Hard to believe that a soccer season that runs only seven weeks long could feature so many twists and turns.
A mid-season coaching change at Cambrian College now sees Milton Lessis guiding the Golden Shield lads towards what they hope will be a post-season berth. That’s what is on the line this Saturday at 2:30 at Cambrian, when the Sault Cougars (0-6-1) visit their northern rivals (0-5-2) in Sudbury.
“Our team still believes that if we can make it into the playoffs, we can gain momentum,” said Lessis at practice Wednesday night. “There were approaches that we have corrected, and since making those corrections, we have been more competitive.”
“Part of our successful strategy has been to apply pressure to opposing teams, to use multiple approaches and strategies, and we’ve been adjusting, instead of just putting a lineup out there to play defence,” Lessis added.
Yet for all the discussion of “X’s” and “O’s”, the true value of what the long-time local soccer man wants to bring to a situation that has been less than ideal – former coach Frank Anselmo was selected to the post just a few weeks before the start of training camp – is a stability to the group on hand, a measure of positive reinforcement that does not dwell greatly on the wins and losses.
“My two main objectives are to allow the captains to form the leadership group, so that they are in control of the team on the field, and also to use the experience that the college has, some of the coaches that have been involved in the past with the men’s program, allowing those existing resources to work well,” said Lessis.
Despite only a handful of games at the helm of the squad, the new interim coach knows exactly what he wants to see this weekend. “We need to be up for the game,” stated Lessis. “The Sault is going to come in here hungry, so we need to get off to a quick start. We don’t want to give the Sault any momentum.”
“And we need to finish,” he added. “We’ve had our opportunities, we had our opportunities against Fleming, but we didn’t finish.”
In terms of providing a spark, Lessis need look no further than rookie midfielder Cameron McNeely, an undersized 19 year old out of Russell, just outside of Ottawa. “No matter how small I am, I am still a super aggressive player,” said McNeely. “I’ll take on a big guy, it doesn’t matter.”
“If he knocks me down, he knocks me down. I’ll get right back up.”
That kind of resiliency has been a trademark of his game, dating back to his younger days, when his competitive sports calendar was split between hockey and soccer. “I played both, but I’m small, so hockey turned out not to be the sport for me,” said McNeely. “Soccer is more of a thinking game, so I moved towards soccer and it became more of a passion.”
“I’m not super fast, I’m not the strongest player, so I use my head. I like to think. This season, I’ve been playing more defending (central defending mid), which fits my style.”
Yet for as much as McNeely is encouraged by the recent progress of his team, he offers words of caution regarding the possibility of taking the Cougars too lightly. “We can’t just come in and expect to win the game based on their scorelines,” he said. “We have the same scorelines that they do. It could be a very competitive game.”
A veteran of the 2018 team and graduate of the Sacré-Coeur Griffons high-school program, in addition to several years with the GSSC (Greater Sudbury Soccer Club) Impact, Mathieu (Archie) Archambault suggested that this year’s edition of the squad is much better equipped to handle the challenges that have been thrown their way this fall.
“It’s way different than last year,” he said. “We have a much more positive mindset, even if we lose. We don’t get down on each other and start chirping each other. And we’ve had more formation training, and that’s helped a lot.”
Building on what coach Lessis and assistant coach Evan Phillips have introduced in recent weeks, the net result is a somewhat simpler game plan. “It’s all about how we set up, as a team, and how we should play, moving from the defensive line to the midfield to the strikers,” said Archambault, in his second and final year with the Golden Shield.
“This way, everyone knows what they need to do, everyone knows their responsibilities, which means that we don’t have to run as much. If one person is out of place, everyone has to cover for him.”
While much has been made of the lack of an indoor close to regulation sized soccer field in the region in terms of helping local talent maintain their ball skills in the off-season, Archambault believes he has found a fairly solid option, in the interim.
“Futsal has helped me a lot,” he said. “You’re stuck in a small place with a lot of players, so you get used to touches in tight spaces. It helped a lot with my control in stressful situations.” A right-footed fullback who is equally adept on either side of the pitch, Archambault has followed a very interesting development pathway that gave rise to his versatility.
“They usually played me on the left (fullback), growing up, because the stronger attackers on the other team would always be coming in from the right side, being mostly right-footed,” he explained. “Here, we have a left-footed fullback, so they moved me to the right so I can cross it easier when I do go down the field.”
Either way, he is trying to keep his wits about him as he and his teammates prepare for a winner take all contest against the Cougars. “We need to have the right mindset,” said Archambault.
“If we just keep our heads into it, we’ll be fine.”
The 2019 Cambrian men's soccer team is comprised of a roster of Marcelo Vasquez, Marco Faiella, Arvin Shaju, Isaac Oliveira, Mathieu Archambault, Dyk Taw, Lucas Oliveira, Masoud Mahmoud, Kevin Martin, Andrew Prince, Prince Edesiri, Cameron McNeely, Keegan O'Reilly, Kiel Cress, Robert Krueger, Liam Shadd, Regan Lamb and Richard John.