Valour sizing up HFX with eye to Toronto FC matchup in CanChamp

WINNIPEG – Fresh off a man of the match performance on a Sunday morning in Edmonton, Valour FC’s Michael Petrasso wants to keep the performances rolling into Halifax … and then Ottawa … and then Toronto.

Petrasso knows just how exciting matches against top opposition can be – he’s no stranger to Cup football, either, having played in the FA Cup in England. As his club makes its first foray into the Canadian Championship against HFX Wanderers on Wednesday night, Petrasso is already hoping to replicate some of his experiences with a Canadian twist.

“When I played for Oldham Athletic, we drew Liverpool in the FA Cup and played away at Anfield and that was one of the best experiences of my life,” Petrasso said. “You go there and Steven Gerrard was on the field, Luis Suarez on the pitch, it’s just a big thing.”

For what it’s worth, Petrasso went 90 mins in front of over 44,000 fans and nearly scored on two separate occasions in that match, and he’ll look to play just as big a role on Wednesday as his team squares off against the Wanderers.

Petrasso made his return from a hamstring injury at Clarke Field on Sunday. Moved back to his natural right wing position, he set up Ali Musse’s match winning goal with a low driven cross. Combined with Marco Bustos, he added an attacking element that created havoc in the final third. It was the first time Petrasso and Bustos played together since the latter signed with his hometown team.

“I think it suits me,” he said, of shifting back to the wing with Bustos added to the middle of midfield. “I feel like I can use my pace, I feel I’m better in areas where I’m closer to the byline and situations where I can dribble at people.”

Whether it’s Valour FC or HFX Wanderers, it will be a big deal for whichever team advances to the next round of Canada’s club championship. Awaiting the two CPL sides is the Ottawa Fury of the USL Championship. It’s the first test for how the Canadian pro clubs stack up to the second tier of American pro soccer.

“It’s a good test, it shows the difference between the leagues,” Petrasso said. “At this time we need to go in and just focus on Halifax and take it one step at a time.”

Rob Gale compared his club to a bear in hibernation during the 15-day layoff before a 1-0 win at FC Edmonton on Sunday. The feast of rabbits turned out to be more of a snack, according to the Valour coach’s recent appearance on the Centre Circle LIVE! podcast. If another snack is ahead for the bears, what does ‘The Moose’ eat? Ali Musse scored his first Premier League goal to win the match on Sunday, and is looking for more on Wednesday.

Valour FC head coach Rob Gale. (CPL).
Related – Rob Gale chats with the Centre Circle LIVE! crew in Episode 7: Listen HERE

Creating chances hasn’t been a problem for the dynamic forward. So there was some relief when Petrasso’s cross came into the box, and Musse was able to smile and reflect on how of all the chances to score this season, his first goal just sort of hit him and bounced in: “That was weird,” he offered, with a laugh. “It bounced in front of me and then came off my left foot, then my right.”

Should his number be called to take on HFX on Wednesday, Musse is raring to go in his first Canadian Championship.

“It’s amazing to be able to have this league and then this whole cup, just for Canadian soccer and the Canadians in the league,” Musse said. “It’s so exciting.”

HFX gave Valour a stiff test in the Winnipeg side’s 1-0 win at IG Field on May 11. The hosts for this upcoming match have already dispatched semi-pro Vaughan Azzurri in the first round of the tournament. The Wanderers also come off a 2-1 home victory over Pacific FC on Saturday in the Canadian Premier League.

“I’ve watched Halifax play a lot now,” Petrasso said. “They’re a very different team with (Luis Alberto) Perea up front.

“He’s a big player and they have fast and technical wingers so we need to be aware of that.”

No matter the results of Wednesday night in Halifax, Valour FC get another crack at the Wanderers in the return leg at IG Field June 12. But down the road? That’s when Petrasso gets to match up with Jonathan Osorio, Jay Chapman, Ashtone Morgan and the rest of his Canadian compatriots at Toronto FC.

It’s quite the prize contest for a first year Canadian pro team, and a chance to bring Toronto FC to Winnipeg on the reverse leg.

“I’m sure if we played Toronto FC and all of their players come, we sell out the stadium,” Petrasso concluded.

As for defeating them? It’s a prospect Valour is already relishing.