As the CAF United U17 Selects set to head to Italy to compete in the Lazio Cup this weekend we wish them the best of luck and take a moment to look back on their Journey here through the eyes of their Coach Leslie ‘Tiger’ Fitzpatrick
The Coach’s Report
Taking on the challenge to coach a select group of kids can be daunting in many regards, especially when you are going to a tournament as prestigious as the Lazio Cup and have less than three (3) months to prepare the group. However, these are the challenges that make coaching such an amazing profession.
In the first couple weekends working with the group, it was clear that there was a vast amount of talent, and players with an array of skill and technical proficiency interested in traveling to the tournament. Kudos must go to team manager Jonathan Hanif for identifying these players and getting them on board. The main challenges lay in having only one or two practices a week at an indoor facility that didn’t offer a lot of room for some of the concepts and tactics we would need going into the tournament. However, it did allow for a lot of work on speed of play and speed of thought, as well as developing the right mentality towards defending, particularly in transition. Most of the practices were structured with this in mind, as well as emphasizing the need to be mentally strong through adversity as I am sure the opposition in Italy will be stronger and more organized tactically than teams most of these players would have faced.
As we transitioned to outdoor sessions, the focus each weekend was on competitive matches, as getting the group to mesh and to gel tactically would be critical in allowing us to compete in Italy. We aimed for a variety of games that offered different challenges to the players, be those physical, mental, or tactical and the response from the players was magnificent. In spite of tough weather conditions, and the varied challenges, the young men embraced the tasks and directions presented and showed tremendous mettle that hopefully augurs well for the tournament. Highlight performances came in the games against the League 1 Ontario outfit Masters FA, the men’s team of the Lakeshore Soccer Club, and the master’s team of GS United that featured a slew of ex-national team and professional players including Canadian legend and icon Dwayne DeRosario. The one aspect that I think we need to really refine is our finishing. We have done a great job of creating numerous chances in game, but will need to develop that killer instinct to put the ball in the back of the net between now and our time in Rome.
As we enter the final phase of preparation, and get ready to embark on this wonderful journey, I’d like to take time out to thank the parents, guardians, and families of these players for the tremendous sacrifices they continue to make to allow the players to have this once in a lifetime experience. I’d also like to thank the tournament organizers for offering our squad a spot in the tournament, and to Phil Ionadi and CAF for dealing with the logistics of making all this possible, as well as the sponsors who have assisted in the process. Finally, to my personal team of Jonathan Hanif, Zane O’Brien, and Michelle Ready, words can’t fully express my gratitude to you for all your hard work and dedication to making these young men better players and better people through this experience.