Manitoba's Finest

Going to the BMO National Championships is a major honour for any soccer club. Coming back home knowing you finished as the best team from your province is even better.

That’s exactly what happened for FC Northwest’s U16 boys team as they brought back a silver earlier this month. It was Manitoba’s only medal from national competitions this year.

Jorge Carreiro is a coach with the club. He said they are happy with the result, but a bit disappointed they didn’t go one step further.

“We were happy with the silver medal but at the same time, we know we could have won the gold.”

“We didn’t go there just to say we’re happy to compete, we went there to get a gold and that’s the message I gave to the players,” he added.

The club went 15-1 during the league season, giving Carreiro a right to be bullish about his club’s performance. He said the trip to nationals was not a surprise and that they had gone to provincials expecting to win.

They did eventually take the crown, despite some spoiler style tactics from the opposition.

“Every game we played, the other team just sat back and played defensively so that made it hard to get goals but we ended up figuring out ways to beat these teams and it worked out well in the end,” said Carreiro.

Known as the Lions, Northwest went to Ontario for nationals reflecting the confidence of their coach. Carreiro said he told the Free Press that he would be disappointed with any less than a spot in the gold medal game.

The players held up their end of the bargain before falling to powerhouse Ajax, an Ontario club playing close to home, by three goals to one in the final.

Despite the tough loss, Carreiro said he was most proud of the way his team fought right to the end, even hitting the post in the final minutes of play. He said that while being the top club out of Manitoba was a massive honour, he would be happy with his kids either way.

“No matter what, I am always proud of the players. They’re a great group who never quit. They have a lot of passion for the game and they love the game.”

“Of course we’re proud to come home with the silver medal because not a lot of Manitoba teams do that so it is a great feeling,” he added.

A part of the Northwest culture his whole life, even playing for past incarnations of them when he was young, Carreiro will be leaving the club next week. He is moving to Toronto to be with his son Dylan, who is playing with Toronto FC and the national team for his age group.

Carreiro said he was leaving behind a province where the game was making great strides.

“There are some really, really good soccer people who are working with these kids at a young age and they can really do some special things.”

He said that at the end of the day, positive thinking is key.

“The big thing is that coaches have to make their players believe that they can compete against the bigger provinces. If they believe that and work hard, then good things can happen for Manitoba teams in the future.”

For now, Northwest can be happy with their title as Manitoba’s finest but with their rich history of winning, you can be sure that they won’t rest until they come home next year with a medal of a different colour.

Rob Gale - A chat with Manitoba's soccer guru

Rob Gale has pretty much seen it all in his soccer career. He played professionally over in England before moving to Winnipeg, where he is now considered one of the top soccer coaches in Canada.

Four years ago, Rob took the full time position as Technical Director with the MSA. He is in charge of all on field activities and has the express goal of making soccer better in Manitoba.

This week, I chatted with Rob about the state of the sport here, and he had some pretty interesting things to say. These are some of the highlights of my interview with the man in charge of trying to take soccer to the next level in our province.

So Rob, what is your official role in the MSA? Can you describe exactly what you do?

I am responsible for all player and coaching initiatives within Manitoba. That includes running all coaching development clinics at all levels throughout Manitoba. On the player side, I run the clinics and my role is obviously to run the provincial programs and the regional training centre here as well.

Obviously, you’ve had a pretty long career in the game. Describe your journey before ending up here in Winnipeg?

I was a youth professional with Fulham Football Club. I signed there on my fourteenth birthday and after playing with them I went to Wycombe Wanderers Football Club while studying at university. Then injury forced me out for a whole season so I stopped to do my coaching licensing in the States and ended up playing in the States for a while and then eventually came here with Lucania FC.

How important are elite level programs like the provincial program and the regional training centre in terms of developing the game here?

It is vital for development here. Anytime you have a province the size of ours, no one region can provide the same level of development because you can’t have the top players playing against the best competition on a regular basis. So the provincial program brings them all together and that’s when development really occurs when you’re playing against elite competition on a regular basis. It’s all about testing yourself at the top level.

How has soccer changed in this province since you took over? Has it really moved forward?

Fortunately, we’ve been very successful. If you look at the twenty years before these past four years, Manitoba had not won any medals in provincial competition and we had only three players involved with national teams.

If you look at the last four years, we’ve won three medals in national competition, including a gold medal at the Western Canada Games in 2007. We’ve had 15 players on various national teams so we’ve really blossomed in that.

It’s funny, when I used to go around the country Manitoba was laugh of looked down upon. They used to laugh and say ‘when are you going to send us a male player?’ Now the last three squads we’ve had boys on the national teams and the way with youth now is completely different. We’re taking the major provinces right down to the wire game in game out now.

With that said, what can we do to keep things moving ahead and take soccer to the next level?

The key is the infrastructure. We have to work closely with the clubs to give their players a better technical level before they come up to the provincial level and that’s where we’ve really made good strides in the last four years is working with the clubs.

If had more money we would do a lot more. We would certainly try and take more tours and get more competition for our players. The biggest problem here is our top players just do not face the competition level that the other province’s players do, on a regular basis.

Be honest, where do you hope to see Manitoba soccer in the next few years?

If you look at where we’ve been in the last couple years, we’ve hovered around third and fourth place and I would love us to move up.

We have to be realistic. We’re never going to be Ontario and Quebec but I’d like us to be able to compete on any given day and beat those teams.

The ultimate aim for us is not the amount of medals we win, but how many players from Manitoba will go on to make a career out of the game.

We want to continue to build the recognition for the players and coaches that we do have here and take that across the country.

Webisode 2 - Provincial Program

Check out the second of our five webisodes. This one centres around the MSA Provincial Program. Take a look and let us know what you think. Thanks to everyone at the tryouts who took time to help out!

Northstars look on the bright side

Imagine working all year for something only to find that when you get there, you aren’t able to fully experience it.

That was the sad reality this week for the WSA Northstars at the BMO National Championships

WSA is short for World Soccer Academy and the impressive name is not just for show. The club have been one of the premier women’s soccer teams in Manitoba for years are capped off a strong showing this season with a league title and provincial championship to add to the trophy cabinet.

The club is based out of a world-class soccer academy in the city and their status allows them to attract top quality players from all around. Club representative Jim Rurak said this is one of the key reasons for their success, and lead to them going into provincials full of confidence.

“I don’t want to say we were expecting to win, but we certainly went there feeling like we had a good chance. We were one of the two or three teams who really had a shot at winning,” he said.

The Northstars were able to live up to expectations as they got an extra time winner from Aliana Foderaro to beat rival Team United 1-0 in a very tight final.

The win was made all the more impressive by how the team were only able to dress 11 players for the match and, when Cathy Butler went down with an ACL injury, had to play the latter part of the game a girl down.

This was brought about by a problem that affects the club nearly every year as their attraction of top quality players acts as a double-edged sword. The club recruits players from national programs and schools in the states to fill the roster. Players join the club for the summer, but have to return to their American university or Canadian training program teams towards the end of August.

Rurak said this was something that was just part of the fabric of the club.

“We are fortunate to be associated with a number of high quality players so it is a balancing act in having those players but knowing they are eventually going to leave but if we have injuries to it can make it tough,”

“I wont say it’s not frustrating but at the same time, it’s those strong players who make us successful and so we want to keep them involved but we can’t always do that,” he added.

The decimated roster left Rurak needing to call up players as the club prepared for nationals. Strict Canadian Soccer Association rules state that you can only call up players who are younger and from a lower level of play. This left the club forced to call up a 15 and 16-year-old player before going to compete for a national championship.

The Northstars ultimately had a disappointing showing in Charlottetown as they went 0-3 in the round robin. They did bounce back well to win their consolation game and finished in seventh overall.

While Rurak admitted the situation was not ideal, he said the club was pleased with their players showing under the circumstances.

“In the final analysis, we felt that our players gave us absolutely everything they could and we were really proud of their effort.”

Rurak did say that he felt the club could have won the title had they had their full roster, but was quick to compliment the young call-ups on their play.

“The two young ones contributed both on and off the field in a big way for our team. They even scored a couple goals in our last game so they had a fantastic experience.”

In the final analysis, Rurak said some of the blame had to be placed on the system. He said there simply was not enough depth in women’s soccer here to allow their clubs to call up players and still compete.

“When the bottom half of the teams in our league simply don’t compete with the top half, and then we still can’t call of players from those teams, it makes it hard,” he said.

Rurak said the problem existed across the country and agreed that there was no simple fix but that it had to start with coaching.

“We have to get these kids at a young age and work on developing them so that we can stock our women’s teams and give them a chance to really compete at the top level.”

Alliance looking strong

Taking over a struggling, unorganized sports franchise is a massive undertaking, even at the best of times.

Doing it in a market where most people have no understanding of the sport? Some would call it crazy.

That’s exactly what Tony Pesce did though when he took over the fledging Winnipeg Alliance FC.

Alliance is an indoor soccer franchise started up a few years back here in Winnipeg. A mixture of poor management and lack of funding spelled doom for their initial incarnation but the club returned last year to take another kick at it.

After an initial period of uncertainty, Tony Pesce who works in the automotive repair industry by day, purchased the club with the singular goal of getting them on track and establishing the sport here in Manitoba.

He seems to be well on his way.

Admittedly, Alliance did not have the strongest season on the field last year as they finished near the bottom of the standings but that should change this year with more stability and a clear focus.

The club have found a suitable and permanent home in Seven Oaks Soccerplex and have worked hard to foster ties in the community. This summer they formed a partnership with a number of organizations in the city to help inner city kids get out of gangs and into soccer. They staged a two day camp at Canadian Mennonite University and also had a showcase event at the new pitch in Central Park downtown.

That community involvement will be the key if the Alliance is to find a place in the hearts of Winnipeggers and last in this market.

In a clear statement that they understand this basic fact, Alliance is holding open tryouts this weekend at Canlan Ice Sports on Ellice Avenue. All are welcome to come out and play and all players are guaranteed at least two sessions. There is a fee of $15.

Alliance general manager Robbin Watson said she has seen incredible interest from the community with a swell of players calling the club to signal their intentions to tryout. They expect participants from African leagues and various other divisions to attend.

The tryouts are just the first step in Alliance’s new vision to be more active in our community. You can expect them to be a major player in Winnipeg soccer and act as a key partner for the MSA moving forward.

If Tony Pesce has his way, the team can finally be something for Winnipeg soccer fans to be proud of.

For more information on Alliance FC and their plans moving forward, follow the MSA on twitter at:!/manitobasoccer

Or visit their official website at:

Photos taken from the Winnipeg Alliance Facebook page.