Weekly Column now appears in Northern Life - every Thursday
So you’ve been parachuted into Sudbury, provided with a spiffy new desk in your role as Sports Editor and have been asked to provide a quick “lay of the land” on the local rep soccer teams competing in Provincial level leagues. If you have managed to make heads or tails of the system as it exists in less than a month, consider your endeavour a success.
The combinations and permutations that exist for local teams taking part in league play beyond the scope of the SRCSL (Sudbury Regional Competitive Soccer League) is exceeded only by the playoff possibilities the NFL encounters every year with two to three weeks remaining in regular season play.
Confusing enough to make your head spin. Thankfully, we will try and clarify some of the murky waters that exist by providing a brief overview of the Sudbury-based teams that have moved on.
Panhellenic Spitfire U-13 (1995) boys: Under head coach Peter Zeman, the Spitfire are competing in the only division that is housed under the North Central Soccer League (NRSL) this summer. Historically, the NRSL comprises teams from Sudbury, Sault Ste Marie, Timmins and North Bay, with the league winners earning a berth directly to either the OYSL (Ontario Youth Soccer League) or CSL (Central Soccer League).
That changed two years ago when the guidelines were amended as the Ontario Soccer Association revamped the “Pyramid of Play”, essentially the all-encompassing structure in which all soccer is housed in the Province of Ontario. These days, winning the NRSL allows you the right to a challenge game: a winner take all affair against an existing team in the CSL.
The team that emerges victorious generally moves on to assume the seventh or eighth slot in the top level (Level 3) of CSL divisional play. This summer, the Panhellenic lads will be competing with entries from North Bay, New Liskeard and Thunder Bay, with four weekend series of games slated to run through July and August.
The Spitfire have competed the past few years in SRCSL action and tackle the NRSL with a roster that includes a solid contingent of youngsters who workout on a bi-weekly basis under the watchful eye of Brian Ashton with the Northern Regional team.
Italia Flyers Azzuri U-15 (1993) boys: The Azzuri made history of sorts last fall, becoming the first local team to advance into CSL action by virtue of winning their challenge match. The Sudbury crew downed Unionville-Milliken 2-1 on penalty kicks to earn a berth in the league that sports eight teams this year, including Pickering, Ajax, Woodbridge, Markham and Etobicoke.
After earning a tie (2-2 vs Unionville-Milliken) and suffering a close loss (4-2 to Woodbridge) in their opening weekend of play, Gino Contini’s young squad has struggled to find their game, losing four straight games. With six of their final eight games at home, the Azzuri will need to get back on the winning track quickly to ensure that relegation is not the fate that awaits them.
Sudbury Canadians U-16 (1992) girls: The latest in the line of Canadians teams that have been able to enjoy some degree of success provincially, the U-16 ladies are looking to take one large step forward this year. Under head coach Frank Malvaso, the Canadians have proven to be more than competitive in the Central Girls Soccer League (CGSL) over the past two years.
In 2008, the Sudbury squad is looking to top the eight team loop, an achievement that would allow them the right to move on to the Ontario Youth Soccer League (OYSL), considered the highest level of youth competitive soccer in the province.
Sudbury Panhellenic United (1991) boys: Without a doubt, the Clive Stephenson led United group has achieved the greatest amount of recent success of any of the boys teams representing the Nickel City. Not only have the Panhellenic lads managed to avoid relegation in their first two years of CSL action, but the team ended the 2007 season in the upper half of league standings.
Unfortunately, each passing year brings with it an ever-increasing challenge to try and maintain a roster with sufficient numbers and depth of talent that will allow the local boys a chance to remain competitive. A record of 1-4-1 in their opening six games suggests that this may well be the last year of CSL action for the team which graduates the bulk of their roster from the high-school ranks this time next year.
Sudbury Panhellenic U-21 ladies: Coach Giuseppe Politi brings together an interesting collection of talent that includes a solid core of players who formed part of the Panhellenic ladies team that last tasted success at the OYSL level. While there is some top-level talent among his crew, the numbers are thin as Sudbury competes in a six-team division of the Ontario Women’s Soccer League.
After struggling against the Richmond Hill Raiders on both ends of a home and home series recently, Panhellenic regrouped this past weekend, losing a tough 2-1 decision to the Vaughan Azzuri before blanking Ajax 3-0.
Sudbury Panhellenic U-21 men: Under coaches Arvo Lang and Mike Hussak, the Panhellenic U-21 team find themselves with an entry in the Ontario Soccer League for the first time in recent memory. And even more good news as the Sudbury side have enjoyed plenty of success in the early going, undefeated in league action with a record of 7-0-1.
The team includes a mix of current university players, including the likes of Laurentian Voyageurs Brent Huffels, Trevor Beange, David Hysen, Derek Lang and Steve Rachkowski as well as Lockerby graduate and Guelph Gryphon Justin Guay. In addition to their league success, the Panhellenic U-21 men have also worked their way through two rounds of league Cup action and will face Guelph in the next round of Ontario Cup play.