The St. Albert Impact U14 boys dreamed the impossible dream as Alberta Soccer Association champions.
“Our slogan all year was ‘one team, one dream’ and our dream was to go to nationals. We did it in a very dramatic and crazy fashion but we did it!” exclaimed Chris Clarke, head coach of the Tier I gold medallists.
Penalty kicks after 80 minutes of full time and 20 minutes of extra time decided Sunday’s final against Foothills at Calgary Soccer Centre.
“It was very emotional,” said Clarke of the heart-pounding 4-3 result on kicks for the 1-0 win and a berth at U14 nationals, Oct. 5 to 10 at Moncton, N.B.
The Impact are believed to be the first St. Albert boys’ soccer team to qualify for nationals since the 1989 gold-medal winning U18 Cougars.
“It’s been a very long time and we’re so lucky to be involved with such a great organization like the St. Albert Impact club, just unbelievable people,” Clarke said. “Everybody else except for them doubted us but they believed in us and we didn't let them down so it’s pretty special. They deserve every bit this gold medal that we do. They deserve all recognition in the world for us doing this.”
Nationals, however, does come with a price.
“We’re going to need to fundraise like crazy. We’re going to need help. We figure you’re looking at about 30-plus thousand dollars to go and we have about six weeks to do it,” Clarke said.
To assist in the team’s fundraising efforts, email Clarke at [email protected]
Nationals consist of 10 teams and the Impact are grouped with Fraser Valley (B.C.), Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island in the qualification phase.
Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Yukon and Eastside FC (Sask.) form the second group.
“We’ll approach it the same way as provincials, a new dream but still one team,” Clarke said. “Hopefully we’ll do St. Albert, Impact and Alberta proud. You never know, maybe we’ll bring home a national gold.”
The road to nationals started with a laminated sheet for the Impact to chart their course to victory.
“To get there we wanted to win the EIYSA (Edmonton Interdistrict Youth Soccer Association) league, which we did with a record of 14 wins and two ties. We also conceded the least amount of goals in the league and we only gave up seven. We had this sheet and it had all the boys’ names on it and then on the other side it had our EIYSA games and every time we won we checked it off and we had the provincial championship on there and every time we won a game we ticked it off,” Clarke said. “It’s just unbelievable what we did. I’ve been coaching sports since I was 13 and I’ve never coached a group of boys like this.”
So why is this Impact squad so special?
“They’re one family,” summed up Clarke of the team of 16 returnees from last year, featuring a handful of core players that started together in U10 and seven who have been teammates since U12, plus one underager.
“In the league you can sub as many players as you want and it’s unlimited. Our team believed that everybody should play in every game so we played all 19 of our players every game, the only team to do that, but when you go to provincials you’re only allowed five subs, so there were players who didn’t see the pitch in the semifinal game against Juventus and the final against Foothills. But they were cheering so loud and so happy and the boys on the field were so proud of the boys on the bench that when something good happened or a goal happened, the boys on the field came over to the bench and the boys on the bench went over to the boys on the field.
“Just watching these kids, myself and my coaches cried at the end of that final game with tears of joy. It was unbelievable.”
The Impact posted wins of 5-0 against the Warriors and 1-0 against Juventus (14-1-1 in EIYSA) for a date with destiny in the final of the six-team tournament.
The scoreless affair against Foothills after two 40-minute halfs and two 10-minte extra periods set the stage for the nail-biting round of penalty kicks. The first player was the Impact’s Luke Drapala and his goal was followed by a stop by goalkeeper Ivan Hirankunda against Foothills. Isaac Reed made it 2-0 and Foothills replied with a goal. After a miss by Euan Bartlett, Foothills knotted it at two and the next kicker, Oliver Titchener, restored the Impact lead. Foothills scored the equalizer and the Impact’s Gausu Dukuly was unlucky with his attempt.
“This is how crazy it is. It’s 3-3 and (Dukuly) is our fifth shooter so if they score they win and Ivan saves it,” said Clarke of Hirankunda diving to his right for the clutch stop. “It was magic.”
Next up for the Impact was Sam Russell and he threaded the needle.
“Sam steps up and hits the most clutch clinical PK I’ve ever seen, slots it bottom left corner,” Clarke said. “Of course, everybody goes nuts, but we haven’t won it. They have a rebuttal and Ivan is in net all by himself, the poor kid is on an island, and they hit a crossbar and we went crazy!
“There is a video of the ending and you get chills watching it. I think I’ve watched it 100 times of when they hit the crossbar and our team comes running off the bench. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.”