It's been a turbulent few years for the GSSC (Greater Sudbury Soccer Club) Impact 2003 U16 boys.
A team without a home, coach Stephane Legrand and company initially had to deal with a lack of opponents, not only without any kind of local competitive league, but even a regional one, when they first gathered four years ago as a U13 crew.
After surviving for a couple of years as a tournament-only squad, the Impact jumped a couple of levels last summer, gaining entry into the Central Soccer League, but taking it on the chin in the process. And don't even get them started on the lack of any kind of reasonable off-season training venue locally.
Through all of this, quite impressively, no less than a dozen players remain from the group that first assembled, a testament to the love of soccer that still exists, in pockets, within Greater Sudbury.
“I think what we took away from last year was our dedication to each other and staying true to our team,” noted 16 year-old Lo-Ellen Park Secondary sophomore Cameron Ieropoli. “In a lot of the games, we were really outmatched and it was a struggle, but we stayed strong throughout and never gave up.”
“I think we still have that going for us.”
For his part, coach Legrand sees something that runs even deeper than that. “A lot of them hang out, outside of soccer, which is a huge thing,” said the former centerback and captain of the Cambrian Golden Shield men's varsity team. “It's not just a case that this is the group of guys that I play soccer with, but this is the group of guys that I am friends with.”
“A lot of them go to school together, they get together after school, they've known each other since they were kids. That helps quite a bit in helping to keep that core together.”
If previous years may have tested their resolve, the summer of 2019 carries both hope and anticipation. The Impact will begin league play next month in the Huronia District Soccer League, combined in a loop that also includes South Simcoe United, the Innisfil Stampeders, the Bradford Eagles and Collingwood United.
By all accounts, this group of five should make for some very competitive soccer.
“I think, realistically, Huronia was the natural progression, going from a tournament team to Huronia,” conceded Legrand. “The CSL was a bit of a jump, especially considering that we had never really played full 45 minute halves before. It was a little bit overwhelming for them last year. They did relatively well, considering.”
“I'm looking forward to the season this year.”
For both coach and team, there is plenty of work still to be done. “We definitely need to get a little bit more clinical with our finishing,” said Legrand. “That's something that I have struggled with, as a coach, having been a player who was more defensive-minded. That's definitely something that we need to focus on, just having a little bit more creativity in that attacking third.”
“We weren't bad defensively, last year, we just had a very hard time scoring goals. A little more composure, a little more confidence on the ball, and that will be the next logical progression, from a development standpoint.”
And as nice as it is to be able to work with a solid core of returning talent, it's always helpful to add contributing newcomers to the mix. A 15 year old who moved from Qatar to Sudbury three years ago, Saim Saqib is coming off a summer without soccer, having last competed as a member of the Sudbury District Soccer Club (now Sports Club) Celtics in 2017.
“The soccer in the Middle East is really physical,” Saqib noted. “I went to an english school, so we played a lot of the English (British) style, which is also physical. Over here, it's a bit more technical, but with some physical, which I appreciate.”
If Saqib, also a grade ten student at Lo-Ellen, is playing catch-up to his new teammates, the reality is that he is closing the gap quickly, at least in the eyes of his coach. “First and foremost, for me, was getting fit, because I didn't play soccer in 2018 at all,” stated the experienced midfielder.
“After that, it was a matter of working on the skills that I already have, perfecting them to make sure that I could play with these guys.” While Legrand may still be trying to discern exactly how best to integrate Saqib into his lineup, the player, himself, might be able to offer a helpful suggestion or two (not that he would).
“I like my role as a midfielder, a playmaker,” he said. “I can operate on the outside and make that cross into the box, but I can operate in the middle too, to connect with the strikers and stuff. If I am outside on the flanks, I like to be on the left side. Otherwise, I like to be in the middle.”
If goal scoring remains a work in progress with the 2019 U16 Impact, then their defensive efficiency remains paramount. The defending line behind Saqib and his fellow midfielders will be critical. “I've played defense for all four years, but I started off at centerback, and now I'm at right fullback,” said Ieropoli.
“I think it's because of my pace. It allows me to run down the wing and run back and forth, instead of just staying central.” The pace, hopefully, is enough to help the Sudbury crew level the playing field, early on. “When we go down to play these others teams down south, they've been practicing all year round, and we have to use a gym,” added Ieropoli.
“It's not the same.”
Still, it just wouldn't be a typical summer of soccer for the local 2003 boys, if not for the challenges.
Joining Cameron Ieropoli and Saim Saqib on the roster of the U16 Impact, this summer, are Samuel Branconnier, Gabriel Campagnaro, Alessio Capasso, Joshua Gascon, Bailey Gervais, Massimo Marrone, Dakota Martel, Rowan Mullin Santone, Mubaraq Olanrewaju, Michael Reich, Ryan Rocca, Marco Vigna, Peter Reich, Owen Charles and Konrad Schulte-Hostedde.