The boys high school soccer season hits full stride this week. Here's how the AAA senior teams in the Tri-Cities stack up.
Dr. Charles Best
The defending provincial champions enter the season with a target on their back and a big hole in their lineup left by the graduation of star striker Quinn Desaulnier, who scored 10 goals in last year’s provincial finals, including the game winner in their 2-1 victory over Panorama Ridge in the championship match.
That lack of a game-breaker has challenged Blue Devils’ coach Dave Jones to craft an offence with a more balanced attack that relies more on possessing the ball to create opportunities rather than on a quick strike.
“We’ve got to be patient in our game,” Jones said. “It’s when you start taking chances you get exposed at the back. If we stick to the game plan, those opportunities will come.”
Executing that plan will be eased by the return of a dozen veterans, half of them in defensive or mid-field positions.
“We’re very strong defensively,” Jones said.
So it’s little wonder the team’s leadership will come from centre back Cameron Poynton and mid-fielder Sam Bastow, who will share captain’s duties. They’ll be supported on the pitch by veteran mid-fielder Aaron Colbourne as well as defenders Jeevan Hull and Jaedinn Mushtuk.
Up front, Jones said he’s hoping striker Nico Pietramala will be able to step up as a capable heir to Desaulnier’s offensive contributions.
“He’s a really good target man,” Jones said of Pietramala. “He’s smart.”
Being able to keep their wits and take advantage of opportunities they’re able to create will be key to the Blue Devils’ success, Jones said, as every opponent will be motivated to take a result from the reigning top team.
“Most teams when they play us, it doesn’t take much to get them riled up,” Jones said.
It’s time for the Centaurs’ senior boys team to step out of the shadow of the girls’ team, which last year won the provincial championship.
“The senior boys are at a point where they want to get noticed as well,” said Centennial’s coach Kevin Comeau.
But it won’t be easy.
With the loss of Nick Catroppa to graduation and Emiliano Brienza to the Vancouver Whitecaps’ residency program, Comeau said the young players filling their void will look to veterans like striker Joshua Jung and team captain Guilliano Banco for leadership.
Comeau said Jung will be one of the Centaurs’ main scoring threats on a team that otherwise lacks a big scorer.
“We are going to need to score by committee,” he said.
Banco will lead the defence but to have success against some of the Fraser Valley’s top teams, it will take some yeoman work from keeper Dominic Parolin.
“He will need to play great for us to compete,” Comeau said.
Other players he expects to step up include Cayden Caamano, Nick Tomaino and John Favaro.
“We have a good mix of young and veteran players that will be relentless against the other top teams in our division,” Comeau said.
Despite the loss of two of its top players from last season, the Terry Fox Ravens still have a lineup deep with experienced seniors who coach John Murphy expects will be the heart of his team.
Last year’s leading scorer, Andrew Peat, is now at the University of the Fraser Valley and centre back Jaxon Bain graduated to Douglas College. That’s opened the door for seniors like Jacob York, Christian Barbato, Mateo Morello, Mathew Garofalo and Shayne Grinwis to use their experience, composure and talent to fill the leadership void.
Murphy said he’ll also be looking for a bigger contribution from Grade 11 players Ighsaan Mohamed and twin brothers Cole and Bailey Newton.
But a wild card in the Ravens’ aspirations for the season could be the loss of starting goalkeeper Shayne Grinwis, who will miss several games when his Coquitlam Metro-Ford U17 club team competes at the Toyota national championships that begin in Surrey today.
“His absence will affect us big time, as we do not have a dedicated backup,” Murphy said. “Hopefully we can weather the storm while he is away.
To say the Talons are young would be an understatement.
The team lost its entire senior roster that went to the Fraser Valleys last year to graduation.
That throws the burden of leadership to a core of players from the junior team who were called upon late last season to step in to replace injured players on the senior team, said coach Roberto Ramogida.
“It gave some of our junior players valuable experience that we are hoping will help them be successful this season,” he said.
To achieve success Ramogida said his side will have to play as a cohesive unit that is willing to put in a total effort every game.
“Being such a young team, it is important that the boys stay positive and have fun,” he said.
The players that led Heritage Woods to a Fraser Valley junior championship two years ago are now seniors. And that’s got Kodiaks’ coach Mike Viveiros excited for their potential this season.
“This group of Grade 12’s is hungry and they want to get back to the quality that had them win the Fraser Valleys as juniors,” he said.
It’s an ambitious ask, as some of those players struggled as Grade 11’s last season. Viveiros said they’re keen to show that was an anomoly. “They are capable of a much more promising season.”
To fulfill that promise, Viveiros will look to big contributions from striker Ethan Gaddu and midfielder Tye Engmann, as well as Patrick Ruszczyk, who is returning to the team after playing in the Whitecaps residency program for a year.
However Gaddu, whom Viveiros said “has the ability to find the back of the net every time he steps on the field,” will have to work fast; he’s headed to play in Costa Rica at the end of November.
“The team will have to be focused every game, and take no team lightly,” Viveiros said.
Blues head coach Robert Edwards calls his charges “scrappy, with an equal spread of talent across the pitch.”
Leading them by example will be Alonso Alva, who led his Port Moody 01 Selects club team to the semifinals of the Provincial Premier Cup last summer.
Edwards said Alva is a “passionate player” who “outworks everyone around him.”
That kind of effort will be needed from all parts of the pitch if the Blues are to have success, Edwards said.
“I think it’s more about heart and effort.”
With half the Pinetree Timberwolves’ starting lineup in Grade 9 or 10, head coach Steve Jack said he’ll look to his core of Grade 12 veterans to provide leadership, and goals.
Especially the latter.
“We always struggle to score goals,” Jack said. “We will need to score by committee.”
Heading that committee will be senior centre-midfielder John Lee, whom Jack characterizes as a great playmaker who sees the field well.
Otherwise, what the young Timberwolves lack in technical ability will have to be made up by playing with structure and determination, Jack said.
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