PASCAL ON THE PITCH: Impact 17U boys turn season around

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The GSSC (Greater Sudbury Soccer Club) Impact 17U boys are starting to grow.

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Given the rather bleak outlook three months ago, that’s cause for celebration.

“I almost pulled the plug a week before our first game in the CSL (Central Soccer League),” admitted head coach Nick Walker after his team defeated Wexford (8-0) and Emery FC (2-0) respectively.

“We really struggled to find players. Some players have been very busy with their high school season — everything was up in the air. We’ve been able to get it all together, grabbed a few other players from Sudbury who haven’t played with us before and we’ve had a good 16 players in the last few months or so.

“It was a good turn.”

In fact, there are a few turning points for the Impact 17U season just past halftime. The locals lost four of their first five games, despite facing most of the toughest opponents in the seven-team round, and benefited from a three-week break in the schedule that stretched from mid-June to early July.

“We put a lot of work into training at the training ground,” said Walker. “We absolutely wanted to use this time. We had a lot of work playing from behind, changing our form when we win the ball or lose the ball. We changed our play style a bit.

“Before, we were a bit reluctant to play from behind,” Walker noted. “Teams kept pushing us up and when we lost the ball we usually got hit. But we’re kind of blessed in the sense that a lot of our defenders are very good technical players. Now it’s all about passing and moving and supporting our players with the ball.

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“When one of our defenders is on the ball they usually have at least two chances and that’s key to playing from behind.”

More importantly, it works.

Impact bounced back strongly from last summer’s 6-1 defeat by FC Emery as goals from Finn Gould and Ousama Quarqouz gave goalkeeper Matthew Bodnar more than enough cushion to keep a clean sheet for the second straight season.

Bodnar is truly emerging as a top keeper in the loop and is grateful not only for the addition of new talent this year and last year, but for what they bring to the table.

“We realize they won’t be the next Lionel Messi – but we need them to at least assert ourselves,” remarked the 17-year-old 12th grader at St Benedict Catholic Secondary School.

“I think the players we brought in this year can definitely do that.”

Of course, progress was also needed on his part, even as the group endured the challenges of lack of practice and gaming experience during the pandemic. “The biggest improvement for me is how much better my boxing skills are and that I’m a lot more fearless now,” Bodnar said.

“Back then I couldn’t be as aggressive against one-on-ones or crosses, but now I’m much more comfortable. I haven’t mastered it yet and I can definitely improve on that.”

Like most goalkeepers, this wasn’t his first stop on the pitch, although it wasn’t long before Bodnar called the net home. “When I came into grassroots sport, I liked playing wingers and midfield and midfield,” he said. “The more I played football, the more I enjoyed playing at the net and I decided that goalkeeping was the right position for me.

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“It’s a unique position,” continued Bodnar. “You could concede a goal that costs your team the game, or you can make a big save and your team wins the game. You really have a lot of influence in deciding the outcome of a game and I like that.”

The Impact U17 boys have this weekend off but are eagerly awaiting an out-of-town adventure over the August long weekend taking part in the Champions Showcase Tournament in Ottawa. “It gives these guys a lot of collegiate presence; That’s what they’ve been itching for this year,” Walker said.

Small but dedicated group

If you’re trying to compete in the ranks of provincial competitive football with only 13 bodies, you’d better have 13 very dedicated people on hand.

With Impact’s U17 girls team, coach Connor Vande Weghe has just that.

“Honestly, this is a really, really good group of players; I couldn’t ask for anything more from them,” said the former Laurentian Voyageurs goalkeeper.

Having had to change their mindset in the middle of their York Regional Soccer League qualifying schedule – more on that in a moment – the Sudbury teenagers have now racked up back-to-back Ontario Cup victories and are preparing to take on Glen Shields Juventus on Sunday with the quarter-finals at stake .

As one of the myriad teams across the province looking to roll out the new Ontario Soccer I model, GSSC officials were initially under the impression they would not be promoted to the new stream’s Competitive I division — only to find out that this would be possible – and it did.

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With injuries and a limited number creating some obstacles along the way, Vande Weghe made sure his side knew exactly what he wanted to see strategically.

“Earlier this season we talked about how we wanted to play,” he said. “We’re more focused on possession. The opportunity to play more direct, more exaggerated is always there. But we also give ourselves a chance to break a team by going through them, by dribbling through them.”

A 3-1 win over Darlington Energy in the second round of the Ontario Cup last Sunday was a shining example of what he wants to see. While talented striker Kiara Levac was still responsible for all three goals – she has been an offensive force of this side since day one – Vande Weghe insisted it would be unfair not to mention Kiana Levac and Sydney Coe at the same time.

“Both of them have put up incredible through balls after building a team and then she (Kiara) does what she does,” he said.

Throw in key contributions from the likes of Alyssa Oystrick and Taylor St Onge, and you have the makings of a team that thinks they can definitely compete with impressive formations from every corner of the province.

“They won’t be the superstars of the team but they did everything we asked of them and focused on the simple things,” said Vande Weghe. “They got expanded roles and really took advantage of that.”

Other Impact results from last week included wins for both the U14 and U15 boys. The elders stopped the NDSC (Nipissing District Soccer Club) Lakers 5-1 with goals from Max Paquet (2), Ibrahim Najem, Andre Sousa and Mohammad Alramadan while the younger side earned a split in the CSL game.

The locals tripled Armor Heights 3-1 as Dylan Nelson accelerated the attack with two goals while Donaly Munyua added a solo strike. Kaden Wicklander was a force in defense and Maks Beljo stabilized the midfield, allowing the Northerners to use full team effort to secure the win.

Pascal on the Pitch runs on Saturdays during football season.

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