York United vs. Valour FC to close out CPL’s 2023 opening weekend

As revealed on Friday, the first weekend of the 2023 Canadian Premier League season will conclude Sunday, April 16 (2 p.m. ET) at York Lions Stadium, where York United will welcome Valour FC in a battle of two sides looking to break into the playoff picture this season.

This fixture has, in the past, been perhaps underratedly entertaining, with at least a couple of high-octane clashes between the two sides each year. All but two of their 12 meetings have produced at least two goals, and the record is almost even: six wins for Valour, five for York, and one draw.

When Valour step on the pitch at York, they might be reminded of their last visit to the stadium, keen on a little payback. In late September last year, as it looked like the Winnipeg club might make a run at the top four (they were just two games removed from a 5-1-1 run), they sought to eliminate York with either a win or draw.

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Valour even took the lead in that match with a first-half penalty, but after about 30 minutes, York — particularly Mo Babouli, only recently arrived in the league — took over entirely, scoring a trio of lovely goals to win 3-1. This was the Nine Stripes’ final home game of 2022, and they certainly left their fans entertained as they trickled out of the stadium that night.

For Valour, however, that evening was perhaps the moment their playoff push fizzled out. They weren’t officially eliminated, but it seemed to put a halt to the momentum they’d been building. They’d come within touching distance of the top four (actually passing Pacific FC to occupy the playoff spot for about a week) in the prior few matches, buoyed by two straight home wins over Forge at the start of the month, but this lacklustre performance spelled doom for them.

The Winnipeg club will therefore hope to put that disappointment behind them with a bright start at York this year.

Last season, Valour actually seemed to have York’s number right up until that final meeting. The Winnipeggers had won the previous three matches against that particular opponent, having claimed an impressive 3-1 victory of their own at York Lions Stadium in June.

This is a pair of teams who will undoubtedly be jostling for position down the stretch in 2023, with both clubs desperate to break into the playoff picture after coming so close in 2022. Martin Nash and Phil Dos Santos both did fairly well last year in their first full season as a professional head coach, but the York and Valour managers (respectively) will want to push their projects a step further this time around.

The two sides have made significant changes over the winter, as well. York have revamped their midfield, adding proven CPL veterans like Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé and Elijah Adekugbe while strengthening their core of internationals as well, and all eyes will be on how their defence copes with the loss of Dominick Zator. Valour, meanwhile, have made changes everywhere on the pitch, with a new-look attack headlined by internationals Kian Williams and Jaime Siaj. They, too, have to account for some major off-season departures, including Sean Rea and Brett Levis, but Dos Santos will be confident he’s retooled his side to make its first-ever playoff run after just barely missing out two seasons in a row.

Of course, no team makes or misses the playoffs in April. However, in a league like the CPL where the gap between clubs can be so thin, three points against a side you might be directly fighting with in the autumn could be crucial.

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