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Jump in level of play is the perfect fit for Impact U14 boys

Soccer coach Nigel Croome was facing the same dilemma that a good number of local soccer folks have before, looking to prepare their team for entry into the Central Soccer League (CSL) – only they weren’t handcuffed with 18 months of full practice inactivity in anticipation of their move.

“The way that we went into it, I was trying to manage the kids’ expectations without sort of bringing them down,” he said. “Realistically, as a coach, I knew that it was going to be extremely competitive.”

In fact, the CSL might be the ideal definition of competitiveness in the eyes of this group of 2007 born Sudbury talent and staff.

Six games into their schedule, the Impact offer a record of 3-2-1 (W-L-T), good for 10 points. In a bracket that includes no less than 18 teams, heavily concentrated in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and a radius of maybe an hour or so, the Sudbury lads find themselves in a three-way tie for sixth place.

Every single game but one has been decided by two goals or less – with the lopsided outlier (if you can call it that) a modest 4-1 Impact victory over North Scarborough. The locals have more than held their own in setbacks to both Armour Heights (1-3) and Pickering (0-2), a pair of teams that have combined to compile a mark of 11-0-1 to date.

“I set up my team as a counter attacking team,” said Croome. “It’s very deliberately done that way because I knew there were a lot of very good passing teams in the CSL, there are a lot of very athletic teams in the CSL.”

To boot, prep time was limited as the lifting of health restrictions locally allowed only slightly over a month for the team to ready themselves for game one on August 7th. While the kids had worked diligently throughout the pandemic, there is only so much that can be done on an individual basis.

“At this age, most of the kids are OK with the small ball skills, with the ball at their feet,” said Croome. “That part, they sort of have down. It’s the formations, the long passes, the actual nuances of the game, movement and things like that which they missed.”

“Usually, when I break down a practice, we focus on one thing for the entire practice,” he added. “Going into this year, we broke it into shorter exercises. Even if it was just a snapshot, I could see what we’re lacking and we could focus more time on that next practice. That’s how we developed their positioning, ball movement, when to make their runs.”

After splitting a pair of games last weekend – 3-1 loss to Armour Heights (Braxton Ragona) followed by a 2-0 win over Etobicoke (Ragogna and Paolo Grossi; shutout by Cory Lacroix) – the Impact are facing two more stiff tests this weekend. On Saturday, East York (4-1-1) will meet the Sudbury crew at 1:00 p.m. at the Delki Dozzi Sports Complex, with Kleinburg-Nobleton (3-1-1) providing the opposition the next day at the same time.

The Impact U14 boys team includes Adam Urso, Andre Sousa, Boston Ranger, Braxton Ragogna, Byron Nelson, Carter Bubalo, Carter Drigo, Cole Rosener, Cory Lacroix, Ian Burnett, Ibrahim Najem, Jacob Hulisz, Jonah Gibson, Koen Palmquist, Liam Nootchtai, London Croome, Luca Cucullo, Mohammad Alramadan, Paolo Grossi and Sebastien Zaher.

The GSSC Impact U16 Boys are nothing if not prone to patterns, at least early in their CSL season. Coach Nicholas Walker and company opened with a pair of wins, followed by a pair of losses, followed by a pair of ties. This past weekend would see the embattled crew on the road, earning points against both Darlington (2-2 – Finn Gould, Nicholas McGee) and Thornhill (3-3 – Nathan Cranston-2, Maliq Olanrewaju).

“We’re dealing with a lot of injuries right now,” said Walker. “The flexibility of the players and their willingness to do what is necessary for the team to achieve their goal has been the key.”

Down two goals at the half in both games, Walker has leaned on several players making concessions for the greater good, citing a pair of excellent examples. “Mattheus Sousa played left back because of injuries and slid in seamlessly, really understanding the role that he had to play in order for us to get a result.”

“Finn Gould is more of an attacking minded midfielder that we’ve had to switch to a more defensive role – and I think he’s come into that role quite well.”

Back at home this weekend, the U16 Impact will welcome the league frontrunners to town, as the Oshawa Kicks head north looking to extend their seven game winning streak. On Sunday at 1:00 p.m. at the James Jerome Sports Complex, the Sudbury crew meet up with FC Emery (2-3-2), a team with whom they currently share 7th place.

“This is a team that we want to put below us in the standings and in order to do that, we have to get a result,” said Walker. “We really would like to get three points here.”

The GSSC Impact U13 Boys knew that this summer would likely be devoted to trying to close the gap on the top half of the CSL teams they would be facing. Over the weekend, they found out first hand just how large that gap might be against elite opposition.

The Sudbury youngsters dropped an 8-2 decision on Saturday to East York, with visiting midfielder Spencer Potter distinguishing himself not only with a pair of goals, but even moreso in the manner in which he controlled the middle of the pitch from start to finish.

A native of Libya who moved to Sudbury some five years ago, Farouq Alzawi might have given up several inches in height to Potter and a few of the other East Yorkers – but what he lacked in size, he made up for in hustle and heart, challenging consistently.

“I have to make them kick it out wide and make the other players come out,” said Alzawi, who noted that the physical makeup of the visitors reminded him somewhat of his early days of soccer in Tripoli. “It’s very tough soccer there, they push a lot.”

Still, he has grown accustomed to the Canadian game and has definitely grown accustomed to some of his more regular teammates. “When I am with a couple of players that I know well (Dylan Nelson, Massimo Toffoli), I know that we can set up plays without even really having to talk.”

“I know that we can pressure, without even really looking at each other.”

Down 3-0 at the half, the Impact scored a pair of goals late, the first of which came courtesy of a penalty kick from Caleb Pearson, while the second was a picture perfect four-way passing play along the right flank. After Alzawi battled to create a turnover deep in his own territory, the ball moved effortlessly from Sullivan Smith to Russell Ranger and on to Dylan Nelson, who made no mistake in finishing the run.

Finally, the GSSC Impact U16 Girls also came through the weekend with a .500 mark, edged 2-1 by Oshawa Turul on Saturday (Kiara Levac) but balancing that off with a 4-1 triumph over Darlington on Sunday (Kiara Levac-3; Sophia Oommen).

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