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Chris Belanger focuses on the most difficult job on the pitch
2024-04-05
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Soccer is growing in so many different ways in Sudbury as the city prepares to welcome the return of a semi-pro league for the first time since the early eighties.

For Chris Belanger, however, his focus is much more narrow.

The creator of Greater Sudbury Goalkeeping saw a gap in the game and addressed it after making his way home some three years ago.

"I started doing group sessions, looking to give goalkeepers an opportunity to grow," said Belanger, now 51 years old and a veteran of the position going back to his days as a youth in the nickel city.

"What I would like to see happen is that they move on and play elsewhere (at another level)," Belanger continued. "I want to be part of that journey."

"Journey" is likely the operative word for 13 year old Sebastien Gonzalez.

Born in Venezuela but moving to Uruguay at the age of six, Gonzalez has now been in Sudbury for roughly one year - and there is little doubt where his passion lies when it comes to the sport that is a virtual religion back in most parts of South America.

"What I like most about playing in goal is the challenge of keeping the ball out of the net," said Gonzalez. "We are focused a lot on the in-game actions, how to react to different situations."

"As a keeper, you have no time to think. If you make a mistake, it's a goal."

A goalie since the age of six, Gonzalez knows he still has plenty of room for growth, including elements of the game that become more and more critical as he gets older.

"I have to know my box and depending on where the ball is and the distance, I have to either go further back or further ahead to cover the most net as possible."

Sixteen year-old Angelo St George is contemplating the reverse of the journey that Gonzalez has travelled. Born in Torotno but having spent much of his life in Sudbury, the grade 11 student at St Benedict would love nothing more than to return to his family roots in Portugual to pursue the game at the next level.

That dream, he believes, will require hours and hours on work devoted to his craft as a goalkeeper.

"It takes a lot of practice, for sure," said St George, currently working out with the Sudbury Cyclones Academy crew. "I would say that it's mostly footwork and game knowledge in terms of where to go - my vision and stuff."

The very nature of the role forces young men and women to throw caution to the wind, lunging to and fro in order to make the save - a movement that is clearly part of the core DNA for St George.

"Diving is good for me," he said. "I feel like diving, especially on my dominant side, has always been good. If you dive and you miss it by just a little bit, it really gets on your nerves."

"But once you get it down, it becomes second nature."

That's exactly what Belanger likes to hear.

"It takes a special breed of person," he suggested with a smile. "You've got to be resilient. As a goalkeeper, you can't hide from a mistake."

"But for me, it's the best position out there" - not to mention the toughest.

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