Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 4/3/2019 (330 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The first day of on-field activities for members of the inaugural Valour FC roster felt a little like Christmas Day.
"It's a bit surreal to be honest," said goalkeeper Tyson Farago after the local product and his Valour teammates wrapped up a morning of testing Monday at the Winnipeg Subway Soccer South indoor facility.
"We got orientation over and it was like the first day of school pretty much. It really feels now that we're stepping on the pitch and you can see what everyone's about and I can't wait to use the balls now."
The Canadian Premier League team, which opens its regular season on May 1 in Victoria against the FC Pacific and makes its home debut three days later against Edmonton FC at Investors Group Field, has a steady diet of training over the next two months.
Currently, 17 players are signed to a roster that will max out at 23. Ten additional players are attending camp on a tryout basis.
"They're young, they're hungry and based on the testing, we're going to be a quick team, which it's exactly the DNA we're looking for and already you're seeing the camaraderie," said general manager and head coach Rob Gale.
"We're starting to build that straight away from Day 1, which is very important to us. I've talked about the character and intelligence of these lads and now we're going to start harnessing that."
The squad Gale has assembled includes players from across Canada and around the globe.
Midfielder Glenn Muenkat, for instance, comes to Winnipeg after a stint with the Kaiserslautern under-21 team in Germany. He was in talks with several CPL clubs but chose Valour FC, in part, because of his previous ties to Gale and the Canadian national youth team.
"There is a personal connection but also the style he wants to play suits the way I want to play as well," said Muenkat, originally from Toronto. "A free-flowing style, he allows players to be themselves on the field, he doesn't keep them to a system. Yeah, there's a system but he allows you to express yourself on the field."
Canadian content like Muenkat will be crucial to a team's success, since six of the 11 players starting each game must have a Canadian passport. Each club can carry a maximum of seven international players.
To that end, Gale announced the signing of national under-20 team midfielder Diego Gutierrez Monday.
Gutierrez was born in Greenfield, Que., but has lived most of his life in Chile. The 22-year-old's dual citizenship combined with his skill and experience playing for Palestino of the Chilean Primera Division makes him a key acquisition.
Gale hopes to announce up to two more signings in the coming weeks, leaving up to four rosters spots available to players attending on a tryout.
Developing Canadian talent is the mandate of the CPL and forward Tyler Attardo, a 17-year-old from East St. Paul, is a prime example. Attardo recently spent three weeks training in Chile as he prepped for his debut pro season.
"My goal is always to become a better player and going out there in that atmosphere definitely did that for me," said Attardo. "And also, to be around professional players really helped me with how I am in this professional environment. It gave me a little taste of what it's like."
While Attardo is breaking into the pro ranks, Scarborough, Ont., product Skyler Thomas is trying to re-establish his credentials as an international player.
The imposing 6-3 defender has spent the past three seasons with the United Soccer League's Charleston Battery and also made seven appearances with Canada's under-23 team, which happened to be coached by Gale.
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Thomas, 23, believes playing in Canada will further his goal of one day playing for national senior men's side.
"I think if you perform well in your home country, eyes will be on you," said Thomas. "So at this point, it's up to the team to prove themselves and it's up to myself to prove myself. I think that if all goes well, eyes will be on us and we'll get the opportunities."
THROW-INS: Three signed players have yet to make an appearance in Winnipeg. Uruguan defender Martin Arguinarena and Colombian midfielder Nestor Navia are expected to arrive Friday with English forward Stephen Hoyle still completing his season with his club in New Zealand.
Mike Sawatzky Sports Reporter
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.