Valour FC Preseason Camp Begins With Trialists Aplenty
Canadian Premier League side Valour FC kicked off its preseason training camp at IG Field today, with the Winnipeg-based side becoming the sixth of eight teams in the league to do so.
This gives the club at least a month of preparation time to return to fitness ahead of the belated 2021 Canadian Premier League season which is set to begin this summer in a single location before, if all goes to plan, returning to home markets with fans in the stands during the later stages of a full 28 game regular season.
Speaking with Ed Tait after the club’s first preseason session this year, Valour FC head coach Rob Gale offered a fairly in-depth look at who all participated in the camp, who the club is looking to sign, and who was still absent for the time being.
The total figure of players who participated in the club’s camp today racks in at either 23 or 24, with some athletes still building up to full participating and three athletes still in quarantine: Keven Aleman, William Akio, and Andy Baquero. The third of those athletes is a new name for Valour FC fans, with the 26-year-old Cuban international reportedly still on trial. He defected to Canada following his country’s 6-0 loss to Canada in September 2019.
Both of the club’s 2021 CPL U SPORTS Draft picks were also in attendance, with Lebanese U-23 Tony Mikhael and six-foot-seven goalkeeper Yuba-Rayane Yesli both set to vie for a contract. Gale revealed that University of Saskatchewan standout Nikolas Baikas is also trialing with the side, with the former SK Selects forward offering the club more attacking depth.
We’ve got fourteen signed players in with us, and then those other ten lads – three more to come out of quarantine – and we’ve still got Arnold Bouka-Moutou to come in, and we’re working on bringing in one more signing as well.
Former Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Georges Mukumbilwa is also on trial with the club. The 21-year-old homegrown player made his debut against Real Salt Lake in October 2019, but ultimately found himself released last November after failing to garner any other appearances with the MLS side.
The club has also invited a small number of Manitobans to trial with the side, with the club inviting Aaron Hidalgo-Mazzei (who took part in the club’s prior preseason), Caelen Budhoo (of the Cape Breton Capers), and Caden Tomy (who participated in the Got Game Open Trials in 2018). Former emergency backup goalkeeper Svyatik Artemenko, who spent time with the club throughout its inaugural campaign, also earns another opportunity to impress. He isn’t the only inaugural squad member to return for trial, however, with Nicolas Galvis also participating in the camp.
The Winnipeg-based side recently had to pivot with its roster selection after internationals Ronny Maza and Nestor Monge both mutually terminated their contracts due to travel difficulties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, though internationals Amir Soto and Jose Galan (and Canadian-Peruvian loanee Jared Ulloa) had no issue entering the country ahead of today’s camp.
What’s more, Gale offered the first hints that there may be a roster rule change that could allow for teams to have more than the current maximum roster size of 23 by way of a change to how developmental contracts work.
We’re allowed up to 23 players, and there may even be rules around that in development players this year just because of the sheer number of games. We’re keeping our options open. There are certain positional needs.Rob Gale
If there’s truly a change to the roster regulations that would allow for players on developmental contracts not to count against the roster cap, it’d certainly encourage clubs to bring a larger focus on the annual CPL U SPORTS Draft – and ultimately grant more opportunities for young domestic student-athletes to get an early taste of the professional game.
The club has publicly signed 18 players ahead of the 2021 CPL season so far, seven of whom are new faces. Two of the club’s four full new signings had to be cancelled due to travel difficulties, with the side also taking in three domestic U-21 talents on loan: CF Montreal duo Sean Rea and Jonathan Sirois, and Sporting Crystal winger Jared Ulloa.
Gale is still looking for a replacement for Costa Rican international Nestor Monge, who was set to bring plenty of Concacaf experience to the side prior to the termination of his contract last month. The gaffer had also teased that a key defender was inbound this February, which is a move he says continues to inch closer to the finish line.
We’ve lost Nestor so we’re looking for a lynchpin who can connect the game for us in the middle of the field. We’re actively working on that. We’re looking at a centre-back still, I’ve had some options on that. It’s been a little bit longer getting that one over the line than I would have liked, but it should be coming soon. The last thing is to make sure we get the best quality players in available, so the depth of the squad and the versatility is there, so it might be a player who can play in multiple positions: maybe some cover at full-back and a holding central midfielder, or an attacker who can player centre-forward or off the wing or in a ten spot, so some versatility in those positions.Rob Gale
Versatility is often a priceless asset in a league mandated by a salary cap – even if it’s increasing this year – which makes it no surprise that Gale would be seeking players comfortable in multiple positions to potentially fill some of his last remaining roster spots.
While the club struggled throughout the inaugural Canadian Premier League campaign, Gale oversaw a hefty rebuild last year that resulted in a much more competitive team at The Island Games: a superb season for iron men loanees Julian Dunn and James Pantemis helped keep the side’s backline secure as the side missed out on a postseason berth by a single match, with returning centre-back Andrew Jean Baptiste also having impressed.
With the core of the squad returning for the 2021 Canadian Premier League season, it’ll be interesting to see how Gale builds upon the momentum garnered from last year’s bubble tournament. Today’s training camp was a big step on that long road, though what Valour FC fans witness later on this year remains to be seen.