Valour FC will have the opportunity to test its mettle against a Major League Soccer club for the first time in franchise history Wednesday night.
Winnipeg’s professional soccer team faces the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place (9 p.m. CT) in the preliminary round of the Canadian Championship tournament. The winner advances to the quarter-final of the 13-team, single-elimination event and will play either Cavalry FC or FC Edmonton.
"I think we’re all really excited. It’s a big test," Valour midfielder Brett Levis, a former Whitecap who made 24 appearances between 2016-2019, told the Free Press between flights Tuesday.
"A lot of our players probably haven’t played at this calibre or this level. Especially for players aspiring to get there or get to the next level, this is a great test for them."
Levis isn’t the only one going up against familiar faces. Valour head coach and general manager Phillip Dos Santos was an assistant for the Whitecaps for two-and-a-half seasons before he was let go last August. One month later, Valour fired Rob Gale and hired Dos Santos as his replacement.
"At the end of the day, it’s another soccer game," said Dos Santos. "… I know at the beginning or throughout the process, there’s gonna be handshakes and re-encounters, but I know how this works. Once the whistle is blown, it’s just going to be a game that I have to coach and that’s how I’m gonna see it."
Vancouver released Levis after the 2019 campaign, and the Saskatoon product jumped to the Canadian Premier League, signing with Valour. Is he determined to show the Whitecaps they made a mistake?
"I haven’t really thought about that too much, to be honest. I’m going about it just like any game we’ve played so far," said the 29-year-old Levis.
"My mindset doesn’t really change and I don’t think of one game as any bigger than the other."
Valour has never fared well at the Canadian Championship. They beat Atlético Ottawa 3-2 in last year’s preliminary round before Forge FC ousted them 2-1 in the quarters. In 2019, Valour was sent home after an embarrassing 4-1 loss to HFX Wanderers FC in their first match of the tournament. The 2020 Canadian Championship was reduced to a one match final between Forge and Toronto FC owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. That match has been pushed back numerous times, but Forge and TFC will finally play for the 2020 title on June 4 at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.
Despite this being Valour’s toughest draw yet, they believe they can advance. It wouldn’t be the first time the Whitecaps have lost to a CPL club as Pacific FC beat the Whitecaps 4-3 in last year’s first round.
"Phil said to us ‘We don’t need to be better than that team, we need to be better than that team on that day,’" Levis said.
"It’s a single-leg knockout. So, we come in prepared with a game plan and if we execute anything can happen. You’ve seen it lots in cup (tournaments)… there’s lots of upsets and yeah, we’re here to do a job… At the end of the day, it’s another 11 players on the field that we have to play against. They don’t have superpowers."
Vancouver certainly doesn’t have superpowers as they’re the worst team in the MLS. The Whitecaps sit at the bottom of the league with a 2-1-6 record. Valour is coming off a scoreless draw against the Wanderers Saturday at IG Field and find themselves at 1-2-1 early in their season. For Dos Santos, it doesn’t matter where the Whitecaps sit; Vancouver’s the favourite and they have all the pressure on their shoulders.
"At the end of the day, it’s still a little bit of David versus Goliath," said Dos Santos.
"To get something out of that game we will need to be very, very good and that’s the responsibility that we need to approach the game with."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...