A look at the 2014 Challenge Cup soccer season
St. Lawrence soccer fans may see somewhat of a different look to the Big Blue this Molson Coors Challenge Cup season.
“We’re probably going to need to change our approach a little,” admits coach Derek Strang. “We are solid defensively, which is always a strength of our team. We still have some offence, but we are a little inexperienced in that area compared to defence.”
The defending champion Labatt Laurentians scored 66 goals last year, 28 less than first-place Holy Cross Kirby Group Crusaders, but had a league-low 22 goals against.
The second-place Laurentians won the provincial senior men’s title without having to play Holy Cross in the final as the Crusaders were upset 1-0 by Feildians in semifinal. The Laurentians went on to beat the Double Blues 2-0 in the championship game at a rain-drenched Centennial Field in St. Lawrence.
Strang said he may have to tinker with his lineup a little, at least at the start of this season. For example, veteran Rudy Norman may be moved into a defensive mid-field role this year.
The team is solid on defence with veteran centrebacks Marc Pittman and Clinton Edwards.
“Last year, we had the experience with a little bit of youth. We’ve lost some skilled players with experience, and when you bring in some new players, there’s always going to be a little bit of a transition in terms of the way we play.
“We lost some offensive players who were replaced by defensive players, which kind of gives us a glut in that area wether we are talking defensive midfielders or backs.”
All of the coaches seem genuinely excited about the new format, and feel it adds to the urgency of the regular season games.
Strang certainly likes the change that will have the top team at the end of the season getting a bye to the final, while the second- and third-place teams play off and the fourth-place team knocked out of post-season play.
“That’s the way it should have always been,” said Strang.
“The down side is that we have one less team (C.B.S. Strikers), but the upside is that it’s going to be real battle from Day 1. Four good teams competing for three spots. I like it.”
The 2014 season opens with a pair of games today and Sunday.
Today, St. Lawrence goes up against Mount Pearl 4 p.m. at Smallwood Park in Mount Pearl, while Holy Cross takes on Feildians 6:30 p.m. at King George V Park.
On Sunday, St. Lawrence plays Feildians 1 p.m. at King George V Park, while Mount Pearl meets Holy Cross 3 p.m. at KGV.
Holy Cross Kirby Group coach Jake Stanford returns as bench boss after sitting out last season to concentrate on his U-18 girls’ and Canada Games squads.
Just about everyone is back with the Crusaders this year, but Andre Le, Zack Wade, Pat Reddick and Steve Delong will all miss some time because of work or school commitments.
The general concensus among Challenge Cup soccer coaches this season is that there are no easy games and finishing first finally means something.
“We’re not an overconfident bunch,” said Stanford. “We realize we’ve got to get back to working hard and training hard and we’ll see where it goes.
“When you don’t make it to the championship game, it means teams like St. Lawrence and Feildians are ahead of you, so the first thing we have to do is to get back to where we were before.
“Still, while they guys finished a little short last season, they did have a good year and finished first,” said Stanford.
Coach: Derek Strang
Last season’s record: 15-5-7
Who’s back: Marc Pitman, Clinton Edwards, Rudy Norman, Jordi Slaney, Stefan Slaney, Sean Drew
Who’s gone: Colin Power, Jonathan Grant, Sean Edwards
Newcomers: Brian Sheppard, Brian Carroll, Trevor Ivany
Quote: Strang, who is taking over the head coaching chores from Blair Alyward, said it’s the pressure of coaching St. Lawrence that keeps him interested. “If you enjoy soccer, St. Lawrence is the place to be.”
KIRBY GROUP CRUSADERS
Coach: Jake Stanford
Last season’s record: 19-3-5
Who’s back: Chris Pope, Jeff Slaney, Jon Hawco, Jake Warren, Andrew Stanford, Brian Reddy
Who’s gone: Tyler Forsey, Jeremy Babstock
Newcomers: Thomas Pieroway, Alex Pretty, Josh Hanrahan, Jacob Westcott and Kyle Williams, all from last year’s Canada Games team.
Quote: Stanford is positive about the young newcomers. “These are young kids, so sometimes it takes a couple of years to develop as senior players in the league, but they are excited about coming on with us. We need our depth back again because you need it to win the title.”
MOUNT PEARL FIRST CHOICE
Coach: Player-coach Andrew Murphy
Last season’s record: 12-11-4
Who’s back: Matthew Hamlyn, Yianni Harbis, Ryan Caines, Mark Reddy, Taedy O’Rourke, Justin Pickford, Matt Noseworthy, Iain MacLeod, Adam Drover, Gerard Power, Matt Voigt
Who’s gone: Jon Kelly, Victor Dray, Luke Olmstead, Nick Chretien
Newcomers: Shane Antle, Andrew Murphy, Michael DeLong, Ryan Thistle, Ian Power, Chris White, Chad Seymour, John Furlong, Abuchi Ezurike, Nick Power
Quote: Coach Murphy on the team’s strengths and weaknesses: “We defend very well as a team... it should be difficult for teams to create chances against us. We’ve added a lot of depth, which is going to be a lot more important than in the past where there’s so many more two-game weekends this season. We’ve struggled with creating chances and finishing the ones that we did create. Where we have so many new players this year, we haven’t found that chemistry yet in the attacking third. Our team is full of quality attackers though, so this will improve as the season goes on.”
FEILDIANS ERNST & YOUNG
Coach: Player-coach John Acreman
Last season’s record: 10-8-9
Who’s back: Greg Reid, Kevin Connelly Stephen Howell, Sean Fardy, Taylor Smith, Hassan Kamara, Steven Johnson
Who’s gone: Mike Bartellas, Chris Burry
Newcomers: Tyler Forsey, Jeremy Babstock, Carter Mackey, Bobby Gamba, Dawson Cole
Quote: “I think the team should do well the year. But you can’t take anyone lightly because the league has become more concentrated. Every team is stronger, so every game is going to be tough and demanding on the players.” — Coach Acreman