With the MLS season in full swing, the Montreal Impact U21 team is still in the midst of preparing its 2012 upcoming season in the Canadian Soccer League (CSL), set to begin the first week of May.
And just like the first team, the Academy is looking to take advantage of a long preseason in order to ensure the players’ continued development and a true understanding of the system the coaching staff is looking to implement.
“The CSL season is a tool to help develop these young players, but it’s not the only one,” said the Director of the Academy Philippe Eullaffroy. “The league lasts only seven months of the year, but we work 11.5 months with these young players. The quality of the opposition is important, but the quantity is primordial. Therefore, we can’t just leave the U21s for five months without training or matches. This is why we play many games before the CSL season starts against good opponents, like University teams, to further their development.”
Over the last month, the Academy has played seven exhibition games against University opponents in and around Montreal, amassing a record of four wins, one loss and two ties. The U21s came away with wins against McGill, UQAM, UQTR and Concordia, with its only loss to Université Laval by a score of 2-1.
The team also managed a 1-1 draw last weekend when they hosted the Southern New Hampshire University, at Marie-Victorin Sports Complex, last Saturday.
“Our play on the pitch continues to improve,” added Eullaffroy. “With four wins in seven games, we’ve seen a lot of good things. Our objective remains to continue to get better as individual players and as a group in order to provide the first team with players when needed.”
First team experience
Some of those players have already had a sniff with the first team this season as five Academy members saw time during the Impact’s Reserve League games against Columbus (W 2-1) and New York (L 3-1), over the past two weeks.
There were some familiar faces during these two games, including goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau, midfielders Wandrille Lefevre and Francesco Augustin as well as defender Karl Ouimette, who played both games, and who also made two appearances in the Disney Pro Classic tournament in Florida last month.
Forward Anthony Jackson-Hamel also played 30 minutes, showing that the youngest of the group has made some big strides over the last year.
“Anthony has progressed significantly,” said Eullaffroy. “He has many physical and tactical qualities with a lot of potential, and now it’s up to him and all of us to ensure that his potential fully materializes.”
Work in progress
As a team, Eullaffroy sees a vast improvement over this time last season in terms of consistency. He feels that the gap between good performances and bad games has shrunk, but there still remains a lot of work to do.
“These are young players, so they still have to learn how to manage the ups and downs of a 90-minute game. The decision-making process needs to be refined as well. We want it to become second nature for them to know what to do, when and how to do it.”
With another month of preparation prior to the start of the season, the U21 has one more interesting matchup scheduled. The team will travel to Rochester to face one of the Impact’s long-time USL rivals, the Rochester Rhinos, on Wednesday, April 4, at 10am ET.
In addition, Eullaffroy hopes to organize an exhibition tour in France against some of its clubs’ Reserve Teams. The experience playing against teams with an established structure is not only beneficial for the players, who will face varying playing styles and systems, but it’s a good measuring stick for all involved to see how the Academy stacks up.
“It’s a good way to see where we are at in terms of our structure and level. Are we close to them in talent, coaching, or are we better? It will be a way to validate what we’ve all done on the pitch, for both players and coaches, and a good way to see where we might need improvement,” concluded Eullaffroy.
U21 DATES AND NUMBERS
MIA 3 vs 2 UQTR
MIA 1 vs 1 U. Montréal
MIA 1 vs 1 U. Sherbrooke
MIA 1 vs 0 U. CONCORDIA
MIA 4 vs 1 U. MCGILL
MIA 3 vs 1 UQAM
MIA 1 vs 2 U. LAVAL
MIA 1 vs 1 Southern New Hampshire University
Goals – (3) Kevin Luarca
Assists – (2) Anthony Jackson-Hamel, Philippe Lincourt-Joseph
April 4th vs Rochester Rhinos (USL Pro) – Rochester – 10 am
April 7th vs Celtix Haut-Richelieu (Quebec 2nd Division) - St Jean sur Richelieu - 6pm
April 14th vs University of Vermont – Burlington - 1:30pm
April 19th vs Outremont (Quebec 1st Division) - TMR - 7pm