2012 ACAC Men's Soccer Preview
by Curtis J. Phillips, ACAC Sports Writer
9/05/2012 - Three quick questions highlight the upcoming 2012 Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference men’s soccer season.
Question 1: Gone from the program are the Mount Royal Cougars having shifted over to the Canadian Interuniversity Sports ranks. The Calgary school was a powerhouse on the pitch having won 13 titles since 1983. How will that shift the league balance?
Question 2: The NAIT Ooks are next in line with championship banners, nine under cleat including back-to-back banners in 2010 and 2011. Will they make it a three-peat?
Question 3: The new kid on the block. The Olds Broncos. Will they prove a giant killer in their inaugural ACAC appearance or simply take their bumps and lumps as the underdog?
We talked to some coaches about the upcoming season which kicks off Saturday, September 8, 2012 with all 12 teams on the pitch. NAIT Ooks coach Jeff Paulus (left) knows that his team has the bull’s eye on the back of their jerseys as they are not only two-time defending ACAC champ but the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association champion from 2011!
They were also silver medal winners in 2010 with Vancouver Island University winning gold.
“I think that this year our real strength will lie in the depth of talent throughout the entire roster,” said Paulus. “Our team is very deep this season and offers a nice luxury when you play many games in a short period of time. As for our style of play, we will once again look to press the attack and keep the ball. I have a belief in our style of play at NAIT and I don't think that our style of play will come as a surprise to anyone.”
One of the keys to winning is that Paulus, when queried to, “Who are some of the key players on the team?”, sticks to the team concept. “I don't think that I want to signal out three of four players this year. As I mentioned in the previous question, our squad is very deep and we feel that we have an impact player in most positions. The strength in our program over the past couple of years has been the total number of players that were able to perform at a high level. I think to make it to the final game in mid-November, a team needs to have a deep roster and that more so than a few players, makes the difference.”
Majority of the team is intact from 2011 although Paulus did lose Brandon Black, Mallan Roberts and Kyle Saban.
Of the overall look for the 2012 ACAC men’s soccer season, Paulus concluded: “I think that this season is probably the most wide open in a long time. Certainly in the north, every team feels that they have improved and I would suspect that Grande Prairie is going to be an extremely dangerous attacking team with lots of pace. Of course, I would suspect no difference in the quality of games versus our local rivals MacEwan University and Concordia.”
In preseason play the Ooks defeated Mount Royal 5-2 and lost to University of Alberta Golden Bears 2-0.
Last year the Grande Prairie Regional College Wolves men’s soccer team finished the ACAC regular season with a record of two wins, three ties and five losses.
Wolves head coach Chris Spaidal hopes to improve on that record with a goal to make playoffs. “For sure the playoffs, but we have to do one thing at a time. If we get in the playoffs, we're there not just to make the playoffs. With the ACAC having two berths at nationals (November 7-10, 2012 Douglas College, New Westminster, B.C.), we'd like to take it as far as we can," said Spaidal in an interview with the Grande Prairie Herald.
"I'm excited; I don't know if I've ever been this excited for a team," Spaidal continued. "I was probably as excited last year for the team, but I think the from experience last year is going to help the team this year in stepping forward and taking the next level. They have come in with a real mature and quality mindset." Missing from the roster is Geoff Berg (two goals), Kyle German (one goal), both playing out their eligibility while Jan Barbier (0ne goal) has transferred to the University of Saskatchewan.
Returning are ACAC all-conference players Ernest Kotio and Brett Sprado. Kotio tied for the ACAC scoring title with NAIT Ooks’ Zachary Kaiser as each netted six goals. Wolves’ last game was a preseason 2-1 exhibition victory against the Red Deer College Kings 2-1.
Wolves open their season away against a revamped Keyano Huskies squad.
Only three players return from last year’s Fort McMurray squad at Keyano, which finished the 2011 ACAC season with a record of two wins, six losses and two ties with nine goals for and 22 goals against to place them fifth in the six-team North Division.
Returning are midfielder Cristhian Garces-Lopez (right), Santiago Raigoza and Alexander Hopper . Garces-Lopez, all-conference team last year as a midfielder and Raigoza, both notched two goals in regular season play.
Also new, or should we say returning to Huskies uniform, is Connor Brady as head coach replacing Jonathan Soper who guided the program for seven seasons before stepping down. Soper ended his ACAC coaching career in high fashion being named the 2012 ACAC Futsal Coach of the Year.
Brady was part of the Huskies inaugural ACAC season in soccer playing for Kevin Lockhart in 2002-2003. He would suit up again in 2005-2006 with Tiffany Booth as the head coach.
Brady has recruited what is an impressive team on paper and hopes that will transfer to the pitch. “We have Jonattan Cordoba and Alex Eby. Both played with the Canadian Forrest City London (of the USL Premier Development League which is the fourth tier of the American Soccer Pyramid in the Great Lakes Division of the Central Conference.),” said Brady. “Jonattan is a transfer from St Mary’s University. He hurt himself last year (major sprain in left MCL) early in the season and the year before he was one of the top scorers in the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sports). He has not yet played this season and he has been off for three or four months but he is still fit as ever.
“We are hoping we can fit him into the lineup this weekend but he is a young kid with a lot of talent and a bright future and we don’t want to rush it.” Cordoba was also a CIS First Team All Canadian in 2010 as a midfielder.
Even without the former all-star in the lineup the Huskies are strong and focused. “Right now we are really deep. We have 18 soccer players who are elite soccer players. Every one of them is fighting for a starting spot. We have the talent and depth so there is not as much pressure on one or two people like there may have been in the past. We have a good mix and the right recipe for a winning team.”
Huskies had played two exhibition games against a local rep team winning in convincing fashion 8-0 and 6-1,
Grant MacEwan Griffins coach Cam Leverman has never missed the ACAC playoffs during his last four seasons as head coach of the Edmonton team. This year the Griffins will be challenged to make it five in a row as they have lost three ACAC All Stars - Lucas Curran and Adam Kerr both goalkeepers and centre back Tyron Ehiwe.
“We plan to play a defensively sound game with pressure at certain points of the game. We will look to maintain possession of the ball whenever we can to make teams have to come and get it. Our strength will be that the Griffins will be fit and organized,” said Leverman. " First year Griffin Anthony Pappianni will be in net and he “has had experience at the University of Alberta level. Should be one of the best shot stoppers in the ACAC league. Other key players for the Griffins who finished 6-2-2 last year, losing to NAIT in the championship final, are centre back Tommy Maschul, “Tommy is our third year as captain and will provide leadership and all around solid play on a young Griffin team,” and centre mid Andrew Moore, “Andrew is a fifth year player with tons of experience and an incredible work rate. All good plays go through him,” and finally rookie midfielder/striker Kurtis Hills, “who will be leaned on heavily to help with the scoring load left by several players.”
Leverman is excited about kick off time: “We look forward to a highly competitive ACAC north division this year. With all teams being very competitive, it should be the best playoff race in a long time. The winner of the north division would have earned every point this season.”
In the ACAC South Division Red Deer Kings head Coach Steve Fullarton anticipates a wide-open race; “Last season’s champions Medicine Hat and SAIT will be favourites but Lakeland and Lethbridge have made huge strides over the last two seasons and are capable of beating any team on their day as last season proved. Olds are an unknown quantity and should not be underestimated.
“Our own strengths this year will be our work ethic and experience, with 10 returning players. Our style of play will vary depending on the opposition. “We have back last season’s all-stars Geng Thian (midfield) and Patrick Sweiger (defence) and they both will be key players this season along with exciting new recruits Chase Grenier and Nolan Hamilton (both forwards).”
Mark Oxer will be doing double duty as Old Broncos men’s and women’s soccer coach. Everyone will be interested in what style of game he will bring to the pitch?
“I just finished an ASA (Alberta Soccer Association) course working towards a National license, and the question was posed to us “formations for players or players for formations?” I am a believer in formations for players, I assess the strengths and weaknesses of my athletes/team and build the team that best suits our strengths, rather than having a set formation and recruiting players that fit the roles within that formation. The men’s and women’s team’s here at Olds will have different tactics based on their strengths, but both teams have the ability to attack and defend at the ACAC level.”