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Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019
Nick Mancini could not stay away from soccer for long
by Randy Pascal

Soccer coach Nick Mancini just couldn't stay away. And that's a very good thing.

A very familiar face around local soccer fields as he guided the GSSC (Greater Sudbury Soccer Club) 1998 boys all the way up the ranks, right through until they completed their U18 season in 2016, Mancini stepped away from coaching, quite understandably, two years ago.

This summer, however, he's back with a vengeance.

Mancini has joined forces with assistant coach Nicholas Walker, a rock solid defender with the Cambrian Golden Shield who was recognized, this past season, as the college's Male Varsity Athlete of the Year.

The tandem have ventured their way back to the beginning of the competitive cycle, scooping up the GSSC Impact 2005 lads as they begin to assimilate a whole lot of change in a hurry. “This group is brand new,” said Mancini earlier this week. “The biggest challenge, I imagine, is moving from the 9 v 9 game on the smaller field to the bigger field (11 v 11).”

It's not like this is a road that Mancini has not previously travelled. In fact, it's not like he was away all that long at all. “You take one year off, it feels like an eternity, and it does take a while to get back into it, believe it or not,” he said. “Even something as simple as learning the names.”

“It was something I had taken for granted with the 1998 group,” Mancini added. “I got to know all of them. I knew their strengths, I knew their weaknesses, I knew a lot about them, because I knew them from a very early age.” While developing a certain level of comfort with his crew became something of a foreign concept for the long-time soccer mentor, at least in recent years, the notion of constantly teaching the game he loves never left his side.

“The good news is that a number of these players have been with the GSSC for a number of years and they come with some base technical skills,” said Mancini. “It's teaching them that tactical piece. The transitional play, playing into space, it's an on-going battle for any player at any level, but for these guys, it's almost brand new. It's not 100%, but I have seen some quick learning from this group.”

Watching even a few minutes of their scrimmage earlier this week, it's clear some of the habits of recreational soccer have fallen by the wayside, though there is, at times, a need to remind a group of youngsters who are still only 12 or 13 years old.

“One of the things I have noticed that I want to key on is they still have a bit of that “pack” mentality,” said Mancini. “They clump in the middle, instead of using the width of the field. That's something that will come with transitioning from 9 v 9 to 11 v 11. They are young, they are small, but they're pretty athletic.”

And that is a mold with which Mancini can begin the process of soccer sculpting. “A focus of mine, tactically, is playing out of the back,” he said. “I find that, even when I had the U13's years and years ago, this is a skill that does not come instinctively to a lot of them.”

“Being comfortable with the ball at your feet, playing out of the back, is key, at any level of soccer. It takes confidence, trusting their passing skills, trusting that they can trap a ball, bring it down, have it ready to distribute.”

The group that will avail themselves to this knowledge, for the summer of 2018, features Cale Bast, Matthew Bodnar, Jack Campbell, Santiago Campbell-Martinez, Adam Chebbi, Nathan Cranston, Braydon Ethier-Perras, Carter Grenier, Cole Macey, Julian Mariotti, Nicholas McGee, Malik Olanrewaju, Joseph Pagano, Austin Rocca, Blake Rosener, Luca Strangis, Malcolm Teddy and Tyler Thibodeau.

If the thought of the potential that lies within this group is something that excites the leadership of the GSSC, then the notion that the 2005 team tryouts attracted something in the neighbourhood of 60 players can make these folks downright giddy. Such was the extent of the interest in boys competitive soccer, in this age bracket, that the decision to assemble a second team was rendered relatively easily.

Jeff McNeil tackles the reins with this tournament team – the Mancini squad plays out of the Huronia District Soccer League – and he makes no bones about exactly what his own personal motivation, and that of the players that he coaches, should be.

“The purpose of this team is developmental, to fill the other team when they need more players,” he said. “The goal for this year is to have a minimum of three players from the team make the Huronia team next year. And we want to medal in every tournament we go to.”

“It's ambitious, granted. But we have some players here who could easily step into that team, right now.” Like Mancini, McNeil does not have a child on the team. Bitten heavily by the coaching bug several years ago, he has already identified some of the critical differentiating factors for those who wish to make the jump in 2019.

“Assertiveness is a big one, being more aggressive on the ball, more aggressive off the ball,” said McNeil. The Impact reps will be hosting a North Bay team in exhibition play in July, before heading off to Newmarket for tournament play later in the month.

The roster with which coach McNeil is working includes Shanib Ahmed, Jack Anderson, Daniel Barber, Cengiz Colgecen, Jordan Fergani, Matteaus Grossi, Zachary Johnson, Nathan Kaletka-Caverly, Oscar Kunkar, Liam Love, William MacDonald, Michael Nazaruk, Ousama Quarquoz, Colton Ricard, Ryan Ricci, Matthew Sawyer, A.J. Shelegey, as well as assistant coaches Jeff Coccimiglio and Ryan Love.

And we close with one final bit of great news follow-up from last week's column. Seven days ago, we introduced readership to the GSSC Impact U13 girls team that was preparing for a Huronia District Soccer League Cup game.

The team would post an impressive 2-0 whitewashing of Muskoka FC, as sisters Kiara and Kiana Levac combined to bury the first goal, Sydney Coe added some insurance by finding the back of the net, and Kylee Hitchen kept things clean in the Sudbury goal at the other end of the pitch.

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