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There was no need for name tags or introductions last year for Dylan Carreiro and many of his Valour FC teammates.
The inaugural roster boasted nine players (Carreiro, Dylan Sacramento, Marco Bustos, Tyler Attardo, Tyson Farago, Raphael Ohin, Federico Peña, Ali Musse and Svyatik Artemenko) from Winnipeg.
Three of them, Carreiro, Sacramento and Bustos, even came from the same high school as the trio all studied at Garden City Collegiate at one point before soccer took them away from the Keystone Province.
But for Carreiro and Sacramento, suiting up for their hometown professional club together made their story come full circle.
"I lived on Ashburn, so my back street was Valour road and he lived on Spruce Street. We weren’t even born yet and our parents met in the hospital. They found out they were both naming their sons Dylan and they’re both Portuguese and ever since then, we were always friends," said Carreiro after Wednesday’s morning training session at IG Field.
"We grew up together. Every time we played, we’d play soccer together with his older brother Kenny. That’s just how we grew up. Whether it was at school or not at school, we’d be together. I’d be at his house or he’d be at ours."
While it was a dream come true to play side by side as pros and with so many other Prairie boys, it ended up being a nightmare on the field.
It got off to a terrific start, though.
In Valour’s first-ever match, Sacramento cracked the starting 11 and looked sharp, but the story ended up being Carreiro coming off the bench and scoring a beauty in the 78th minute on the road to grab a 2-1 victory over Pacific FC.
By no means was it a sign of things to come.
Injuries would soon pile up for the Valour side and Sacramento was often forced to play out of position and struggled to get into a rhythm.
As for Carreiro, he tore an ACL in 2018 and still wasn’t feeling 100 per cent like the player that was named the Canadian U-20 player of the year in 2013. That and he was also making the jump to the pro ranks from York University — a far cry from the level of play in the Canadian Premier League.
While homegrown products such as Bustos and Attardo found personal success, it didn’t translate into the standings as Valour ended up finishing in a tie for last place in the seven-team league.
Carreiro, a 25-year-old midfielder, is eager to right the ship and help Valour become a contender, but he’s going to have to do it with a bunch of new faces as Ohin and Peña are the only other Winnipeggers on the roster in 2020. Midfielder Sacramento was loaned to a New Zealand club in October and is now under contract with Galway United FC in Ireland. Bustos, who was Valour’s top goal scorer last season, became the highest-paid player in the CPL and signed with Pacific FC.
"It’s difficult. It’s their career, their decisions. I obviously tried to speak with them. Obviously, I’m here and I would love to have my friends from back in the day with me but at the end of the day they make their decisions and I wish them all the best in their next journey," said Carreiro, who grew up playing on provincial teams with Bustos.
Carreiro moved to Toronto with his family as a teenager when he played for the Toronto FC Academy. During the CPL season, Carreiro lives in Winnipeg with his aunt and uncle.
With last season featuring more lows than highs, it wasn’t always easy playing in front of family and friends.
"It’s tough. There’s a lot of things that go on in football, especially in your hometown. Once you’re in your hometown, people talk and if you’re not doing well, they look at you as to why you’re not doing well," said Carreiro, who finished last year with two goals and three assists in 24 appearances.
"Some people can’t handle that type of stress. Winnipeggers, we’re here and we’re trying to represent the city and make sure these guys come in and know the city, the club and the culture. But this year, I think the Winnipeggers have a lot to prove that we have the capability and level. We did show it at times, but it wasn’t consistent."
With three players and an all-Manitoban coaching staff, Valour head coach Rob Gale believes they’re still a strong representation of the local soccer community and that Carreiro is in a much better spot this season, whatever it ends up looking like since it was delayed owing to COVID-19, to be the face of that.
"He knows he had more to give then what we saw last year. To be fair, I think it was largely to do with (his knee). It takes a while. Anyone that comes back from an injury in any sport, it takes a while to get really back into it and feeling confident," Gale said.
"He had an injury in pre-season that not many people know about. He thought he’d done it again. It was a scary moment in the pre-season in the Dominican Republic when we played Halifax. It was one of them. To gain that full trust in your body and everything else, I think it just takes time. Part of being a coach and working with young players is being patient and letting them develop. If they have the right attitude and everything else, they’ll get back there."
Since training resumed, Carreiro has shown he’s fit and ready to generate offence for himself and his teammates. But nothing would demonstrate that more than a few game-winning goals once the games begin.
"Hopefully more than that," Carreiro said with a smile.
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
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