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This article was published 3/5/2019 (1113 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Today should be a landmark day in Winnipeg’s sporting history.
A brand, spanking new professional soccer team, which has been years in the making, will finally be getting its launch on the big stage at Investors Group Field. Game time is 5 p.m.
More than 8,000 tickets have been sold for the event, the lines and markers for Canadian football have been miraculously scrubbed off the FieldTurf and the architect of the whole enterprise, general manager and head coach Rob Gale, has a movie script in mind for today’s final scene.
"Hopefully I’ll be smoking a cigar around 8 p.m. and that will be a good day," said a smiling Gale Friday afternoon before heading out on the IGF pitch for his squad’s final training session in preparation for facing Edmonton FC. "You control what you can control. You manage yourself, you manage the game, you make sure you manage the occasion. It’s still 11 players against 11 players.
“Hopefully I’ll be smoking a cigar around 8 p.m. and that will be a good day" — Rob Gale, FC Valour general manager and head coach
"I try not to think about it too much because I’m an emotional guy, as the lads will attest to. You just have to switch it off. If we play like we did in that second half (of Wednesday’s 2-1 season-opening win in Victoria against Pacific FC, with that consistency in our game and everything else, I have no doubt we’ll enjoy the occasion because the performance will be great.
"The rest of it, you just have to shut out the noise until after the game and then take a little bit of stock of it and enjoy those moments. There are a lot of firsts and you have to enjoy what you’re doing."
After enduring the bone-chilling conditions during Wednesday’s road opener in Victoria, the players and coaches of Valour FC should get a bit of a break today. Partly cloudy conditions and a high of 11 C with winds gusting to 35 km/h are in the forcecast, which is no bother to midfielder Dylan Carreiro.
"The way we want to play is football on the ground and entertaining football," said Carreiro. "The biggest thing is just focusing on what we can do and if the wind is there and it can benefit us in one half of the game, then it will benefit us.
"The way we like to play is on the ground most of he way. We’re all technical footballers but the way we play, I think any type of conditions will help us."
It helps that Valour players are behaving like a well-oiled machine. Training camp began more than two months ago — first using indoor facilities in Winnipeg and then travelling to the Dominican Republic for some heated, outdoor workouts.
They know each other pretty well by now and the camaraderie is evident, according to captain Jordan Murrell.
"We’re like brothers in there, we’re super close and we’ve got each other’s backs," said Murrell, a 26-year-old defender who plans to hand his Valour jersey to a young fan at the conclusion of home matches. "You could tell on Wednesday, we were there fighting for each other, scrapping for each and that starts in the locker room."
Gale admits it’s a personal thrill to be able to tap into the local enthusiasm for the game while introducing the wider public to the soccer culture he’s more familiar with in his native England. Winnipeg’s last pro soccer outfit — the Winnipeg Fury — disbanded soon after the demise of the Canadian Soccer League in 1992.
"26 years is a long time to wait for professional football in a city our size and a sporting culture and a good history of football culture" — Rob Gale
"What’s going to be great is the Manitoba public," said Gale. "I’ve said this before — 26 years is a long time to wait for professional football in a city our size and a sporting culture and a good history of football culture. So that’s going to exciting. We know the fans they get behind their own... We’ve got quality all over. Young Canadian talent, good mix of experience… Now this is going to bring this unique sporting experience, a different one.
"A brass band’s gonna be there, there’s a march to the game, there’s flags, the Red River Rising (supporters) group is practising songs tonight at the King’s Head pub. That football culture’s what we’ve been missing, for those of us in the game."
Gale’s optimism and enthusiasm has an infectious quality.
"I’m looking forward to the occasion," said Gale. "I think everybody’s seen the standard in the league now and the great unknown has been dealt with. And they can see it’s good-quality football. Tier I FIFA league, everything we promised it would be.
"All the marketing and the hype, we’ve backed it up on the field and we’ve addressed it internally, a good result, but we can be better, we will be better and we’re looking forward to the Manitoba public coming out in droves to support the boys."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.