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GS United battling until the end

The writing may well be on the wall, but don't expect the Greater Sudbury United U-14 girls to simply play out the string any time soon. Despite the fact that the team is all but assured of being relegated from CGSL Level 3 action at the end of this year, GSU battled tooth and nail in a pair of weekend encounters that wrapped up the home portion of their 2010 campaign.

Facing first place Ajax United (10-1-2) on Saturday, the locals were victimized by an unlucky first half bounce, with the powerful visiting squad adding a pair of second half markers to seal the win. Given the fact that Ajax has all but clinched the league championship and with it, a promotion into the OYSL (Ontario Youth Soccer League) next year, the end result was more than respectable for co-coaches Andy Charsley and Shawn Poland.

Of all the U-14 girls teams that have visited Sudbury to date, the Ajax side appeared to have the most top-end, individual one v one talent, local fans have witnessed to date. That was made evident early in the second half when striker Jessica Perrico displayed an impressive combination of skill and strength, outmuscling a lone GSU defender before drilling an insurance marker to give Ajax a 2-0 lead.

Perrico remained a threat through much of the second half, although it was Alicia Hales that would count the final tally for the visitors. Yasmine Coovalia had opened the scoring in the opening half, capitalizing on a fortunate bounce off a corner kick.

A better matchup for the Sudbury crew on Sunday as Markham (5-5-2) make the trek north. Sudbury dropped a 3-1 decision to Markham last weekend on the road and were anxious to present a tougher challenge to the visitors, though it was the GTA squad that would clearly hold the edge over the first 15 minutes or so of play.

From there on, a little more even, though Markham enjoyed the better of the quality scoring chances, including a pair to striker Amanda Pantaleo, who drove her header just above the crossbar in the opening half.

Sudbury's best chance also came in the opening half as Courtney Smith bolted down the right side of the pitch, crossing a well-played ball just inside the box, with a pair of attackers narrowly missing making contact.

Sudbury goalie Renee Bigras had to be alert on a handful of occasions, looking confident in corraling loose balls in the box as the teams eventually played to a scoreless draw.

Overall, the consensus was clearly a much better effort for Greater Sudbury United in picking up a single point against Markham the second time around. "We were really aggressive today, and our defense played really well," noted inside midfielder Sara Falvo.

"We were actually getting long balls for our strikers to run on to, which we didnít really do last time." While she went on to explain that the ball did not bounce her way quite as much as she would have liked, Falvo was clearly her team's best player at being able to head balls coming from a distance, a skill set that Falvo acknowledges has gradually progressed over time.

"I was scared at first, but I learned just to let it hit my head. After a while, I was able to put power into it, she said. "As time went on, and during the season, I was able to run back and head it really hard when their keeper kicks it." Unlike many of their opponents, Greater Sudbury United is not blessed with a great deal of height on their back-end line.

For the likes of outside fullback Alex Smuland, this means that a combination of aggressive challenges on the ball, along with maintaining proper body position at all times, is crucial to effectively defending against some of the top ball handlers in the league.

Saturday, in particular, provided an awfully tough test, with Smuland keenly aware of the talent that will allow Ajax to make the jump to OYSL next spring. "They have a lot of possession Ė when you watch them, itís almost like they're playing keep-away...their passing is very skilled," Smuland noted.

The weekend two-game set provided an opportunity for call-ups Brenna MacMillan and Dana Isaia to gain some valuable experience, with both Valley East players looking comfortable with their respective assignments.

With the tie on Sunday, GS United improves to 2-8-3, sitting 8th in the nine-team loop and trailing Whitby by four points. Unfortunately, it's the sixth place Markham crew that the locals would need to catch to avoid relegation.

With three regular season games remaining, all on the road (vs Aurora, Barrie and Glen Shields), the challenge is daunting. After dropping a 6-2 decision in their first game of the year, Sudbury have not lost by more than three goals, though a margin of two to three tallies is most common in their defeats.

In chatting with coach Charsley and many other local soccer observers over the summer, it would appear that a case could be made to have Sudbury teams which qualify for CSL and CGSL play, initially gain entry at the Level 4 Premier Division, one grouping below the Level 3 that is currently in place.

Time will tell whether that would provide a setting where Sudbury soccer talent could compete, reasonably well, against teams from across southern Ontario.