Academy update: U21s unbeaten this winter
The Montreal Impact Academy is well-represented this year at the preseason camp for the club’s pro team in Major League Soccer, but that means the U21 side has been forced to make changes.
Not only has former U21 head coach Philippe Eullaffroy and Academy goalkeeper coach Youssef Dahha joined the first team’s coaching staff, but some of the U21s’ core group of players from last year are knocking on the door, including defender Karl W. Ouimette, who earned a contract midseason in 2012, along with midfielder Wandrille Lefevre, left-back Maxim Tissot and forward Mircea Ilcu. All three are showing well in Florida, while goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau, midfielder Zakaria Messoudi and forward Anthony Jackson-Hamel are with the Canadian U20 national team looking to qualify for the FIFA U20 World Cup.
A younger team
However, the U21s have not seemed to skip a beat, going undefeated in six games versus University competition in its winter tour, despite the player carousel and a new head coach.
“There have been a lot of changes to the U21 team since I took over,” said Wilfried Nancy, former head coach of the U18 team and current bench boss of the U21s. “The dynamics behind my job haven’t changed, but with an older group, you’re closer to the pros, so there is a lot more refinement of skills and work on specific details that we do.”
With three players training with the pros and three players training with the national team, the U21s also lost some of the oldest and more experienced guys on the team.
“We have become a very young group,” added Nancy, a former pro in France’s second division. “We brought in two new players to the team from outside, but we had already had a few guys from the U18 team (1995 age group, 16-17 years old) and we’ve added another four. This group is really young, but has been playing really well versus good teams from Quebec universities.”
Going 5-0-1, the Impact U21 have bettered the University of Sherbrooke 3-1, McGill University 2-0, UQAM 1-0, University of Laval 3-1, UQTR 1-0 and played Concordia to a 1-1 draw, with one game left.
One of the standouts so far has been forward Yacine Ait-Slimane, who has managed three goals in five games despite being one of those players from the 1995 age group.
“He’s played very well and has brought a lot of energy to the field,” said Nancy.
Despite the results not officially counting in the standings of the University winter league, the Impact U21s have already clinched the best record in the eight-team tour and look to go undefeated for the first time, having lost once last year.
“We want to make sure that we better last year’s performance,” explained Nancy. “Even those these games are exhibition matches, the competition is strong and we use it as a measuring stick for our performance and growth. These games are important to establish our team philosophy and to continue to develop professional players.”
The Impact U21s will face the Université de Montréal this Sunday at 6pm (ET) at the Marie-Victorin Sports Complex. Admission is free and the game is open to the public.