Final Score: Valour FC 2-0 Atlético Ottawa
Goalscorers: Raphael Ohin (45′), Moses Dyer (90+2′)
Game of the 2021 season: 10
CPL match: 145
Match in a minute or less
Just as they had twice already this year, Valour FC stifled their opponent en route to a resounding 2-0 win, this time over Atlético Ottawa. Raphael Ohin scored on the brink of halftime, and Moses Dyer added the insurance marker from the penalty spot right at the end, but ultimately Valour was fairly comfortable in shutting down the opposition’s attack, keeping Ottawa to just four shots. Keeping a third consecutive clean sheet, Rob Gale’s side took sole possession of first place in the CPL with a perfect nine points from nine available.
Tactical shift opens new spaces for Valour
Gale’s side lined up quite differently to how they have in the previous two games, with a three-man backline of Stefan Cebara, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, and CPL-U SPORTS Draft pick Tony Mikhael laying the foundation behind a double-pivot of Ohin and Daryl Fordyce. With the pair covering for each other, both were able to, at times, venture into half-channels to look for gaps in the Ottawa midfield — Ohin especially, who loves to take the ball forward himself. With him in that dual role alongside Fordyce, rather than in the middle of a three-man midfield, he was able to get forward when good opportunities arose without as much risk of leaving acres of space behind. Gale explained that, generally, the idea was to get Ohin “to join in the half-spaces at the right time,” which he certainly did particularly toward the end of the first half (and he earned his reward for it with his goal).
Gale added that, with the greater width in midfield, his side was better able to beat Ottawa’s 4-4-2 press, stretching them with the long ball if necessary. It was key for Valour’s front players, William Akio and Austin Ricci in particular, to cause trouble for Ottawa’s backline: “We needed our two to access their four,” Gale said postmatch. “If they could do that and pin them back, and make the fullbacks and centre-backs make decisions, then you’re going to have a player like Keven Alemán underneath.”
Valour has managed to win games in different ways this year already, and demonstrating that kind of tactical versatility this early in the season is impressive.
Ottawa not panicking, looking to attack the net more
In his pre-match press conference, Atlético Ottawa coach Mista explained that he felt his team had been a little shy when it came to shooting the ball. On Saturday, they managed just four shots, despite having the slight edge in possession and a few decent ventures into the attacking third. After the defeat, Mista offered that he preferred to lose like that than, perhaps, his side’s 4-0 loss to Valour last year, given that he saw more signs of what he wants this Ottawa side to become. Still, they definitely struggled to find that final ball in this game.
“We have to not be scared to pull the trigger,” agreed Ottawa midfielder Chris Mannella. “If you look from this match and last match, it’s night and day. We’re in the opponent’s half, we’re possession the ball, we’re making them chase us… It’s coming; it’s game three. It’s not time to press a panic button, we’re there, we’re doing the right thing. There’s lots of time, and goals will come.”
Ottawa has been lacking a bit of creativity at times — perhaps the return of Viti Martínez, or the debut of Alberto Soto, might ameliorate that — but ultimately the club has faith that their attack will develop its bite soon.
Valour shows character in 90-minute performance
It is extremely difficult at this stage of any season — let alone this particular season — to put together a cohesive performance over 90 full minutes, with a number of key starters having played 180 minutes already in the previous week. Somehow, though, Valour have managed it. For the second game in a row, they took a 1-0 lead right to the end of the match and scored late to secure their win.
This time, they looked quite a bit more comfortable seeing out the game than perhaps they did against HFX — only facing four shots instead of 25 is a decent indicator of how well they were able to keep the opponent out of dangerous areas. Seven players have started all three games for Valour: Jonathan Sirois, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Stefan Cebara, Raphael Ohin, Keven Alemán, and Austin Ricci. A handful of those have played every, or nearly every, minute of each contest.
Given the conditions — the heat, the rain — and the lack of preseason match sharpness, it’s incredible to see Valour able to stand so firm throughout a game. Energy off the bench has been a huge help, of course — on Saturday, substitutes like Moses Dyer and Sean Rea helped them continue to put pressure on Ottawa in the final 10 minutes or so — but Valour haven’t wilted in games.
“I am impressed,” Gale said. “Energy levels, the desire to keep clean sheets, the desire to work, double down, help your man out when they’re trying to overload us on the flanks and we’re getting midfielders across. The guys coming off the bench, you know we’ve got some footballers in there, like Sean (Rea) and Masta (Kacher), and we’re asking them to dig down in the low triangles and stop the opposition playing so we can get a foothold. To a man, I can’t complain; extraordinary efforts so far.”
CanPL.ca Player of the Match
Keven Alemán, Valour FC
Gale himself singled out Alemán as his man of the match, and we’re inclined to agree: the 27-year-old was at his best playing behind Ricci and Akio, thriving in the spaces they created by pressuring the defenders. Alemán had two successful dribbles, and he won seven of nine duels, covering an incredible amount of ground across the pitch. So far this season, he’s been among the CPL’s best players in 1v1 situations, and he had that ability to use the ball in tight spaces on full display Saturday.
These two teams will both return to the pitch at IG Field on Wednesday, July 7, when Atlético Ottawa take on Pacific FC (7 pm ET/6 pm CT), followed by Valour FC squaring off with York United FC (10 pm ET/9 pm CT). Watch all games live on OneSoccer.