austin Ricci, Solomon Kojo Antwi, Shaan Hundal
Signed for 2021: Kacher, Ricci, Ronny Maza
FYI: Gale indicated Hundal won’t be returning for ’21, while Antwi has returned to Ghana.
Gale says: “We’ve got some returning pieces in Masta and Austin and really like what Ronny Maza could bring to this group. He’s played a significant number of minutes at the highest level in Venezuela and he’s only 23.”