After missing out on an OCAA medal last season in penalty kicks, the Niagara Knights men's soccer program enters the 2017 season looking to take the next step and come away with some OCAA hardware.
It's been a busy off season for the Knights, the OCAA AGM meetings in May saw divisional realignment occur, and the team was moved from the GTA-based central division to the West. The Knights will no longer face former division rivals Humber and Sheridan, and will instead enter a new division against the likes of St. Clair, Mohawk, Redeemer, Lambton, and 2016 division champion Fanshawe.
The Knights appear poised to face the new challenges head-on, as the team will return 13 players from last season including four of the team's five top scorers in captain Andrew Currie (Woodstock), rookie of the year Jacob Therrien (Welland), two-time league all-star Jordi Amores (St. Catharines), and striker Alex Latham (Welland).
Joining the returning veterans in 2017 is two year standout Carlos Williams (St. Catharines). Williams rejoins the Knights program after a two season hiatus. Williams is the Knights all-time leader in goals-per-game average with 9 tallies in 14 matches (0.64 gpg). The striker needs just one goal to move into a tie for the Knights all-time lead in goals scored.
"We have assembled what we thought would be the most robust team" said Niagara Knights men's soccer head coach Frank DeChellis. "We don't over-coach during games so we needed players who can absorb what we do at training and apply it in games without us barking at them for 90 minutes."
The Knights 20 man roster features just seven new faces this season. But the new blood has proven to be talent rich during the Knights training camp a pre-season competitions.
"Our newcomers have given us a nice surprise" continued DeChellis. "Noah DiEgidio (Welland) played for me from U11-U13 and it's nice to see him flourishing at the OCAA level. Brothers, Anu and Temi Makinwa (Brampton) brought their brotherly love to tryouts and were quite disruptive to our roster's defensive component. GK Rob Chita (Waterdown), Zach DeWeerd (Waterdown), Eric Woodland (St. Catharines) and GK Nolan Bradshaw (Niagara Falls) also showed us they had what it took to find a place on the list."
Rounding out the Knights returning faces are Marc-Andre Boucher (Niagara Falls), Charlie Does (Ingersoll), Connor Diacur (St. Catharines), David Fimiak (St. Catharines), Draven Stokes (Milton), Quinton Leone (Niagara Falls), GK Sam Robson (Burlington), and Tyler Stranges (Welland).
"We expected very few returning players back in March but slowly, one at a time, we were informed of veterans upgrading their diplomas and the team started taking shape. When Carlos decided to play again after a 2 year absence, our eager anticipation was escalated to sheer excitement."
The team has enjoyed strong results during a lengthy eight match pre-season exhibition schedule. The Knights secured victories over Washington College (1-0), Durham College (3-1), Fleming College (4-0), Trent University (3-0), Humber College (2-0), Mohawk College (2-1), and Conestoga College (8-0). The lone blemish was a 2-1 defeat to Fleming over the Labour Day weekend.
"We had 11 different players score during exhibition games and we have 8 very competent defenders" added DeChellis. "Our first year players are contributing and we escaped the pre-season without any serious injuries. I am looking forward to tweaking our play in different areas of the field before our first game."
The team opens their regular season with a tough challenge, as September 9th will see the Knights travel to London to take on the Fanshawe Falcons. The team will open their home schedule on September 13th at 6:00pm when they host the Mohawk Mountaineers at Youngs SportsPlex.