Making the cross-over from strictly a tournament team for the first time this summer, the GSSC (Greater Sudbury Soccer Club) Impact U15 Boys have endured a challenging entry into CSL (Central Soccer League) play.
Talk about stating the obvious.
In their first three games of the year, the locals were outscored by a combined margin of 17-0. Eight games into the season, coach Steph Legrand and the lads not only had tasted defeat eight straight times, they had yet to score a goal. The encounters, however, were much closer, showing signs of what was to come.
On July 14th, the team shook the collective monkey off their backs, breaking the goose-egg, albeit still on the wrong end of a 6-2 setback to Wexford. A week later, the Impact would collect their first point of the year, playing to a scoreless draw with King United. One more loss would ensue, as the boys prepared for a two game home stand last weekend.
Their resilience and commitment to improvement would finally pay dividends.
On Saturday, the GSSC crew would earn a 1-1 tie with USC Karpaty, an opponent that currently holds down fifth place in the 17-team circuit with a record of 7-2-1. The next day, the Sudbury reps were not to be denied, registering a solid 4-1 victory over Markham (2-7-2) and validating, to some extent, the belief in them from the team staff.
“We tried to remind them that even though we have been training a lot the past two years, this is the first time we've been in actual league play,” noted Legrand. “Prior to that, we were only in tournaments. From a game-ready perspective, we weren't quite there yet.”
“Secondly, we had been reminding them that some of the teams we are playing against practice year round, and have been for years and years, at these full field indoor facilities. We're at a disadvantage when it comes to that.”
To boot, the CSL schedule maker did the Impact no favours. As it turns out, hindsight being 20/20, the early portion of the locals schedule was over-loaded with top end opponents, with the team finding adversaries with much greater parity in the latter stages of the summer, something they simply would not have known entering their inaugural season of play.
“The boys knew that there would be teams that were superior to us, but that there were some that were closer to the GSSC, in terms of numbers and quality,” said Legrand. Through it all, the former captain of the Cambrian Golden Shield trusted the process. “Our team has always been a very defensive minded team, so we could keep things relatively close against some of the bigger teams,” he noted.
“The big thing was when we scored our first goal of the year. That was something that our team had really struggled with.” Thankfully, the Impact U15 squad is blessed with some absolute character individuals, those players who teammates rely on to keep the faith through thick and thin.
“As the season went on, it started to get better, and we've had a couple of voices of reason on the team,” suggested attacking winger Bailey Gervais, responsible for two of the four goals in the huge win on Sunday. “Guys like Josh Gascon, Gabe Campagnaro and Callum Passi. Gabe is always there to help people when something happens. On that day (Saturday) that I missed those chances, he's there to say, “brush that off, you'll get the next one”.”
On a weekend of positives, Gervais might have been the best “feel good” story of all. His recreational soccer background amounted to playing in what is essentially a pick-up fun-first gathering at McFarland Lake Playground on a weekly basis. Attending Holy Cross Catholic Elementary School, the now 15 year old met some future teammates, eventually enticed to join in the fight midway through the 2017 schedule.
“It was a big jump, but I think I adapted pretty well,” noted the well-spoken St Benedict Catholic Secondary School student-athlete. “I was watching a lot of premier soccer league games while I was still playing playground soccer, so I knew all the rules. My first goal was to try and get into the starting lineup, try and get minutes. It took a bit, but after a while, I got in.”
His patience was rewarded against Markham. “I remember Sam (Branconnier) bringing it up the side and Marco (Vigna) tipping it on,” said Gervais. “I just held off the defender to my left, pushed him off and ran past. I kicked it with my left and it went side netting on the right. After the goal, I had a lot more confidence, especially after missing a couple of chances on Saturday.”
It would take 14 regular season games for the young man to score his first goal of the summer, but only an additional ten minutes to net his second. “I knew they (my teammates) were going to celebrate as much as I did, but it was loud,” said Gervais. “All of the boys ran over to him when he scored,” said Legrand. “I've never seen a team more excited than that.”
With their recent string of success, the Impact are now looking at a possible jump in the standings. Their 16th place residence is well within striking distance of at least two to three more teams, with a big match-up against North York Hearts (3-6-2) kicking off their final three game stretch for the summer.
The Impact will play host to the Hearts on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. at the Delki Dozzi Sports Complex, back on the road on September 9th when they battle Markham before closing things off against an undefeated Woodbridge side one week later.**************************************************
In other GSSC news, the Impact U13 boys picked up perhaps their biggest win of the year, capturing the HDSL (Huronia District Soccer League) Cup with a 3-0 win, in Orillia, over the #1 ranked Barrie Spirit.
Demonstrating continuous progress over the course of the past few months under the guidance of head coach Nick Mancini, the Impact wasted little time setting the tone in this contest, breaking the ice just 11 minutes in as Nicholas McGee tapped in a volley from the corner.
Nearing the end of the opening half, it would be Nathan Cranston who would break through the central mid, following a lovely combo with the Impact midfielders, doubling the Sudbury advantage.
With the Spirit now on the ropes, the locals finished the task at hand as Luca Strangis drifted a shot from some 35 yards out that sailed up and over the Barrie keeper. A pleasant surprise at the other end of the pitch, Austin Rocca filled in admirably for GSSC starter Matthew Bodnar, with Rocca earning a second consecutive shutout in his absence.
"He was on his game, looking confident all game," said Mancini. "Austin moves very well in goal, staying one step ahead on through balls. It was a very impressive game for him." Not that the back-up netminder was the only player drawing praise from Mancini.
"The win was a true team effort," noted the long-time coach. "Braydon (Ethier-Perras) and Blake (Rosener) have been rock steady players on our back-line for the whole season. And in this game, the defensive group effort - Carter (Grenier), Julian (Mariotti), Malcolm (Teddy) and Santi (Santiago Campbell-Martinez) - was very effective in getting the ball out of danger quickly."