Undoubtedly, the biggest question that surrounded the 2008 soccer season in Newfoundland this summer was, "Can the Laurentians win the National Challenge Cup this year?" During the 2008 season, the Laurentians were the first place team during regular season play. But despite its first place finish and a performance that statistically shows the Laurentians having only one loss on the season, the Laurentians weren’t really as impressive as they have been in past seasons. St. Lawrence had more ties this season than the Laurentians have ever had in a regular season play. Then, when it came to the play-offs, in their opening game of the provincial Challenge Cup finals, the Laurentians put together its best game of the season and walloped the Feildians by a convincing 5-0 score. With this victory St. Lawrence went directly into the championship game, where they would meet the Feildians again. The Feildians defeated Mount Pearl in the semi-final provincial contest by a 1-0 score. The Laurentians were fortunate in the championship game, managing to defeat the Feildians by the slimmest margin of 1-0. So now, what does the National Challenge Cup Championships being hosted in Newfoundland have in store for the Laurentians?
SILVER LINED HISTORY
If history plays a part in the National Tournament, St. Lawrence must look at the fact good things have happened to the teams from Newfoundland when we hosted the National Challenge Cup Tournaments in the past. In 1977 when the National Challenge Cup was hosted in Newfoundland and played in St. Lawrence, the Laurentians lost in the final game to British Columbia by a 1-0 score. Thus they walked away with a silver medal around their necks. In 1989, a year after Holy Cross had won gold in Alberta, Newfoundland played host to the National Challenge Cup and this time Ontario defeated Holy Cross by a 3-2 score and Cross was awarded a silver medal. In 2002 when Newfoundland played host to the National Challenge Cup, it was the Laurentians who walked away with another silver medal after Manitoba defeated them by the slightest of margins. It was a 1-0 loss for the Laurentians, with Manitoba scoring its only goal in overtime on a golden goal.
In order for the Laurentians to stand any chance whatsoever to challenge Canada’s best, the team will need to focus on defence first. Fortunately enough, St. Lawrence goalkeeper John Douglas has matured and can play with the nation’s best.
If his back holds up, Douglas will have to be the Laurentians’ MVP to stand any chance of winning a medal.
The Laurentians’ fullback line is suspect. I still feel taking Clinton Edwards out the center back position is a move that has made the Laurentians’ backline vulnerable, and we may even get a clearer picture of this when St. Lawrence goes up against some of the country’s best.
Marc Pittman is the Laurentians’ mainstay on defence, and Ryan Slaney brings a strong passion to his position. Converted midfielders and now wingbacks Paul Slaney and Andrew Perrott will be challenged in their new positions.
If veteran Blair Aylward’s aging body can hold up, Blair could see a fair amount of action in this tournament. The Laurentians’ midfield must block the middle and mark their man very close.
The Laurentians’ Rudy Norman and Clinton Edwards must lead St. Lawrence midfield, while Darren Pike must use his size and bring a physical presence to be effective in the middle.
Jeremy Brenton and Sean Edwards will have to use their speed and I’m sure there is still a learning curve for both of these young players to go through.
The Laurentians’ attack will focus on Richard Kelly and Mike Howlett. These two players know how to dance, they’ll know when last call is announced and they know how to turn out the opponents’ lights. Both of these stars know how to turn the Laurentians’ fans on.
When working together, this duo is as good as what is in Canada.
NO EASY TASK
The Laurentians won’t have an easy task in 2008. Their opponents – consisting of Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and the Feildians – are very strong challengers.
The London AEK represents Ontario. This team is one of the most well respected football clubs in Ontario, earning praise from all walks of the football community within the province. They will test the Laurentians and will hope to spoil St. Lawrence’s dream of winning gold.
This team is very defensive minded and only allowed two goals in all of the Ontario Cup play-offs.
For the last number of years, Quebec is a province we seem to have very good luck with. This year won’t be any different.
I would have to rank the Laurentians as the favourites against Quebec. Amateur soccer in Quebec ranks fairly low on the totem pole.
For years British Columbia has been a powerhouse and they are coming looking for gold. The British Columbia representatives, the Gorge FC playing out of Victoria, will give St. Lawrence all it can handle and then some.
I would rank the Gorge FC as the favourites in this contest.
The Laurentians shouldn’t have a hard time against the Feildians but the Feildians earned respect in the provincial Challenge Cup finals and they will be looking for revenge in this contest.
This is a tournament that is good for soccer. This six-day excursion of soccer gives us the chance to enjoy watching some of the best amateur soccer players and teams in the country. It’s great Newfoundland and Labrador’s provincial winners, St. Lawrence and the Kirby women’s team, are quite capable of challenging the nation’s best. It’s great that both the Feildians and Holy Cross, who are provincial runner-ups in their respective leagues, get the chance to participate in this national tournament. Now, let’s all of us get behind these clubs and give them the great support we have become famous for. Good Luck to all teams!