By John Browne
Four-time defending Molson Challenge Cup soccer champion Holy Cross will be looking for its fifth straight title without the player some believe has been the heart and soul of the team.
Ryan Yetman has taken a job with an engineering firm in Calgary and won’t be available to the Crusaders this season.
“The loss of Ryan Yetman is big,” said coach Mike Kirby. “He was the leader of this team on and off the field.”
Despite losing Yetman, Holy Cross Kirby Group, which defeated Feildians Ernst and Young 2-0 in last year’s final at Smallwood Park in Mount Pearl, remains the strong favourite to repeat as provincial senior soccer champions.
“Holy Cross’s ultimate goal every year is to win a national medal. We strive to achieve the most success we can at our level and that means winning a national medal,” said Kirby, who has taken over the Holy Cross coaching chores from Jake Stanford, who is now guiding the Canada Games female soccer team.
“Obviously, the first obstacle to winning a national medal is winning the Challenge Cup title, and we are 100 per cent focused on that,” said Kirby.
While the loss in Yetman may sting the Crusaders a bit, don’t expect any sympathy from the other clubs in the league because Holy Cross is still the team to beat.
The Crusaders only lost two games last season while scoring 80 goals and giving up just 15, tops in the league in both categories.
Still, the games have yet to be played in 2013.
The league kicks off tonight with Mount Pearl That Pro Look/Molson playing host to St. Lawrence Labatt Laurentians six o’clock at Smallwood Park in Mount Pearl. The Mount Pearl entry didn’t participate in the preseason tournament last weekend due to a few injuries.
There are two games on tap Sunday at Topsail Field.
Feildians Ernst and Young take on Techniplex Canada Games at 1 p.m. followed by Holy Cross against CB Auto Strikers FC at 3 p.m.
Kirby says the other local teams are preparing more and working harder every year to beat the Crusaders.
Targets for opposition
“We have a very big target on our back,” he said. “We are expecting a very competitive league this year. I understand all the teams have strengthened themselves and I expect every game to be hard fought.”
As far as his team is concerned, Kirby said, “Overall, we have a good group of guys who are working very hard to continue the success we’ve had over the past four years.”
This is the earliest start in the history of the league which dates back to 1967.
“We can do this now because of our facilities,” said Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Association men’s vice-president Gord Dunphy of the early start.
Each of the five Challenge Cup teams will play a 27-game schedule. Teams will play six games against each other, three home and three away. In addition, all Challenge Cup teams will play the Newfoundland and Labrador Canada Games team three times each, two home and one away.
The Games teams will play 15 games on an exhibition basis only.
Here’s a look at the 2013 teams competing for the Challenge Cup:
HOLY CROSS KIRBY GROUP
Coach: Mike Kirby
Last year’s record: 16-2-1
Home field: King George V Park
Who’s back: The Crusaders have retained the core of the team including league scoring champion Steve Delong, Zach Wade, Brandon Noseworthy, Jake Warren, Andre Le, Chris Pope and Jon Hawco.
Who’s gone: Ryan Yetman
Newcomers: Tyler Forsey, who scored three goals in the preseason exhibition tourney, Jeremy Babstock, Aidan Cusack and Ryan Kirby
Strengths: “Our strength is our depth,” said coach Kirby.
Weaknesses: Losing Yetman.
Outlook: Unless everything falls apart, there’s another title on the horizon.
Coach: Blair Aylward
Last year’s record: 11-6-2
Home field: Centennial Field
Who’s back: John Douglas, Patrick Slaney, Marc Pittman, Clinton Edwards, Stephen Lambe, Paul Slaney, Sean Edwards, Stefan Slaney, Richard Kelly, Jordan Caines, Johnny Grant, Rudy Norman, Chad Miller, Brent Kelly, Darren Pike, Boyd Roul, Marcus Turpin
Who’s gone: Adrian Mulder
Newcomers: Sean Drew, Chad Chislett, Colin Power, Allan Dalton, Mike Gregory, Andrew Perrot, Corey Mullet
Strengths: According to the coach, it’s experience, team depth, a renewed commitment of players to fitness and incredible fan support.
Weaknesses: “Not being able to have majority of team practice together because of work commitments and players living in many different areas,” said Aylward.
Outlook: Changing coaches in the past hasn’t made much of a difference, but the Laurentians will never give up trying to find a way back to the top. “We still have a lot of work to do and camaraderie to build between now and September,” said Aylward.
“But I know that with the new players we’ve added and the renewed desire and commitment from returning players, we’ll be much improved and have a great chance to be champions again.”
FEILDIANS ERNST AND YOUNG
Coach: John Acreman
Last year’s record: 9-7-3
Home field: King George V Park
Who’s back: Among the returning players are Blaise Peters, Zack Hynes, Greg Reid, Hassan Kamara, Sean Fardy, Mike Bartellas, Richard Hickey and Ian Mandville
Newcomers: Taylor Smith, Andrew Murphy, Ben Collingwood.
Quote: “We’re a bunch of hard workers. Hopefully, at the end of the day, we’ve done enough,” said player-coach Acreman. “We’d like to get back to a final. Last year was a pretty good season for us and we’d like to build on that.”
Outlook: Was last year’s berth in the final a preview a things to come for the Double Blues or just an aberration?
MOUNT PEARL THAT PRO LOOK/MOLSON
Coach: Walt Mavin
Last year’s record: 7-7-5
Home field: Smallwood Park
Who’s back: Luke Olmstead, Jon Kelly, Matthew Hamlyn, Ryan Caines, Mark Reddy
Who’s gone: Taylor Smith, Andrew Murphy, Sean Drew
Newcomers: RCMP officer Victor Dray is back after a few years in Central Newfoundland, and under-18s John Randell, Michael Barnes, Gerard Power.
Strengths: Backline, midfield.
Weaknesses: More offence needed.
Outlook: Coach Mavin told The Telegram the team’s goal is to build as the season goes on. “It’s a long season, so our goal is to stay in the pack and try not to give up any points early in the season because we’re not in shape. I think we’re OK in that regard,” he said. “Most of our players have been there before and know what it takes.”
CB AUTO STRIKERS
Coach: Paulo David
Last year’s record: 5-11-3
Home field: Topsail Field
Who’s back: Trevor Ivany, Brett Nwokeforo, Brian Carroll, Scott Elliott, Mitch King, Mike Luther, Chris Mallard, Steve Hearn, Chad Seymour, Ryan Sheppard, Chris White and Ryan Williams.
Who’s gone: Alan Dalton, Mike Gregory, Chris Hayes, Ayuba Kamara, Mike Prowse, Craig Seymour and Ciaran Woodmas.
Newcomers: Shawn Haye, Eyad Sakkar and Dan Salama along with U18 graduates Brady Reid, Zach Hynes, Nick Power and Lucas Power, Ahmed Salama and Mark Elliott.
Quote: David said his plan for the season is to have a team that will be, “tactically organized, competitive and able to play 90 minutes of good quality football. I want the team to create a new identity in an environment in which the players feel pride and develop the confidence required to play at this level. Our ultimate goal is to make it to the final weekend and I think we have the right mix of players to accomplish this goal.”
Outlook: The team is desperate to make playoffs in their fourth Challenge Cup season, but it won’t be easy.
LAST YEAR’S INDIVIDUAL AWARD WINNERS
Ed Moyst Award (rookie of the year): Jordi Slaney, St. Lawrence Labatt Laurentians
Jim Goff Memorial Award (most spirited player): Jake Warren, Holy Cross Kirby Group
Jeff Babstock Award (top defender): Jon Kelly, Mount Pearl That Pro Look/Molson
Wils Molloy Golden Boot Award (Most goals, regular season): Steve Delong, Holy Cross Kirby Group
Dick Power Memorial Award (MVP regular season): Steve Delong, Holy Cross/ Kirby Group
Goalkeeper: Brandon Noseworthy (Holy Cross Kirby Group)
Defenders: Marc Pittman (St. Lawrence Labatt Laurentians); Jon Kelly (Mount Pearl That Pro Look/Molson); Greg Reid (Feildians Ernst & Young); Jeff Slaney (Holy Cross Kirby Group)
Midfield: Zack Wade (Holy Cross Kirby Group); Pat Reddick (Holy Cross Kirby Group); Matthew Hamyln (Mount Pearl That Pro Look/Molson); Jon Grant (St. Lawrence Labatt Laurentians)
Forwards: Jake Warren (Holy Cross Kirby Group; Steve DeLong (Holy Cross Kirby Group)
All-star coach (Alphonse Warren Memorial Award): Jake Stanford (Holy Cross Kirby Group)