By Kenn Oliver
The Telegram—Sherbrooke, Que.
Like their female counterparts from Week 1, Newfoundland and Labrador’s male soccer team has been preparing for these Canada Summer Games for the better part of two years.
This afternoon in Sherbrooke, Que., the team will find out if all that hard work has paid off as the players hit the field for their opening game against Saskatchewan.
“I would argue that we’re maybe the most prepared team here, if not certainly in the top two or three,” says head coach Mike Power.
“We wouldn’t be the favourite to win the gold medal, and we’re fine with that position, but we think we can turn in some upsets and put together a string of performances.
“The podium is not a long shot.”
Since the team was selected two years ago, they’ve enjoyed a fair amount of success, both at home and on the road.
They won an invitational tournament in Italy, captured the under-18 Atlantic title last summer, and this year, have been competing in the demanding Challenge Cup senior men’s circuit on an exhibition basis, posting a 5-10-0 record that includes victories against Mount Pearl, Feildians, two more over Strikers FC, and a shutout win, led by standout goalkeeper Thomas Pieroway, over powerhouse Holy Cross.
“That was massive for our confidence, to know we can beat anyone if we perform,” Power says of the wins over the four-time defending champion Crusaders.
“In the Challenge Cup league, it was always performance ahead of the results, so we kept trying to do the thing that will make us successful (in Sherbrooke).
“That’s playing a good brand of attractive football.”
Backup keeper Mike Delong says this summer’s experience playing alongside men should be an advantage in the Games competition
“Especially on set pieces, corner kicks, free kicks, getting free in the box, there’s no one as physically mature as we’ve played at home all year,” he said.
Power and his troops had the added bonus of being able to take in Saskatchewan’s first game, a 6-1 loss to Alberta on Monday, before meeting them in action.
“We’ll know more about opponents than they will know about us, which is a little bit of an advantage,” says Power.
“I expect them (their opponents from Saskatchewan) to be a physically tough and determined group. On a technical level, it’s really hard to say who’s going to have the edge there.
“It’s a crucial game for us, if we don’t win, we’re behind the 8 ball, but we’re confident we can beat them.”
“We’ve got game plans in place, ones we’ve executed before (when trying) to win a certain style of game. We’re confident we can defend for significant durations if we need to, the back line is tremendous and the goa keeping is excellent. At the other end of the park we’ve got some really good attacking weapons, some speedy guys, some guys who can score.”