Labour Day weekend is upon us – which signals, of course, the start of school, and on many fronts, the end of another summer of soccer.
Week by week, local teams and leagues have been closing up shop, including the Italia Flyers Men’s Recreational loop, which staged their championship final this past Wednesday evening at the Delki Dozzi Sports Complex.
Thanks to a late goal from speedster Mohamed Fall, the Afro-Heritage Juniors would defend the crown they first captured one year ago, edging the Donovan Ravens 2-1. A scoreless opening half would give way to an early ice-breaker in the final 45, as Marcel Ivan Diro capitalized on a scramble in tight, giving Team Afro the lead.
Holding on for long stretches at a time, the defending champs dodged a few bullets before Eric Pen struck a direct kick to near perfection from 25 yards out, pulling himself and his mates into a 1-1 draw, and setting the stage for the late-game heroics from Fall.
“We expected it to be a very, very tough game,” said Francois Nzotungwanimana, chief organizer for the club that has grown nicely in recent years, and also fields a group in the 40 and over bracket. “They came first in the regular season, so we expected them to play hard, but we believed in ourselves.”
While the opening goal seemed like it might stand as the only scoring in the encounter, Nzotungwanimana was not shocked that it wasn't the end of the offense. "It happens so often in soccer, where you're winning and you think you have it, and all of a sudden, oops, you have to catch up again," he said.
"That was a wake-up call. I'm glad we responded very well, and very quickly."
Showcasing a wonderfully francophone diversity throughout their lineup, the Afro-Heritage team is an equal mix of culture and soccer for those who take part. “The goal is to involve as many people as possible, especially newcomers who come to town,” noted Nzotungwanimana. “We’re going to be recruiting, and if we get more players, we’ll make two teams.”
“If they have the ball, you come back and show. On offense, you try and pass the ball to the striker, for them to shoot. It’s easier for me to cross the ball to the striker, because I’m a lefty.”
Another highlight, but for a completely different crowd, as teams from both North Bay and Sudbury contested the 5th Masters Championship, with Mark Hopper (NB) and Milton Lessis (Sudbury) leading the charge from an organizational standpoint.
The men representing the Nickel City recorded a 5-2 win in the Premier encounter, while the teams would play to a 1-1 tie in the Over 35 contest. The real winners, however, were likely the folks involved with the Sudbury Manitoulin Children’s Foundation, the charity which was supported by the Sudbury Men’s Soccer League this year.
The Sudbury Women's Soccer Club also staged their league final, mirroring the Italia Flyers grouping with a two time winner as T2 Training Systems defended their crown with a 6-0 win over Maslack Supply.
Mandy Herbert paced the attack with a three goal effort, with Sophie Paradis adding a pair and Roxanne Seguin closing things off.
The remainder of the T2 Training Systems roster features Nicole Paradis, Celine Emiry, Heather Marsh, Desirée Stortini, Jacklyn Upchan, Cassandra Riccio, Josée Coté, Kendall Borgogelli, Kaitlym Cox, Julia Currie-Love and keeper Jessica Carson.
While the GSSC Impact U16 girls still have a few more games remaining on their schedule, an 8-2 win over Darlington United last Sunday at home will certainly provide a little extra momentum heading into September. Allie Weiler (3), Emma Coutu (2), Kyra Mallory, Lauren Fearn and Prezzley Hutchison handled the scoring for coach Matt Binks and company.
“We worked on our passing, getting everybody into it, everybody scoring, everybody getting the ball,” noted dual-sport threat Ellie Laberge, who was out on the ice later that evening, a key cog in the blue line corps with the Sudbury Midget “AA” Lady Wolves.
With a current record of 7-2-3, the locals have more than held their own with their entry to the 17-team division within the Central Soccer League, finding themselves tied for fourth place at the moment. “I think we definitely are competing with teams,” said Laberge. “Being new, we didn’t know if we were going to get blown out this year.”
And with his team’s season still ahead, Laurentian Voyageurs men’s coach Carlo Castrechino is also fairly confident with his team’s competitiveness, this in spite of graduating six starters from the 2018 L.U. lineup. “We’re going to stick with the same formation that we’ve played with the last two years, actually,” said Castrechino.
“It’s been fairly successful for us. We’re in every game. This formation gives us some nice balance on offense and defence, and we have the players that can play it.”
In the condensed 14-game schedule that is a way of life this fall in the OUA, Castrechino knows that he needs his players to arrive in Sudbury in mid-August ready to go, right from the start of training camp. “What I like about this group is not just that they play well together, here, but the progression with their home clubs as well.”
“It’s a good pipeline to have, and I think it shows when we’re training, because we spend a lot less time on development and more on jumping right into our system and the flow of the game.”
As for the East Division of the OUA, Castrechino is expecting more of the same when it comes to handicapping the field. "Toronto, Ryerson and Carleton are still the teams to beat," he said. "They replenish well every year, they're quality programs."
"Our concern is a home playoff game and that means playing the big teams really well, but focusing on Queen's, Nipissing, UOIT (Ontario Tech)." The Laurentian men and women both open play this weekend, travelling to North Bay Saturday to do battle with the Nipissing Lakers, and returning home on Sunday, hosting the Trent Excalibur at 1:00 and 3:15 p.m.