In early December, the Impact U18 and U16 teams ended the first half of the season, which started well for both teams but got tougher before the break.
The Impact U18 started with a six-game unbeaten streak, coming to the break at the 18th spot out of 72 teams with a record of five wins, three losses and three draws. The U16s, for their part, will start the second part of the season one spot away from the playoffs, in 33rd position, with a record of five wins, three losses and five draws.
With a little over two months with no game before the season resumes, Academy fitness trainers Benoit Deplagne and Jules Gueguen took advantage of the break to work on individual fitness with the players.
“The break is long, so it allows us to combine physical work with strength development in the weight room, for example,” explained the Academy chief fitness trainer, Benoit Deplagne. “We have a part in the weight room, and then we progressively move to the field. Once the season resumes, we get back into the weekly routine. The goal is to qualify for the playoffs, but we also focus on development during the week and winning the weekend game.”
For the Impact U18, the transition period was split into two; January is centred on the individualization of the work to improve weaknesses at the physical level, while taking on other sports like boxing. The second part was marked by a series of games against Quebec universities to find their rhythm in the play, review the roster and see the level of performance and the specific aspects of the play they need to work on.
“The athletic challenge was there every weekend,” said Impact U18 head coach Yoann Damet. “It gave us an opportunity to face older and more experienced players. We were more demanding during the weeks of training and had opponents that allowed us to be also demanding during the games. We are satisfied of this month and a half of competition.”
The team ended its preparation with a record of three wins, one loss and two draws against these universities.
For the Impact U16, the transition period was good for the players, allowing them to work on other things and clear their minds.
“We see progress in preparation every week, mostly in the players’ movement off the ball and in the balance, but also in their runs to unbalance the opponent,” said Impact U16 head coach Nicolas Gagnon. “We hope to take advantage of this when the season returns.”
The goal in 2017
Like every year, the goal for both teams is to make the playoffs and go as far as possible. Last year, both teams reached their goal, but didn’t make it through the first round. The U18s had previously reached the semi-finals twice in a row.
“It’s important that everyone in the group understands that the goal is to make the playoffs. It’s not just an option,” said Nicolas Gagnon. “Now, it’s in the way we play that we will win. We have to be better in general that in the first half of the seasons, mostly in the constancy of the performances and in the principles of play that we put in place.”
Although the U18 team is in line for a playoff spot, Yoann Damet wants more: he wants his team to get as high as possible in the standings and to go as far as possible in the playoffs. According to him, maturity and experience on the field, as well as in-game consistency, will be key to a solid second half of the season.
The importance of the first games
March is a challenge for both Academy teams with five games on the road. Generally, the home team has an edge in the Development Academy. But the Bleu-blanc-noir coaches also see these trips as an opportunity to have control over the players and their preparation, as they are with them 24/7.
The first game of the season will be played on Saturday, March 4, against Seacoast United in Epping, New Hampshire. When asked about what they wanted to see on the field for this first game, both coaches were clear.
“When the season resumes, I want to see players hungry to start the season again and win,” said Nicolas Gagnon. “We still remember the last loss against Dallas. I want to see players applying our principles of play and see the same progress we saw in the transition period.”
“I want to see what I saw in the preparation games, with a good spirit and a collective,” added Yoann Damet. “I want to see an ambitious team that wants to get the three points right when the season resumes.”