Fit To Be Tied

Stingers Settle for Draw Against Future Impact Players

Stingers defender Christohper Mirasyedi takes the ball upfield past a Montreal Impact hopeful. Photo Erin Sparks

Despite snowstorms and icy-cold weather, winter is still game season for Concordia’s men’s soccer team.

In the midst of their indoor soccer season, the Stingers played to a hard-fought 1-1 draw against the Montreal Impact Academy’s under-21 team last Sunday at the Stinger Dome.

A penalty kick, yellow card and 15-minute back-and-forth to end the game as both teams sought a winning goal showed that although it may be January, the players on both sides approached the game with the same intensity they would any other competitive match.

Even so, the Stingers realized that playing against an academy team, where players are competing for
the chance to play on the Impact’s professional Major League Soccer team, brings a new challenge.

“Yes, they’re younger, but [they’re] a group of players that have been playing together for a very long time and they’re very technical,” said Stingers forward Andrew Bryan.

Wilfried Nancy, head coach of the Academy squad, noted that his team’s average age, although playing at the U-21 level, is 18.

Nevertheless, the teams were well-matched throughout the 90 minutes, as Concordia’s focus on physical play and sustaining pressure was met by the Impact’s tidy passing and quick counter-attacks.

The first half saw both sides wrestle for control over the game. Concordia’s pressure made it difficult for the Impact to string passes together, although they did have a few periods of sustained possession.

Twelve minutes into the second half, the Impact broke the deadlock. Following a throw-in, Impact forward Yacine Ait-Slimane headed a perfect cross from the right-hand side towards the Concordia goal. Although Stingers goalkeeper Nicholas Giannone was able to block the first effort, Ait-Slimane tapped in the rebound.

“These are some of the best in the country and some are from abroad too. […] You’re playing against good talent. There’s a physical aspect that you’re stronger than them or whatever but technically, they’re just as good if not a bit sounder than we are, so [it’s] definitely a good challenge.”
—Stingers forward Andrew Bryan

From then on, the game opened up. As the Stingers pushed their attack further forward, they left space and opportunities at the back for the Impact’s vicious counter-attacks.

In the 68th minute, however, it looked like Bryan was going to even the game up from the penalty spot, after Stingers defender Salim Cherkaoui was fouled in the box following a corner kick.

But as Bryan confidently stepped up to the spot, he shot the ball wide to the left, leaving the Stingers still down by one.
“It’s the worst feeling ever,” said Bryan after the game. “When I missed it there were a few seconds of sadness and a little bit of anger—but right away you have to be able to switch it into a positive feeling.”

Bryan looked determined to atone for his error, and got his reward eight minutes later. After marauding down the left wing, he slipped in a low, hard cross, which was intended for the oncoming striker.

Before the pass reached his fellow Stinger, however, Impact centre back Dominique Morin made contact with the ball, and sent it sailing over keeper Hicham Kettani for the own goal.

Concordia’s well-deserved equalizer marked the beginning of the game’s frenzied end, with both teams seeking the game-winner.

Although the Impact looked a bit more dangerous in the dying minutes and forced a few saves from Giannone, the Stingers defence remained composed as the game ended without either side coming away victorious.

As fortunate as Concordia was to leave with a draw, the Impact’s domination in the game’s final minutes showed that the Stingers were not up to their usual fitness.

“You can see one of the big differences with the Academy is that they’ve been playing for a longer period,” said Stingers assistant coach Frank Bastien, referencing that the academy has a more rigorous year-round training schedule. “[Our players] don’t reach a good fitness level coming back from the Christmas break [and] they’re always a bit sluggish.”

Even if they were not at their physical best, Bryan reiterated the importance of this game as a learning experience, especially when facing players on the cusp of the professional level.

“These are some of the best in the country and some are from abroad too. […] You’re playing against good talent,” Bryan said. “There’s a physical aspect that you’re stronger than them or whatever but technically, they’re just as good if not a bit sounder than we are, so [it’s] definitely a good challenge.”

The Stingers were not even playing against the Academy’s strongest U-21 side.

“For this game, we have five players who didn’t play because they will train tomorrow with the pro-team,” Nancy said. “The objective of the team and [of] the players is to move up as soon as possible with the pro team and they have to work for that.”

Nancy described the constant cycle of players moving back and forth between the different academy teams, with only the players of the highest quality receiving the chance to play professionally.

The draw drops both teams to 1-0-1 on the indoor season. More important than the records, however, is the fact that winter is an important time for both teams’ players to stay sharp.

While for a Stinger, impressing new head coach Greg Sutton could mean a starting spot this coming fall, for an Impact player, hard work this winter could translate to a shot at the big leagues.