Valour FC head coach Rob Gale offered an interesting analogy regarding his side’s 15-day break between games, as he prepares to take on FC Edmonton on Saturday (6:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. MT, available on OneSoccer).
“We want to be an angry bear who’s just woken up from hibernation,” Gale told reporters. “We got a nice little rabbit sitting in front of us right on their doorstep. So let’s get after it.”
It’s a playful shot at the Eddies’ iconic Rally Rabbit, though Gale also teased his opposite at Edmonton, Jeff Paulus, who Gale alleged listens to every interview he gives.
Following a 2-1 home loss to Forge FC that boiled down to a few critical errors, the Winnipeg side has been dialled in despite waiting over two weeks for a shot at redemption.
So, how fitting for redemption that this layoff ends with a visit to Edmonton, the team that spoiled Valour’s home opener on May 4. A match where Valour FC had chances, failed to convert and saw the ball in the back of their net despite overall solid play.
“If we go out to Edmonton and we play the same way we played here but take our chances and limit theirs, I think we’ll get a result,” striker Calum Ferguson said. “They are physical, organized and know how to counter attack, they punished us.”
In the lead up to Saturday, the focus for Valour seems to be preventing the self-inflicted errors that quality teams will mop up. While not necessarily heated, training sessions have picked up in intensity at times, with the squad now comfortable with each other and aware of the task at hand.
“Everyone’s come back with lively spirits and what I love about this group is we always give it our all and all of us staying late, we want to perfect our game and what we need to do,” captain Jordan Murrell said. “(Edmonton) is good on the counter so just being safe with possession and focusing on that.”
While none of the players enjoyed the long wait between matches, the one positive is that it is allowed for recovery, especially for the walking wounded. Midfielder Michael Petrasso is expected to be ready for a return after missing the last two matches with a hamstring injury. Centre-back Adam Mitter is also nearing full fitness, though not expected to make the trip to the Alberta capital.
Petrasso’s return could create a good problem for head coach Rob Gale as he tries to fit one of his biggest attacking threats into the starting eleven. For the first time, Petrasso and rising CanPL star Marco Bustos would get a chance to play together.
Because of this, there were some new looks at training. Petrasso shifted to the right side of midfield, a place held mostly by Diego Gutierrez. Gutierrez moved into central midfield, a move that could lend him more time with the ball at his feet.
“We know he can play as a #8 or a #6 so we are trying to get players in positions to utilize their best assets,” Gale said. “I think Diego maybe sat a little too deep in the games having analyzed it so we challenged him a bit and just having a look at what we got.”
The test could create a more established eleven with the squad near full fitness, in exception for Josip Golubar, who is expected to miss the season with a knee injury. And packing a midfield with the best players available could be an effort to counter an Edmonton midfield that can take over matches.
“I think it’s very important, ” Gale said when asked if the midfield battle could decide the match. “We want to try and get on the front foot and control that midfield as early as possible.”
“He’s such a great leader and you see it at training, the experience and calming influence on the pitch, he does that every day,” Ferguson said. “He’s still a big part of what we’re doing here but it’s a huge loss on the field.”
Golubar is still in Winnipeg, cheering on his teammates. While he rehabs his injury and confined to crutches, his teammates are always stopping by his apartment with groceries or just to say hello. Having signed a multi-year deal with Valour, he will look to return for the 2020 season.
For Gale, it’s not the easiest thing to deal with, but it’s on his players to turn the bad news into something positive.
“It’s got to be the ‘next man up attitude’ and, if you’re a younger player, you must be thinking that maybe your path to the first team is a bit easier now.”
Sharing ‘home turf’
Since Valour FC hosted Forge FC on May 16, a different kind of football team has moved into their shared home of IG Field. Winnipeg Blue Bomber training camp has begun ahead of the 2019 CFL season. Both teams belong to the parent Winnipeg Football Club, so expect mutual support during the seasons.
“I told them if they need a kicker, I’m available… haven’t got a call,” Valour FC goalkeeper Tyson Farago said, who this reporter watched effortlessly hit a 40-yard field goal with a stray football laying around after practice. “Some of the South American guys watched them practise and they were shocked, all like ‘oh my god, he hit him!’.”
Gale showed he’s picked up a thing or two since living in Winnipeg, coaching fellow Englishman Adam Mitter on how to throw a spiral.
But the partnership has some important advantages for the soccer team. They are able to share the state-of-the-art facilities used to maintain the bodies massive gridiron football players.
“They dive right into the sports science from injury prevention to anything else we need, it’s been fantastic,” Ferguson said. “All the knowledge the staff has over here too, mobility work, strength training, food, we get a lot of support from them.”