Whatís your take on the 2008 National Challenge Soccer Tournament? Were you pleased with the effort and the seventh place seeding of the St. Lawrence Laurentians?
Actually, I was rather disappointed with the overall performance. We couldnít play for a full 90 minutes and in the end it killed us. When the dust finally settled, the Laurentians were ranked in seventh place at the 2008 Nationals.
Actually, thatís probably two places lower than where I felt the Laurentians would actually place.
NEWFOUNDLANDíS UNDISPUTED CHAMPIONS
In 2008, the Laurentians were no doubt the best team in Newfoundland and they may be able to compete with the weaker sisters of Canadian menís soccer but that may be as far as it goes.
They proved it at the provincial level and they again proved it at the National level when they defeated the Feildians in Game 3 by a 2-0 score, silencing all of their provincial critics that had any sort of inkling the Feildians should have, or even could have, won on Labor Day Weekend. They knocked the Feildians out of contention for a bronze medal at the Nationals.
The Laurentians record in 2008 against the Feildians was five wins, three ties, and no losses in a total of eight games played. They humiliated the Feildians in the provincial quarter final by a 5-0 score and then defeated them by a 1-0 margin in the Championship Final.
Thatís a combined score of 8-0 St. Lawrence beat the Feildians in their last three matches played against each other.
ĎHAVE NOTS OF CANADIAN SOCCERí
Yes, we can compete fairly well with the ĎHave Nots of Canadian Soccerí. There is no doubt in my mind we can play with Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and over the last decade we have had our moments of glory against Quebec.
But we are not in the same league as British Columbia, Alberta or Ontario. Should the game be of some significance, these provinces practically beat us all the time. They dominate us.
They have more speed, they are much superior at controlling the ball and they generally maintain ball possession about 75 per cent of the time. Their finishing touch is far more accurate and so is their shooting.
What upsets me the most is something that wasnít always the case, their level of fitness is far, far superior to us. We have players that lack speed or can only play part time due to their lack of fitness. This is totally ridiculous.
NL Ė 60s, 70s, 80s
Newfoundland teams werenít always dominated by the big three. There were times we could relatively compete with the big boys. As a matter of fact in the 60s, 70s and 80s, we could more than hold our own with the big guys and we were fit. In 1967 when the Laurentians went to Toronto to play in the first ever National competition Newfoundland competed in. The Laurentians lost by a slim 3-2 margin to a very powerful Toronto Balamenia soccer team.
Then in the1970s St. Lawrence won the ĎTeam of the Decadeí honours. St. Lawrence won silver in Calgary, Alberta in 1975. We also won silver in 1977 when St. Lawrence hosted the National Finals.
Maybe the idea of first having to compete for the Eastern Canadian Championship in order to qualify to play in the Canadian National Championship isnít such a bad idea. If you didnít win the Eastern Canadian Championship you wouldnít qualify for the National Championship.
Then in the 1980s, when Holy Cross totally dominated provincial soccer they could compete with the nationsí best. In 1988 when Holy Cross won the National Challenge Cup they didnít allow a goal for the entire tournament. This was an amazing feat in itself.
In 1989 when Holy Cross won a silver medal, with a break, they again could have even won gold. I was at that final and in that contest they were leading a strong Ontario team by a 2-1 score when all of a sudden Ontario scored two late second half goals, stunning the Newfoundland representatives and giving the Ontario representatives a surprising 3-2 come from behind victory.
NEWFOUNDLAND MENíS SOCCER IN TAILSPIN
Ever since the new millennium, Newfoundland menís soccer appears to in a tailspin. Players are no longer willing to do what it takes to win. The same level of commitment from the players is not there.
If todayís players could only see what coach Jack Simms had demanded from his players, they would die from the thoughts. Just ask Wils Molloy, Frank Haskell, Tom Tarrant, Joe Turpin, Junior Edwards and Keith Farrell and all of their teammates, what it took and what they did at practices when they played.
If todayí s players were only aware of what Holy Cross coach Brian Murphy would demand from his team, which included the Breens, the Mulletts and the Reddys and their teammates, they would also die from the thoughts. Sure some might say we won a silver in 2002 and bronze in 2007. I realize that, and I feel it is fairly common knowledge in 2002 the only game the Laurentians should have won was the gold medal game against Manitoba. They were outplayed in their matches against Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta, but it was goalkeeper Pat Byrne who stole the show and was the Laurentians MVP.
Last season in 2007 when the Laurentians won bronze, they were soundly defeated in game one by Alberta 4-1. They got a big break against Quebec and won a match after a protest but initially they lost by a 1-0 score in game 2. From there, it was on to a bronze medal win with three wins over the ĎHave Nots of Canadian Soccerí. Yes, Iím talking about New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
NEWFOUNDLAND MENíS SOCCER IN TAILSPIN
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. Itís great Newfoundland and Labradorís provincial winners, St. Lawrence and the Kirby womenís team, are quite capable of challenging the nationís best. Itís 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, letís all of us get behind these clubs and give them the great support we have become famous for. Good Luck to all teams!
LAURENTIANS OF 2008
After having high hopes for the Laurentians of 2008, right from the beginning of the season all was not well. For whatever reason St. Lawrence didnít participate in the St. Johnís spring league. They had participated in the spring league in 2007 and this was great preparation for the season.
In 2008, Coach Strang decided to play Andrew Perrott and Paul Slaney in the backfield despite two of these players having been all-star mid-fielders for all of their careers. This same season Strang permanently moved Clinton Edwards to the mid-field along with Darren Pike.
Clinton had been the mainstay on St. Lawrence defense ever since Bob Spearns retired in 2002. Darrin Pike and Clinton Edwards would have played much better in the backfield and Andrew and Paul would have looked much more comfortable finishing their career in the midfield.
In 2008 the Laurentians also adopted a new playing system. The system was what you would call a 4-5-1 system. Thatís four players in the backfield, five in the midfield position and one man used solely as a striker.
With this system, the Laurentians still maintained a first place finish in the provincial league. However, in 2008 St. Lawrence goal scoring dropped to an all-time low and the Laurentians finished the regular season with a goal production of less than two goals a game.
Coach Strang maintained this system at the Nationals, and in the Laurentiansí games against Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec, the Laurentians only managed to score one goal while giving up six goals to their opponents. In their last two matches St. Lawrence looked rather comfortable against the 10th seed Feildians and the 8th seed Manitoba team, beating both of them but by then the tournament for St. Lawrence was over.
NEW ERA BEGINS
In 2009, retirement appears in the cards for Captain Blair Aylward, Alec Turpin, Andrew Perrott, Mike Howlett, Paul Slaney and Iím sure there will be others. The fact is soccer will survive in ĎSoccer Towní and the Blue Laurentian Logo will stay and so will their die hard fans.
Hopefully, when this new era begins we will get back to some of our old traditional ways. Realistically, it appears the Laurentians search for national gold could be over, but the search for provincial supremacy will always remain.