AGR's High Press: 'Play the kids' movement takes over at Valour, Vancouver
It was a rather unusual week of CPL action.
With six games scheduled across seven days – three midweek and three over the weekend – a few teams endured a brutal round of scheduling as York United went from Vancouver Island to Toronto then to Calgary, Valour FC went round-trip to Vancouver and back, and Vancouver FC enjoyed a trip to Ottawa before returning home... and then flying off to Winnipeg.
Others had a far more relaxing time, and it showed ... but, everyone gets a chance to reset now with the Canada Day long weekend, the first matchday in which some teams (specifically, Forge and York) will hit the halfway mark of their season.
The 2023 CPL table continued to tighten amidst all the recent chaos, so this second half – and the opening of the transfer window – won't lessen up on any of that drama. Teams are starting to figure out what they are this year, and will now look to adjust based on what they know, which should make for an intriguing second half of the season.
Here’s more on that in this week’s High Press.
The kids are more than alright for Valour, Vancouver
It was a big week for Under-21 Canadian minutes in the CPL, as Vancouver and Valour both crested the required 2000-minute mark that teams are mandated to hit across a full season.
Fittingly, they hit that milestone in a matchup between both sides last Sunday, too, as Valour cleared the mark shortly after half time, while Vancouver hit it close to the end of the match in what ended up being a 1-0 Valour win.
Each team’s 12th match of the season, it’s a huge accomplishment for both sides, as it signifies a strong commitment to the development of young Canadian talent. Plus, to do so this early means that the minutes can still only go up from here for both sides, as well.
And the good news is that they only should, as the best part of Vancouver and Valour’s commitment to youth is that it's paying off for them.
For Valour, it’s been something that they’ve prioritized since day one, as Matteo de Brienne has been a mainstay at left back when healthy, while Juan Pablo Sánchez has quietly become a huge piece in midfield for them. Along with the continued progress of Jared Ulloa and Eskander Mzoughi, who have been key rotational pieces, it’s allowed Valour to quietly pick up the minutes as the year has gone along.
We got an important #CanPL 🇨🇦U21 minutes update in this Valour FC vs Vancouver FC clash, as Valour have just hit the required 2000 🇨🇦U21 minutes for the season— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) June 25, 2023
Reminder, this is just game 12 of 28 for them. And their kids are playing meaningful roles, too
The only team to have more than two U21 Canadians with more than 700 minutes (no one has two players with more than 400 minutes), and one of just two teams to have four players with over 200 minutes (along with Vancouver), those players have been full value for those minutes, too.
As a result, it’s helped Valour string together some strong performances, even if they haven’t always gotten the results to show for it, which should only improve as the year goes along.
Especially if these young players continue to step up, that will only help them, which will be fascinating to follow as the season goes along.
Then, for Vancouver, their youth movement has been a bit less gradual, as it really got going as of late, but it’s helped them take a step forward as of late.
Struggling to keep players on the pitch due to injuries and suspensions, it’s forced Afshin Ghotbi to go deep into his bench to try and remedy that situation.
As a result, it even saw him start five U21 Canadians against Forge last week, a match in which seven U21s saw the field, and Vancouver had an average age in their starting XI of 21.9 years.
Then, while their average age increased to 22.3 for the Valour game, they still started four U21 Canadians and had six of them see the field, continuing that youth movement.
Plus, interestingly, those young players have been some of Vancouver’s best performers as of late, too, and helped them grab a monumental win over Forge.
Wow, Vancouver FC just beat the reigning #CanPL champs 2-0 for a 1st-ever home win, ending an 8-game winless run— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) June 21, 2023
And they did so w/ a starting XI with an average age of 21.9, playing 7 U21 🇨🇦's (5 starters)
3 U21 🇨🇦 DF's aided w/ the clean sheet - 16 y/o TJ Tahid scored the GWG
Rookie 16-year-old TJ Tahid is looking like he could be a dangerous player in this league, already sitting with two goals, while Anthony White, James Cameron and Tyler Crawford have helped stabilize Vancouver’s back line after a shaky period.
Along with cameos from Lennon Thompson, Mouhamadou Kane and Maël Henry (who is now headed to Cavalry to help with U21 minutes), they’ve really helped Vancouver find some stability in recent matches.
They haven’t been perfect, as they’ve shown their age at times, but for the most part have done well to step up when called upon, even despite a lack of veteran support around them.
And with the team looking set to bring in some veteran players to help stabilize their squad, a process they began with the signing of Cavalry’s Mikaël Cantave, if they can find a way to insulate those youngsters with more signings like that, watch out.
Now, it’ll be intriguing to see how the other teams follow suit in the pursuit of U21 minutes, but as the pair of VFCs have shown, there is a path where teams can do well while providing youngsters with opportunities, which is everything the CPL is about.
The makings of a classic - Forge vs Ottawa
If you were to put out a pre-game poll, no one was expecting fireworks between Forge FC and Atlético Ottawa as they met last Sunday.
It was a huge matchup - Forge desperately needed a win after losing three straight games in which they failed to score, coming part of an overall five-game winless run, while Ottawa was looking to build off what had been a relatively positive run of games, but no one was expecting a track meet of a game between them.
Two teams that always play each other tightly, a cagey battle was always likely to be on the cards, like when they met in last year’s final, for example.
Yet, both sides clearly didn’t get that memo, as the match ended up being unhinged from minute one, providing an early frontrunner for the game of the season.
It started with a dream start from Ottawa, who scored less than 30 seconds into the game via Gabriel Antinoro, who nabbed his first-ever CPL goal after a defensive mix-up from Forge.
A near record-setting goal, as it was milliseconds away from being the fastest goal in league history, that snapped Forge to attention, as they tried to avoid spiralling any further into their slump.
As a result, they responded accordingly. They got a bit of luck to start, as a spectacular own goal from Ottawa snapped Forge’s offensive run, and then used that as fuel to go up 3-1 by the 32nd minute thanks to a Terran Campbell brace, seemingly set to snap their slump in front of their home fans.
🚨GOAL @ForgeFCHamilton 🔨— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) June 25, 2023
What a wild start in Hamilton!
Macdonald Niba is credited with the own goal on this one, as his back pass to Nathan Ingham goes horribly wrong for Atlético Ottawa😬
There, however, is where things got fun. Fuelled by a bold half time triple sub from the visitors, Ottawa all of a sudden found themselves back in the game.
Then, Maxim Tissot scored a free kick against his old team (and had a fitting celebration in front of his old fans), before Gianni Dos Santos capitalized on a loose ball in the box, as Forge’s two-goal lead went from secure to gone in an eight-minute span.
Plus, with both teams trading chances, it felt like the game was still wide-open as it entered the last 15 minutes.
And in that moment, up stepped up the hero that Forge were desperately waiting for - Woobens Pacius, who got on the end of a perfect Kwasi Poku cross to make it 4-3, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish despite a push from Ottawa.
🚨GOAL @ForgeFCHamilton🔨— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) June 25, 2023
Woobens Pacius has snapped his scoreless run at a crucial time for Forge, potentially just grabbing a late winner over Ottawa after a great ball from Kwasi Poku
This game continues to deliver!🔥
Pacius’s first goal in nine league games (11 in all competitions), it was a big goal for him, too, as he’d been struggling for form, falling into more of a substitute role in recent matches because of that.
Now, however, he got a goal that will do him a world of good for his confidence, which along with Campbell’s brace, is news that Forge fans will be pleased to hear after their recent offensive struggles, especially from their strikers.
A few questions remain, as they’re still looking for more depth scoring, but one can only imagine that Pacius and Campbell heating up could only help them in that quest.
If they do, a big thanks has to be given to this game for that.
It’s not often that 2.31 combined xG leads to a seven-goal thriller with two lead changes, a dramatic equalizer and a big game-winner, but it was that kind of night in Hamilton.
One of the best games in CPL history, it’ll be one that fans won’t soon forget, even if both coaches might have nightmares about it for the weeks to come.
Despite it being a battle between two of the stingiest teams in the CPL defensively, as they sit second and third in xG against even after this match, it came completely off the rails in a battle that defies most rational explanations.
Big players win games as MVP race tightens up
Sometimes, in big moments, you need your big players to step up.
Even if they’re struggling for form, or having a bad game, sometimes one big moment from a big player can make a world of difference for a team.
And this week, there were a few players that stepped up huge for their teams in that regard.
For example, Pacius’s goal against Ottawa was a big one, especially given his form, as he capped off a bright performance with a much-needed tally to help Forge win that game.
Then, there was the play of Ali Musse, who secured a huge win for Cavalry over York United with a late free-kick, as he continues to have a season to remember over in Alberta.
🚨GOAL @CPLCavalryFC🐎#CanPL. BANGERS. ONLY— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) June 24, 2023
What a free kick from Ali Musse to grab a 2-1 lead LATE over York
And don't forget the run from Goteh Ntignee to win this free kick, too 💨
Then, there was Easton Ongaro and Ayman Sellouf combining for a key goal in Pacific’s 1-0 win over Valour, which allowed them to extend their lead atop the CPL, just days after Sean Young scored a similarly clutch goal in a 1-0 Pacific win over York United.
Along with the duel between Aidan Daniels and Mo Babouli in Halifax’s 2-2 draw with York United in midweek and Rayane Yesli’s clutch save in Valour’s 1-0 win over Vancouver, it was a good week for marquee players across the CPL.
Yet, it’s leading to what should be a fascinating race for both the Player of the Year and Player’s Player of the Year award, as this might be the deepest crop of candidates yet.
For example, one would expect a Pacific player to be leading the race given their success, but they can attribute that to several players, with Sellouf, Young, Manny Aparicio, Amer Đidić and Thomas Meilleur-Giguère all standing out as key contributors.
Because of that, it can instead be argued that the top candidates are likely someone like Musse, given how dominant he’s been for Cavalry this year, or Aidan Daniels, who has helped lead Halifax’s recent surge of form. Along with defending POTY and PPOTY Ollie Bassett, who is quietly having another great season, and the likes of Yesli, Pacifique Niyongabire and Diego Gutiérrez at Valour, it’s a wide-open race.
Plus, there are more who will throw their hats into that race as the season goes along, as well. With a pair of goals in his last two games, Babouli is finding form again for York, while Forge has too much talent to at least not have one player push into the race.
🚨GOAL @yorkutdfc🟢— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) June 24, 2023
It's #CanPL Bangers Only, as Mo Babouli finds the top corner with a powerful strike to make it 1-1 vs Cavalry🔥
We've got a good one brewing here in Calgary☁️
And if Vancouver makes the playoffs, Callum Irving will have to be in the discussion, too, as he’s rescued several points for them already, and could be a huge beneficiary from a strong summer window from the team.
Therefore, as the halfway mark approaches, keep an eye on how this race develops, as teams' big players are starting to find form across the league, and are beginning to win games for their sides, as we saw over the last week.
Alex’s notebook: Quick thoughts around the CPL
- Vancouver FC will hope that their win over Forge can help them find some form at home, as it was their first-ever home victory. Plus, the first time that they scored two goals at home, courtesy of TJ Tahid and Ameer Kinani, that’ll be something they’ll need to build off of as they look to build up Willoughby Community Park as a place to fear, as they’ve not been dangerous enough offensively at home.
- Despite only playing once, Pacific built their lead atop the table this week, thanks to that win over Valour. There, while Sellouf and Ongaro will grab the headlines, their midfield deserves a shout, as Manny Aparicio, Sean Young and Pierre Lamothe (who was replaced by Cédric Toussaint) allowed Pacific to go toe-to-toe with Valour in a good tactical battle.
- Goteh Ntignee had his best game for Cavalry this weekend in their 2-1 win over York, scoring his first CPL goal, and winning the free kick that Musse eventually put away for the winner. With the team needing U21 minutes, he’ll look to take advantage of Cantave’s departure to really stake out a starting role on the left wing for them.
- Valour continues to claw their way up the CPL table after a slump, and Diego Gutiérrez has led the way with some strong performances. Pacifique Niyongabire is getting a lot of attention on this Valour team, and for good reason, but don’t sleep on how good Gutiérrez and Yesli have continued to be in big moments for them.
- Despite the loss to Forge, Atlético Ottawa can still be satisfied with how that match went, especially offensively as they needed some confidence there. Defensively, they’ll be worried that they allowed four goals, no doubt, as they continue to be let down by individual errors, but the numbers suggest that was an anomaly, and they’ll look to build off that. Plus, having addressed their biggest position of need this week, a #6, they appear to still be on the right track.
- The Halifax Wanderers are continuing to show good versatility in their play, as they showed in a good comeback against York. Even beyond the play of Daniels, they’ve had some key contributors step up, as well - in particular, Tiago Coimbra has looked excellent, scoring two goals in his last two games, so you can add him to the list of U21 Canadians that did well this week.
- Speaking of Halifax, how's this moment from Andre Rampersad, who is currently away with Trinidad & Tobago at the Gold Cup?
GOAL 🇹🇹— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) June 29, 2023
A #CanPL legend has scored at the 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup 😎@HFXWanderersFC's Andre Rampersad scores for Trinidad and Tobago, getting into the box and scoring off a driven cross from out wide 🎯 pic.twitter.com/KphNyY8KW1
Player of the Week: Aidan Daniels
This was an extremely hard pick, as one had to weigh the double matchweek, but ultimately, I went for the most dominant performance across the six games that were played to make it fair.
There, Aidan Daniels stood out, as his one-goal, one-assist performance against York in midweek was huge for Halifax, allowing them to snatch a road draw off one of the league’s best sides this season.
Yet, it was just another solid game for Daniels, who has found some great form as of late for the Wanderers, especially since he was benched for a pair of games about a month ago.
Goal of the Week: Kévin dos Santos
In a week with two free-kick goals, this was a tightly contested battle, but in the end, Santos’s goal for York was too hard to ignore.
Everything about it is perfect - the touch into space, the contact, the celebration - it doesn’t get much better than that from the York attacker.
Having had a pretty good view of this myself from the York press box, it was just too hard to ignore a goal of this quality for goal of the week.
You gotta see this: Maxim Tissot’s free kick
Everything about this goal was magical from Maxim Tissot against Forge.
The strike? Perfect. The celebration in front of the home fans? Even better.
You add in that it came against his old team, and that he waved away Ollie Bassett to take it, and it was a smooth sequence from the veteran, Tissot, who reminded people that he can still take over games when he wants to as he pushes into his 30s.
What I’m watching this week: Valour vs Cavalry
Two surging teams, this is a big matchup between fourth and fifth in the CPL table, as Valour hosts Cavalry on Saturday.
For Valour, they’ll look to build off the fact that they’ve won back-to-back home games for the first time this season, and are looking to extend a 13-game undefeated run at home.
Eager for their first back-to-back wins of the season, they’ll look to do so while remaining solid defensively, dominant in midfield and eager in wide areas, as they were against Vancouver.
As for Cavalry, they’ll look to use that big win over York as fuel, showing that they’re better than what their record indicates.
Still yet to win on the road this season, they’ve had some strong performances, but have been sloppy in key moments, something they’ll look to clean up in this matchup.
Therefore, look for both teams to come out strongly, as they look to build off a 1-1 draw from the last time they met, coming all the way back in April.