The SIGMA A1 squad embarked on a 3 day trip to Michigan and Ohio to enhance their knowledge and insight into the US University system and the NCAA sporting culture. Their time there included quality showcase matches, campus tours and talks from the University coaches and staff.
With three stops and four matches it was definitely a weekend full of action. The team departed Toronto for the trip to Michigan State University in East Lansing Michigan. Upon arrival the boy's were greeted by Head coach Joe Baum and Associate head coach Damon Rensing. Unfortunately due to the previous day's weather the match between SIGMA and MSU to the dismay of both coaching staff's had to be cancelled. In its place was a 2 ½ hour tour of a beautiful campus at MSU highlighted by the daunting 75,000 seat Spartan Stadium- home to the University's football team. There is no doubt that the SIGMA players were impressed by the infrastructure and support provided to the athletics programs at the school. Coach Damon Rensing lectured the young men on the importance of academics in the NCAA structure and fielded all the questions of the players pertaining to education, recruiting, training, travel etc.
After this first stop it was back to the bus with the teams sights set on Kalamazoo Michigan, home to Western Michigan University. Checking into the team hotel and subsequent downtime was definitely on the mind of all players after a long first day. The SIGMA group was greeted at the Hotel by assistant coach of Western Michigan, Chad Wiseman where all the final details were organized for Saturday's three matches.
Saturday was all about soccer. With two games scheduled against the Broncos of Western Michigan University and Spring Arbor University the SIGMA team had a long day of soccer scheduled. In the first match SIGMA faced Spring Arbor University in an encounter which SIGMA was able to control the tempo and flow of the match. After several opportunities in the first forty five minutes of play for SIGMA, there was no score to record. In the second, SIGMA increased their constant attacking pressure, which eventually lead to a three goal burst in a twenty minute period. The end result was a 3-0 win. "I was very happy with their first performance of the year. As our opponents, we hadn't had the opportunity to play a 11 versus 11 full field match since the Christmas showcase matches, so it was positive to see the boy's were in full stride. Our possession and pressing nature worked out very well for our team in this match and the goals came after a great deal of opportunities that were created. It was a very solid performance by all players involved"
The second match was definitely a more daunting task for the SIGMA squad with a more physical opponent in Western Michigan U. After controlling possession and the flow of the match in the first 15 minutes SIGMA fell behind 1-0 after a well taken direct free kick from the top of the box. The remainder of the first half saw both teams exchange possession of the play and attacking opportunities. The second half continued much the same with SIGMA continuing to dominate in possession but the counterattacks and set plays of the Western Michigan squad proved too much. The second goal for the home squad coming from a corner kick and subsequent scramble in the box and the third and final goal from a penalty shot. According to SIGMA Technical Director, Bobby Smyrniotis the boy's effort greatly outweighed the eventual score, "The boy's had a good outing today on the park and were let up by the minor details that make a difference in the sport. Of the 3 goals conceded none were from open play. That is encouraging on one hand as we can dissect the goals easier but frustrating for the boy's who showed they definitely had it in them to come out with a result. They also learned a great lesson today as the Western Michigan squad was able to get under our players skin and take them off our "A" game. All in all I am very happy with the soccer they displayed in both matches."
With two matches behind them the SIGMA squad was now on their way to Bowling Green University in Ohio for another two encounters. An arrival time of 1:15 am to Bowling Green was definitely not in the plans of the coaching staff but unfortunately was a reality. The boy's had a Noon kickoff which was not ample time to rest and recover. This lack of rest was evident in the SIGMA squad on Sunday as they fell 3-0 to University of Wisconsin - Parkside in a very poor performance for their standard. "I definitely can't blame the boy's for this result. In the first half they showed some fight but did not have a clear mind in decision making. Once again two of the goals came from personal errors which can definitely be attributed to fatigue.
With a 20 minute break between matches the SIGMA team was now to face Coach Fred Thompson's Bowling Green University squad. This was not an easy task for an already fatigued team. The first half was a very physical encounter with a great deal of choppy play by both sides and not a great deal of possession soccer. The result was an outstanding amount of fouls committed by both squads, one of which lead to a 1-0 lead for Bowling Green at the half. The second half displayed a similar product on the pitch with both teams showing frustration at the lack of possession and amount of fouls being committed. SIGMA was able to equalize ten minutes into the half with a successfully converted penalty. In the ensuing 5 minutes both teams had a player sent off therefore opening the field up for greater amount of attacking possibilities. SIGMA took advantage of the open play and orchestrated a string of passes and netted a second goal only to have it flagged offside by the sideline official. Minutes later on a similar play at the other end Bowling Green was able to capitalize to make the score 2-1. At this point SIGMA had no option but to throw extra bodies forward in pursuit of an equalizer which in the end made them vulnerable in the back and allowing Bowling Green to add two more goal in the final five minutes of play.
Coach Smyrniotis was very positive after the match, "It was definitely a difficult day for the boys, and we knew it would be difficult due to the fatigue of the previous day's matches along with the travel. The important aspect is that they showed a desire to compete throughout this whole match. We had the opportunity to go up at 1-1 and unfortunately the goal was called back and Bowling Green was quick to capitalize on a similar play at the other end of the park. That's soccer! What is important is that the boy's showed their fighting spirit in this final game of the weekend even though the tank was running close to empty. I am happy with the experience this weekend and am positive our players have had a great experience both on and off the field".
Next up for the SIGMA A1 team is an encounter on April 7th vs. University of Toronto at Varsity Stadium. The team will remain together until the middle of May with a series of Friendly matches in front of a number of US College coaches before they take a 1 month break from training and will reconvene in the beginning of July for their annual Summer training and showcase Camp.