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Under 21 soccer squads under the gun, out of the gate

Time to bring out the big guns.

All four of the local U21 teams were in action last weekend, with all four showing at least some signs of competitiveness while battling opponents from the GTA in Sudbury.

The GSSC (Greater Sudbury Soccer Club) Impact U21 men's team has undergone some fairly significant turnover, with the Northern Soccer Academy's former U18 crew attracting a small handful of the Laurentian University talent to their squad, now competing in the same division of the Ontario Soccer League.

Despite this exodus and returning just five players from their 2018 roster – Gianfranco Carniel, Noah La Sorsa, Kevin Martin, James Pinheiro and John Squarzolo – coach John Hick and company would suffer a competitive season opening loss of 4-2 to Futsal Club Toronto, and this despite playing virtually the entirety of the second half one man short (due to a red card).

With the influx of new, younger talent, coach Hick and assistant coach and former Voyageur teammate Cole Giffen have opted to move in a different direction, tactically speaking, in 2019. “This team we are looking at right now is not the same as when I played,” suggested Hick. “When I played, most of our good players were defensive.”

“Many of our good players now are offensive. Soccer in Sudbury is changing.”

With this in mind, it was the versatility of his troops that most impressed the still-young coach as his team launched a new campaign of summer soccer. “With this group, we decided to look at a high press system, play it from the back, high tempo and high energy, and play through the lines of the other team.”

“That was exactly what we showed last game, and the players did quite well, even a man down,” Hick continued. “They have adapted to that system so quickly. On the defensive side, you have to be conscious of where you are at all times. It's not just positioning in covering an opponent with the ball, it's where you are lying within passing lanes, and that's something we have emphasized.”

“In our press, you want to cut off passing lanes as much as possible. Offensively, when you're passing, are you passing in straight lines across or straight lines forward? We don't want either of those, usually. We want to look for passes that go between defensive lines and find spaces between those lines.”

Even play through the midfield is altered under the template being fostered by Hick and Giffen. “Typically, you have your battles on the wings and your battles in the middle,” noted the head coach. “In this system, it's not an either/or. You're shifting a lot, so we overload on either side a lot. The press system is much more complicated than the high school game.”

The athletes entrusted with executing this system this summer include, beyond the returnees, Sean Roberts, Hossam Ehab, Nicholas Graham, Jonathan Grebe, Iago Higa, Cody Nkongolo, Aiden Ragogna, Keenan Rocca, Ryan Teddy, Blake Tilson, Wil Hausenblas, Elijah Tehe and Sam Ahamore, with Ragogna and Martin accounting for the goals against FC Toronto.

Across gender lines, the GSSC Impact U21 women have not been impervious to change either, with several new faces in the lineup, and a new man calling the shots behind the bench in Joe Snofl. Through it all, the locals managed to secure a split on opening weekend in the OWSL (Ontario Women's Soccer League – Central Region Division), dropping a 2-1 decision to the Vaughan Azzuri Elite on Saturday, and edging the Bolton Wanderers by the same score the next day.

“I didn't push my presence too much,” said Snofl, who stepped in to help out this crew just weeks before the start of the season. “We relied on the older players, expecting more from them as leaders, to make sure they are helping out with the younger players. We wanted to rely on them to think for themselves, until we get some more stability.”

Hay-Lee Lavigne finished the two game set with a pair of goals, one in each outing, while Jacklyn Krueger scored the other. All in all, Snofl had little to complain about. “We faced teams from down south that have the jump on us, in terms of playing outside,” he said. “We're a little rusty, but we can outwork the other team, even if we're not quite there yet in terms of finishing or having the right touch.”

Led by a defensive back-line that Snofl sees as the anchor to this team (Allison Byrnes, Cassidy Burton, Lexie McNamara and Kruger), the Impact U21 group also assembles keeper Eleonore Gravel, Gia Grossi, Emma McDougall, Aaliyah Robinson, Eden Santi, Aliesha Spourdalakis, Mackenzie Watkins, Madison Winterburn, Stephanie Winterburn, Maeve McNamara, Teagan Felts and Lavigne.

While he expects to fill in for some absentees with call-ups in the early going, Snofl is beginning to feel a sense of it all starting to come together for he and his team. “I think having been with them over the weekend, where I was kind of waiting, seeing, evaluating, speaking a little bit, but not too much, I will now be in a position to speak more, but they're also going to be in a position to accept more.”

Snofl and his squad are on the road this weekend, facing Berlin Academy XI and Barrie SC. Rounding out the Sudbury contingent that played last weekend were both the boys and girls who are donning the colours of the Northern Soccer Academy.

The NSA lads also have a pair of games under their belts, beaten 2-1 by the Kleinburg Nobleton SC Lions, with Ryan Jovanovich hitting the mark for the locals, and rebounding with a 3-1 win, at home, over International FC, as Isaac Oliveira scored twice and Kristian Shuttleworth added a solo strike.

The Northern Soccer Academy girls are also sitting with a record of 1-1, blanking the Bolton Wanderers 3-0 on goals from Madison Laberge, Anna Seguin and Mia Cochran, but taking it on the chin on Sunday versus the Vaughan Azzuri Elite.

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