Final Score: Vancouver FC 0-0 Valour FC
Game of the 2023 season: 28
CPL match: 395
Match in a minute or less
Vancouver FC hosted Valour FC in their third-ever home game at Willoughby Community Park in Langley on Sunday night, and for the second time came away with a hard-fought draw. Despite both teams having an expected goals of over 1.5 — with eleven and seventeen shots, respectively — neither side was able to turn one point into three by finding an elusive goal.
Anthony Novak put the ball into the back of the net in the 70th minute, but it was disallowed for an alleged handball, about 20 minutes before his header from close range came back out off the crossbar as the Valour striker had his side’s best two opportunities off the bench. Vancouver came closest in the 19th minute, as the ball struck Mamadou Kane’s head in the box and went on target, but he too was denied by the horizontal woodwork.
Both sides will be at home next weekend as they each look to pick up their second wins of the season, with Vancouver hosting British Columbia rivals Pacific FC, and Valour hosting York United.
TJ Tahid a focal point for Vancouver, and proof of CPL opportunities for young players
A few weeks after becoming the Canadian Premier League’s youngest ever player, Vancouver FC youngster TJ Tahid made his first professional start on Sunday evening. The 16-year-old, from nearby Maple Ridge, British Columbia, put in another impressive shift over an hour of work.
Tahid, who started on the left wing of a 4-4-1-1 formation, combined well on a couple of occasions with attacking midfielder Gael Sandoval and left back Min-Jae Kwak, before being replaced by Nicky Gyimah in the 64th minute. He shared the team lead with Kwak in a couple of categories: duels won with seven, and the number of times they won possession, with eight. The young winger led the team with five successful tackles, and also made some impressive runs down the left flank.
After the match, Tahid’s head coach Afshin Ghotbi had very high praise for him and his performance.
“Probably the most positive [thing from this game] for me was TJ’s first start, what a fantastic performance from a 16-year-old player,” Ghotbi said. “Wow, I’m so impressed, and I think that’s something to be really proud of — that we have maybe one of the best 16-year-olds in North America playing for us.”
Ghotbi also had high praise for the CPL itself for being a league that allows young Canadian players to get these professional opportunities, and reiterated the club’s commitment to giving opportunities to players like Tahid.
“This is what this club is all about, finding local players like TJ that are Canadian, and finding these young geniuses that need experience to play with senior players at the highest level in Canada to be able to develop themselves in a professional environment so they can reach their potential sooner,” Ghotbi said.
“Rob Friend, our owner, and myself, we had to take our profession outside of North America because there weren’t enough opportunities in our generation. I think it’s wonderful that the CPL is providing this platform and it’s so important to the development of the Canadian national team and Canadian soccer.
“TJ will hopefully be one of many, many players that will come out of our organization and help Canadian football. I think that what’s really brave on our club’s part is that by putting 16-year-olds and 18-year-olds on the pitch, maybe we sacrifice results in the short term, but we gain so much in the long term.”
Valour start and end game well, but can’t find a goal
After the way Valour FC started Sunday’s match on the road at Willoughby Community Park, and the way they ended it, it’s unfortunate for Phil Dos Santos’ side that they weren’t able to find the back of the net.
It only took 79 seconds for Valour to test the Vancouver defence, with Kian Williams getting in behind the backline and firing a shot at Callum Irving, but it could only find the top of the side netting. Marcello Polisi then tested the Vancouver goalkeeper just over two minutes later with a volley from outside the penalty area, but Irving was able to get down to catch the ball with a fairly routine stop.
In the 12th minute, Abdou Samaké was left frustrated after getting his head on a cross into the box, but failing to get good enough contact on it to redirect it on target, instead sending it wide for a goal kick. In first half stoppage time, Pacifique Niyongabire curled a brilliant low cross to the back post for Kian Williams, whose rocket of a shot forced a great reaction save from Irving, but would canceled out for an offside flag regardless.
Valour were getting into good areas, a trend that would continue in the second half, but they had nothing to show for it.
“I think we started the game well,” head coach Phil Dos Santos said after the match. “When you dominate possession in today’s game you always have to deal with moments of transition. They were extremely direct, they played with their tools. I felt that today the only thing that we didn’t get was a goal.”
In the 70th minute, substitute Anthony Novak put the ball into the top right corner, off the bottom of the crossbar and in, but the goal would be disallowed, seemingly for an alleged handball on Niyongabire in the buildup to the goal. Valour’s attackers were frustrated by the decision, but kept pushing for a winner. They came closest to scoring again in the 89th minute as Novak got his head on a cross into the area from a Matteo de Brienne corner kick, but his redirection hit the crossbar from close range.
On the night Valour had an expected goals (xG) of 1.56, with 17 shots, but only two of their shots hit the target in a match where they came away with a single point where they will feel as though they could probably have had all three had they been more clinical.
“At the end of the day it’s a point on the road,” Dos Santos added. “Some teams are going to come here and lose points. Now we need to capitalize at home.”
His side will get an opportunity to do that when they host York United next weekend.
Ibrahim Bakare unexpectedly deployed as a striker and in central midfield during second half
Afshin Ghotbi has shown a willingness to experiment with new things in Vancouver FC’s debut season in the Canadian Premier League. Kadin Chung playing in midfield instead of his preferred right back, and Gael Sandoval playing in a free role/number ten position as opposed to on the wing as was expected.
What nobody saw coming, however, was Ibrahim Bakare starting the second half as a striker. Bakare, who is naturally a centre-back but played a lot at right back this season as well, started the match on the right flank of Vancouver’s back four. He put up his usual sturdy performance, hardly putting a foot wrong, so it was a bit of a surprise to see the Englishman leading the line as the teams returned after the break.
Shaan Hundal had been pushed to the right wing, Min-Jae Kwak went from left back to right back at halftime. Tyler Crawford was subbed on for Gael Sandoval, coming in at left back, while Mamadou Kane also left the match at the break, replaced by Ameer Kinani, who joined Bakare in the central attacking areas. With Bakare now out of that space, Valour switched Pacifique Niyongabire to the left flank at times, and tried to divert some of their attacking movements through that channel instead.
Head coach Afshin Ghotbi didn’t get into specifics after the match about why it was Bakare that was chosen to come in up top, but he did offer that he was “unhappy about the first half”, and that he “had to make a change.”
When Emmanuel Robe came off the bench in the 73rd minute to replace midfielder Nima Moazeni Zadeh, Bakare vacated his position up top. Surely he returned to the backline, right? No, he was then surprisingly deployed in another new position in central midfield.
“That’s where we are, sometimes we have to adapt,” added midfielder Elliot Simmons. “We’ve lost Kadin to the injury which is really tough on us, so it’s just to the next person to step up really. If we have to adapt to players in different formations, it’s something we have to do. Everyone is working their best and putting in the efforts, and I can’t fault it.”
While clearly not a position he was used to, Bakare didn’t look that out of place up top. He pressed well from the top of Vancouver’s formation, seemingly focused more on applying pressure to Valour players deep in their own half with the ball than he was on scoring a goal. He also did well with his back to goal, holding up the ball well before laying it off to teammates on a couple of occasions. Why he was put up there instead of Robe just coming off the bench at halftime remains a mystery, however.
“We’re prepared for everything,” said Phil Dos Santos after the match with a smile. “We don’t prepare our team for moments like these because they’re very unpredictable, we try to look at the tendencies, but in the end I felt like we dealt with it well.”
CanPL.ca Player of the Match
Pacifique Niyongabire, Valour FC
As he has been all season, Valour FC attacker Pacifique Niyongabire was a bright spot for Valour in this match, dictating a lot of how Valour attacked as Phil Dos Santos’ side tried to control the wide areas of the pitch.
Vancouver FC stay at home and host provincial rivals Pacific FC for the first time on Friday evening (7 pm PT). Valour FC return home to host York United at IG Field on Sunday (2 pm CT/3 pm ET).
Watch all matches live on OneSoccer. In addition to its website and app, OneSoccer is now available on TELUS channel 980 and on Fubo TV. Call your local cable provider to ask for OneSoccer today.