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Brian Ashton named as head coach - first game in two weeks

Brian Ashton will have precious little time to celebrate.

Named as only the second coach in the history of the Laurentian Voyageurs women's soccer program earlier this week, following the retirement of Rob Gallo after a run of some twenty years, Ashton has less than a week to prepare for his first training camp.

"There's no question that we are not starting off in the best position when you only know a week before," said Ashton, easily the most accomplished local male soccer talent of the past several decades, culminating his career by suiting up for six years as a member of the Toronto Lynx.

Thankfully, for members of the 2018 Laurentian team, Ashton is not an unfamiliar face.

"I know some of the players from last year," said the 44 year old graduate of St Charles College. "I went out and helped Rob at times last year. I wasn't out all the time, but I was out once or twice a week."

"I think it will be a little easier for them, especially considering this has been such a long, drawn-out process. This should have been done in January. Putting a coach in place a week before we start is tough."

Leaving his career in professional soccer to work for the Ontario Soccer Association circa 2004/2005, Ashton would head up the regional program for several years before launching the Northern Soccer Academy, a youth soccer developmental project that also would oversee a small handful of competitive teams carrying the NSA banner.

His new role is substantially different, in his mind.

"It's obviously a lot more results based, not as much about the development of the player at this stage," he said. "It's about recruiting, about getting the best players in to represent the university, determining where the players best fit on the field and getting the best out of those athletes."

"I've been involved with the development of players for such a long time, but the biggest change here is trying to get results, trying to get wins, because that's what people are really going to base their opinion on, how we are doing in the table."

Making the transition somewhat easier is the fact that Gallo has agreed to stay aboard, for the time being, assuming an "advisory" role, though Ashton was clear in delineating how the two will work together.

"We've had discussions and I've made it clear to him that it's my program now, I'm responsible, I'm the head coach," said Ashton. "He (Gallo) is acting as the general manager. He will be doing more of the paperwork."

"He's not going to be doing any of the coaching whatsoever. Some of the things that I am good at, that will help the group, is obviously the on field stuff," Ashton added. "The things that I am not good at is what Rob is there to advise me with - OUA rules, travel requirements, recruiting rules, that kind of stuff. The whole soccer thing is completely in my hands."

Ashton completed, a few weeks back, his summer at the helm of the Northern Soccer Academy U21 women's team, a crew that posted a record of 7-6-1 in the Central Region Under 21 Division of the Ontario Women's Soccer League, a mark that left the squad sitting in fourth place in a field of eight teams, nine points better than the GSSC Impact U21 women.

"My expectation is that this is not like coaching our U21 women," said Ashton. "We were a good team, but I am expecting now to be working with players at a higher level." Players that will need to execute a style of soccer that the soft-spoken coach clearly favours.

"I'm looking for players who can pass the ball, move into space. I'm not looking for hammer throwers. Yes, there are times to clear the lines, but there are also times to keep possession. If all we're going to do is kick the ball to the other team, then all we're going to be doing is defending all game."

"I want to play a possession-type game, and moving forward, those are the types of players I am going to be looking for when I'm recruiting," Ashton continued. If it sounds like he is giving himself something of a pass out of the gate, that is not entirely wrong.

"I think if they had won the OUA last year and then Rob retired, I would be a little more nervous," said Ashton. "The fact is that they did not make the playoffs last year. I plan to come in here and do the best that I can with what I have. Once I have the players that I want in there, we might well be looking for something a little bit higher."

In the meantime, however, Ashton is not prepared to hand out any medals for participation only.

"Will I be disappointed if we don't make the playoffs? Absolutely," he said. "I think we should be able to make the playoffs. But it's hard, when you know so little. I'm just really excited for Wednesday (opening of camp). If you interview me Friday, I will probably give you a better answer."

And that is certainly not too much to ask for.

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