The Canadian Premier League sure has an odd way of thanking Valour FC for hosting the bubble.
The CPL unveiled the schedule for The Kickoff — the name of the Winnipeg bubble that will see all eight clubs start the season in the Manitoba capital and play eight games each at IG Field before, hopefully, returning to their home markets to play the remainder of their matches — on Wednesday and the schedule makers certainly didn't give Valour an easy start.
Winnipeg's professional soccer club will open the season against the top two teams from last season. Their first match will see them battle the reigning, two-time CPL champions in Forge FC on June 27. Three days later, Valour will play last year's runner-up, HFX Wanderers FC. Valour will play Forge, HFX Wanderers, Atletico Ottawa and York United each twice during The Kickoff. The schedule was designed for teams to face opponents from the opposite side of the country in order to minimize travel after the bubble.
"The top two finalists, yeah, great," said Valour head coach Rob Gale with a laugh. "You know what, they're good footballing teams and both good matchups. You look at us in the bubble (in Charlottetown, P.E.I.) last year and we tied Forge 2-2 and the Halifax game was one of our best games where we absolutely dominated but ended up losing it (2-0). No, I'm looking forward to it. The top two teams right off the bat, I think it's awesome."
Teams will begin rolling into the bubble hotel on June 21 and will have to isolate for a few days and go through testing protocols before they can hit the field.
Midfielder José Galán is one of three players who knows what it's like to play for Valour at IG Field. The Spaniard is one of only three players left from the inaugural season in 2019 — Winnipeggers Raphael Ohin and Federico Pena are the others.
"It's an honour to be a part of this team for a third year. It's something special," Galán said.
"There's only three guys remaining here and it's an honour to be one of them. I feel this is my home now."
Galán and his wife Paloma have put down roots in Winnipeg and their daughter Celia was born here 13 months ago. But the 35-year-old Galán isn't the only Valour player who will be down the street from his family for a month without being able to see them. Valour captain Daryl Fordyce, a forward from Northern Ireland, has lived in Winnipeg with his wife Tina and their two-year-old Luka since Feb. 2020.
"Yeah, it's gonna be tough. I actually said it'd be easier if I was on the other side of the world," said the 34-year-old Fordyce.
"But for her, it's better because she knows I'll be in the same city. But yeah, it's going to be tough knowing I'm in a hotel and my wife and kid will literally be a 10-minute drive away, but it has to be done. You have to get through it. Thankfully we can see each other over FaceTime."
While Galán and Fordyce will be missing their loved ones, the duo is determined to make the most of The Kickoff. They're Valour's oldest and most experienced players, but they believe they still have lot's to give. The four-week schedule is a demanding one as they only have two to three days between most games.
"For me, I love this. I love to play games," said Galán, who's played in a dozen countries in his 17-year career.
"It doesn't bother me to play every three, four days to be honest. Actually, I prefer it… I feel really good. I always say age is just a number. This preseason when new players come they're always like 'Really, you're 35? Come on, I can't believe it.'"
As for Fordyce, FC Edmonton's all-time leading scorer who's entering his second Valour season, he's not concerned about age slowing him down.
"I'd love to play until I'm 40. I've never been blessed with pace, so, I've never had to use pace in my game," said Fordyce, who scored for Valour in a 2-1 win over FC Edmonton at last year's Island Games.
"Usually, when you get a little bit older, you lose your pace, but I never had any pace to begin with. As long as I stay fit, healthy and recover well, I can play games no problem."
If Valour is going to come out of The Kickoff in decent shape, Gale is going to need his two wily veterans to not only be leaders, but also provide quality minutes on the pitch.
"I think age is a state of mind really for these lads… We're going to have to rotate players no matter what, but we're expecting both of these guys to be big contributors again this season," Gale said.
"Otherwise, they wouldn't be on the squad because you can't afford passengers when you're playing as many games as we are."
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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