The members of the Paradise Challenge Cup soccer team can’t wait to get back into action on Sunday afternoon when they host the C.B.S. That Pro Look Strikers. Which might be expected given that expansion Paradise is coming off its first-ever win in provincial senior men’s soccer, a 3-1 victory over Mount Pearl ProActive Physio on Wednesday.
But according to coach Alex McNutt, that’s the attitude his charges have been displaying throughout all six games of their first season in the Johnson Insurance Challenge Cup circuit.
“To be honest, the boys have been like that about every game. Even when we’ve been on the wrong end of results, they’ve been eager for the next one,” said McNutt, whose team carries a 1-5 record into Sunday’s 2 p.m. contest.
“So considering we’re a new team in the league, we’re really happy with the level at which we’ve been able to compete … and that includes the games we lost.
“We’ve maybe been a but unlucky at times. Maybe we’ve caused some of our own troubles and lost by tight margins. But we’re a young team, maybe not as young as Mount Pearl, but relatively speaking, still quite young and relatively inexperienced at this level.
“No matter what, though, the enthusiasm has been there and that’s great to see.”
McNutt said that enthusiasm extends all the way back through winter as the team came together for off-season training, which also amounted to kind of get-to-know-you sessions.
As is the case in most expansion circumstances, the Paradise team has been collected from various sources.
“A lot of them are former intermediate league players, good players who have never played Challenge Cup. This is their shot, this is their opportunity and they’ve kind of risen to the challenge, if you like,” said McNutt.
“They need to learn to play at this level, but they’re doing very well.”
Paradise has also taken advantage of the provincial soccer association’s rule change from a couple of years ago that allows three international players — imports, if you will — on each Challenge Cup club.
“They’ve certainly added another dimension for us,” said McNutt of the internationals.
And there are those who have experience in the provincial league.
“The players we have who have played Challenge Cup before are local boys, for the most part, and they wanted to play for their own town. So they’re motivated in that way,” said the coach.
They include the Crewe brothers, Daniel, who played for the St. Lawrence Laurentians last year, and Matthew, who competed for the Canada Games team that took part in the Challenge Cup; Evan Myles, another former Laurentian; and Greg Furlong, who had been with Mount Pearl.
Daniel Crewe started the season as team captain but broke his arm in an early game and is expected to be lost for most of the season. Myles now wears the captain’s armband of a team that has found its glue.
“All the different groups have gelled so well. That’s been the most encouraging thing,” said McNutt.
“It’s been a clean slate, really. They’ve really enjoyed training together through the winter, and they’re enjoying being a team.
“It’s been just fantastic the way they’ve come together as a group.”
McNutt, who is originally from Liverpool, England, is also manager of operations of the Paradise Youth Soccer Association, and says the new Challenge Cup team is an important new extension of that organization.
“What it does is motivate players within your club,” he said. “We have players playing in premier (provincial youth group) leagues from the age of 13 up to 17. You see a lot of them out watching our games, and they can learn from watching this level of play. That’s something we haven’t had in the past.
“And there’s obviously the pride in having a team. It trickles down, and that’s invaluable to our youth program.”
The team plays at the Dianne Whelan Memorial Complex, the only non-Field Turf pitch used for Challenge Cup games in the metro area (St. Lawrence’s Centennial Field is also a natural surface).
“There’s a challenge in having a grass field where the other (metro) teams don’t,” said McNutt. “There are plans to install a turf field here, but obviously that’s a big budget item, so it’s not happened yet. But there is talk every year and hopefully, it will come soon.
“For now we, have a field and a home and a community around us, and that community has been really excited about what we’re doing.
“And so are we.”
Twitter: @tely brendan