The goal came late in Valour FC’s final on-field training session of the week on Friday — earning Team White a victory over Team Maroon — and the ensuing reaction might just say everything about the 2023 in-the-making edition of Winnipeg’s Canadian Premier League squad.
There were shouts of joy by the winning side and, on the opposite, some curses of frustration by their opposition. All this, again, for an intra-squad contest at the end of a practice session still weeks away from the CPL season opener on April 16th in Toronto against York United FC.
Valour FC is returning some familiar faces in ’23 but has also undergone an extensive overhaul. And the early signs are this is a mature, hungry group that absolutely despises losing, even in training.
Now, with two weeks of pre-season in the books valourfootball.club asked GM and Head Coach Phillip Dos Santos for his initial thoughts on the squad he and his staff have put together.
What follows are three first impressions from Dos Santos after two weeks…
This is a narrative at which we’ve already pummelled, but Valour will open ’23 minus its all-time leading scorer in Moses Dyler (now with FC Tulsa), along with Sean Rea (CF Montreal) and Alex Riggi (free agent), who combined for 17 goals last season.
The club has added Kian Williams, Pacifique Niyongabire, Juan Pablo Sanchez, Jaime Siaj, Jared Ulloa, Dante Campbell, and Marcello Polisi, to go along with returnees Matteo de Brienne, Walter Poncé, Kevin Rendon, Raphael Ohin and Diego Gutiérrez to give Dos Santos & Co. some intriguing pieces from the middle of the park forward.
“I like the options we have up top and, in the midfield,” Dos Santos said. “I really feel like we’ve recruited players who could give us different solutions and it’s confirmed by what we see.
“We have midfielders who can now get into higher positions and be able to contribute with a few goals and assists this season. That’s important because then you’re not always relying on the same guys. We see those qualities and now we need to put those guys in those positions that will work with the game model we’ll adopt.
That’s important, knowing we have these solutions from Day 1.”
There is an expectation that players will report in prime physical condition for preseason camp and, based on the limited number of those who are injured or have suffered knocks, Valour has passed this test with flying colours.
“We’ve used these two weeks for a physical build-up and to start getting the fitness level of the players up to speed. But they’ve all arrived in very good condition and the levels of competitiveness have been good. There’s been a commitment to training,” said Dos Santos.
“Normally after 10 days (on the field) where you haven’t yet played a game and you’re training indoors there could be a little bit of complacency that sets in, but that hasn’t been the case. That says a lot about the mentality of the group.
“Now, it’s all good until you’ve played that first game and guys are in and out of the lineup. That’s when you see the true colours and the character of an individual. We think we’ve nailed that. We don’t expect everyone to be always happy and that’s what I was telling them today. But the guys all know they need to perform and if they do that the team will perform.”
It was noticeable from Day 1 of pre-season and becomes more apparent with each session: this is both an older and physically more mature Valour side – all by design – with the younger players like Sanchez, Ulloa and defender Eskander Mzoughi looking to be options the moment the season begins.
“We don’t have any first-year pros,” said Dos Santos. “Our younger players have already been exposed to this type of environment. I’m not saying you won’t find first-year professionals who could step in and compete right away and help us win games, but it’s easier for the coach when you don’t have to educate the player about what training at this level needs to be like – the levels of demand, the accountability and the fact that every little element counts and is important. That’s been reflective in training.
“We wanted good players. We didn’t begin by saying, ‘We want to recruit size.’ But there is a physical component to today’s game with how the opponents can close down time and space. Players need to be able to compete in every situation on and off the ball and having guys with the ability to threaten the opposition and be physically committed to the type of game we want to play. Organically it just happened that the guys we recruited are physically mature. That wasn’t by design where we said we wanted tall guys or anything like that. It was that when we were recruiting guys, we were looking at how they cope with the demands with the game.”
-Valour will return to WSF South for training on Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sessions are open to the public.