Having spent the better part of his entire life around the soccer pitch, Brian Ashton has seen his fair share of athletic defining moments. Few, he suggested, compare to the thrill of a recent come-from-behind victory in Toronto.
“We're down 2-1 to Master's FA with about 30 minutes to play,” he recounted. “Luca Nardi received a second yellow card on a call that wasn't even a foul. We ended up scoring three goals with ten men in the last 30 minutes and won the game 4-2.”
“As the game was going on, the parents for the other team are cheering for us, moving over and sitting with our parents,” Ashton continued. “When we tied the game, I kind of got a bit emotional. I've been to a lot of places and played a lot of games in a lot of different countries, but this was something special. We fought back so hard.”
“I never get emotional, but I was getting so choked up, I could hardly talk to the kids. I was just so proud of them.” The timing could not have been better for the Northern Soccer Academy U17 lads. Just barely into their regular season schedule in the Ontario Academy Soccer League, the northern crew were still in search of their first victory of 2018, having been outscored 25-2 in the first three games.
“The first couple of games were pretty rough,” suggested Bishop Carter senior Lucas Oliveira. Accounting for one of his team's tallies versus Master's – Drenedy Edwards (NB), Noah Carter (SSM) and Luke May (SSM) had the others – the 16 year old midfielder has worked with Ashton since his days with the now-defunct regional program.
Despite the slow start, his faith in his mentor was not dampened in the least. “Brian is an incredible coach,” said Oliveira. “He's been there, he's been at that top level. When he comes into training, he knows what to tell the entire team. The drills that we do are all with the mindset of implementing into the playing of games. We don't do drills just to pass the ball.”
The bond for Ashton with this particular group is a strong one, with many of the core players having worked with the former Toronto Lynx defender since their early teens. Moreover, the St Charles College graduate turned coach also works with the bulk of these players twelve months a year, an absolute necessity given the schedule they face when the snow finally melts.
“You have to play over the winter to be in a competitive mindset for the summer time,” stated Oliveira. “The teams that we play against in the summer are very, very strong teams. If we don't have that time together in the off-season, we are really on our back foot coming into the summer time.”
Unfortunately, as many in the local soccer community are fully aware, Sudbury is not the ideal city in which to groom your game through the long winter nights. “All of these teams we are playing against are on these full sized turfed field all year round,” said Oliveira. “When you're in a gym, it's much smaller and you're playing on a harder surface.”
Still, Ashton, Oliveira and the troops compete in off-season tournaments, making regular visits to a complex in Buffalo that attracts a solid group of teams from both sides of the border. Perhaps to the surprise of some, the NSA crew remain relatively competitive. “It becomes more about communication and less about our abilities on the ball,” said Oliveira.
“You just have to practice, all the time. You have to be able to play with your teammates. And since we're from different areas in the north, when we have that time together, we need to improve.” With his older brother Isaac already donning the colours of the Cambrian Golden Shield, the younger Oliveira has definitely earmarked a playing career beyond his high school days.
That will require some continued progress over the course of the next year or so, something the Valley East native knows all too well. “For me, it's about the consistency of my confidence,” said Oliveira. “When I go into a game, if I'm not feeling the best, I know it's not going to be an incredible game for me.”
“I have to enter games knowing that I want the ball, knowing what I want to do when I get the ball, and having a good feel of where I am going to go after I pass the ball, so that I can support my teammates.” Speaking of which, the balance of the NSA U17 roster is, as follows: Nolan Berthelette, Cameron Boland, Sebastien Bouchard, Tyler Dupont, Neil Kovacs, Nathan Lajunen, Saurodeep Majumdar, Jake May, Andrew Prince, Aiden Ragogna, Jacob Socransky, Adam (C.J.) Tear and Tomas Webb.
As for the young ladies under his watch, Ashton remains quite pleased with a U21 crew that are much closer to an average age of 16 or so, competing in the OWSL (Ontario Women's Soccer League) Central Region division. Four games in, the NSA girls are sitting at 2-2-0, bouncing back from a 2-1 loss to the Oak Ridges Knights (Catherine Mesich from Sault Ste Marie scored for Sudbury) with a 2-0 shutout of the Huronia Saints.
Callander native Caitlyne Kervin accounted for both goals for the local-ish reps. The team then fell 3-1 to the Oakville Blue Devils, getting back to the .500 mark with a 2-0 win over the Richmond Hill Raiders. Kervin and Madison Barnes (North Bay) found the back of the net for Ashton.
The balance of his U21 women's team features Lina Audet, Giulia Backer, Mia Cochran, Emma Jennings, Madisen Kennedy-Schomogyi, Cydney Koper, Madison Laberge, Chanelle Lafortune, Alyx Lapointe, Emma Lapointe, Crystal McLennan, Lauren McTiernan, Kendra Roy, Aysia Solomon, Victoria Suotaila, Alison Symington and Chantae Robinson.