Christmas came early for Sigma FC technical director Bobby Smyrniotis, but the gift he received was not left under a tree.

The second annual Sigma College Showcase was held 10 days before Christmas, from Dec. 15-16, at the Hershey Sportszone fields in Mississauga and the performances put in by Sigma players left the notoriously hard-to-please coach beaming like a kid on Christmas Day.

Coaches praised Sigma's performance at both the A1 (1994) and B1 (1995) levels. Smyrniotis recounted a few compliments. "One coach said, 'We are watching a mini-Barcelona in North America here' and another said simply. 'You guys just put it together right there,' " said Smyrniotis with obvious pride.

"There were many good words about what we are doing," he added. "If you look at the end of everything, the showcase, it was great. I am really happy with the showcase in general and what the players did. And keep in mind, I am always of the mindset that they can always do better."

The goal of the tournament was to gather as many coaches as possible from all over North America, both the U.S. and Canada. To that end, it was a success with more than 60 coaches checking in over the two-day event. Schools that were represented ranged from West Coast powerhouses Oregon State and Simon Fraser University to East Coast juggernauts Boston College and Fordham to name only a few.

In addition to Sigma's A1 (94) and B1 (95) teams, the tournament included FC London, S.C. Toronto, Bryst Academy and FC Copa from New Jersey.

Richmond Laryea - SIGMA B1

Cyle Larin - SIGMA B1

"Our main focus is to get eight of the better teams in the area, and this year it was a little more special because we had two groups in from the U.S. (FC Copa from New Jersey)," said Smyrniotis.

The reason for the success of the showcase, explained Smyrniotis, is that Sigma FC's goals are very much in line with what top U.S. College soccer programs are looking for. Sigma aims to prepare young soccer players so that they are well-educated about the game, have technically superior skills. As well, the academy makes academic credentials and good character a focus. For this reason, college coaches are flocking to Sigma.

"Last year was the first year [of the Showcase], and it was good. This year, at the end of the day, you want to show your professionalism. We may not have the title of a professional club but one thing is very evident is that our structure and philosophy is on par with some of the top clubs in the world. We have created a great reputation of producing quality players for the next level of the game and that is evident down south in the U.S and here in Canada with the leading University programs and several European clubs.," stated Smyrniotis.

"I am honest with coaches, whether they want to know about a Sigma player or a player from another club. A good player is a good player, and I will give them my best assessment. I have the luxury of knowing the U.S. game, knowing the conferences," he explained. "You gauge where players fit in. I think that is the biggest thing that [the coaches] respect. We have a group of 15-20 coaches that are good friends of ours, and they will always vouch for us."

Adelphi University's Carlo Acquista is one such coach. He is a past volunteer coach at Sigma's International ID camps and has recruited Sigma players.

"We have a Sigma FC player at Adelphi, Jordan Hibbert, and he's doing outstanding," he said. "Sigma is doing a good job of developing players. It's a great place where we can find some hidden talent."

It's important that the academic goals of the player are considered during the recruiting process, and Sigma focuses on Canadian and American schools in order to give players the option to stay closer to home or in Canada to pursue their education.

At Burnaby, B.C.'s Simon Fraser University, head coach Alan Koch, has fostered a strong relationship with Sigma. SFU is the sole Canadian school in the NCAA Div. II and finished the season as the No.1-ranked team. Next year, the school will be eligible to compete for the national title.

"We've been in contact with Sigma for several years. Bobby and Costa have been fantastic about giving us their opinion on players, helping us out from afar. I come out to Toronto quite often. And I have had two of their players play for us, and one them, Lucas Ferritto, is playing for us right now and is doing very, very well," he said.

Jordan Hibbert

Lucas Ferritto

The reason more than 60 coaches would travel from near and far to scout talent reflects the competitive nature of college soccer. It's makes events like the Sigma Showcase, even more crucial to a school's recruiting efforts.

According to Mike Jacobs, of the University of Evansville in Indiana, there are no weak soccer programs in the NCAA Division I.

"The best coaches in the country are the ones with the best players," Jacobs explained. "So, the idea of coming up here to Toronto, and specifically to Sigma, is to try and widen our scope and really try to find the best players available.

"Sigma has a reputation now of developing players that play collegiately, professionally and internationally. For me to have them as a reference point that you trust, it helps you with your recruiting network."

Dino Perri, head coach of the OUA champion McMaster Marauders appreciated the efforts Sigma made to organize the showcase.

Perri said he identified players at the Showcase that were interested in coming to McMaster and that has helped him focus his recruiting efforts around potential prospects.

"Events such as this are fantastic for us, because it brings all the players together in one spot, so we can come and watch them play," he said.

Christian Samaniego

Tim Mahabir

Ty Smith