The Yukon men’s soccer team will battle an old rival in the fight to avoid last place at the Canada Summer Games today.
With both squads winless after three matches, Yukon will square-off in a match that will determine which team takes 11th and which places last.
With at least three starting players out with injury, it could be a tough row to hoe for the Yukon team.
“We have to figure out how to reconfigure the team to compensate for injuries,” said assistant coach Arnold Hedstrom.
“They need to do what they need to do in any game,” he added. “They need to close down quicker. They need to be quicker to 50-50 balls. They need to close down defenders quicker. And they need to take more opportunities to shoot.”
Friday’s match will be the fourth consecutive time the two territories face off in the battle for not-last in Canada Games soccer.
Yukon has a good track record going in, having defeated N.W.T. in the do-or-last encounters, winning in 2009, 2005 and 2001.
Yukon also defeated N.W.T. to avert last at the 2011 Western Canada Summer Games in Kamloops, B.C. Thirteen players from that Yukon team are on the roster in Sherbrooke.
If Yukon wants to make it four in a row at the Canada Games, they will have to do it without some starting players.
Striker/midfielder Jono Runions is out with a concussion after receiving an elbow to the head against New Brunswick.
Striker Axel Riemer is sidelined with a second-degree sprained ankle.
Starting goalkeeper Dominic Korn has been out from the start to a concussion suffered while competing at the U.S.A. Cup in Minnesota last month.
Midfielder Marten Sealy, returned from a foot injury for Thursday’s match, but is still day-to-day.
Midfielder Andrew Scoffin missed the second half of Thursday’s loss to Saskatchewan, hurting his leg in a collision, but is cleared to play Friday.
“A lot of our starters are getting injured; it seems like every game a player is getting injured,” said Yukon captain Tristan Olynyk. “So our team is not at its fullest potential.”
Yukon slipped into the bottom-placing match with a 5-1 loss to Saskatchewan on Thursday.
Midfielder and striker Belgie Nunez-Zuniga scored Yukon’s first goal of the Games in minute 33 to make it 2-1.
“It was great,” said Nunez-Zuniga. “We were down 2-0 and I scored that goal and it just gave us so much hope to score again. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. That moment I scored that goal, I was pretty high.”
Yukon’s goal came when Olynyk made a 20-yard pass upfield to striker Mike Wintemute in front of the Sask net. Wintemute redirected the pass over to Nunez-Zuniga at the corner of the goal box and he found the far, bottom corner.
The score remained unchanged by half, but Saskatchewan made a huge momentum grab at the start of the second, scoring about 30 seconds in. The goal didn’t just take the wind out of Yukon’s sails, it left them in a vacuum.
“It was a tough game, could have done way better,” said Olynyk. “That goal right off the second half just killed us and brought us down … Everyone is pretty tired – this is the third game – and we’re just slow out there right now. Hopefully we’ll be a lot better against N.W.T. and give it more.”
“One thing that comes from having lots of competition is … how to recover and get back into the game, get back into the moment, after there’s a setback,” said Hedstrom. “That’s just something this team hasn’t dealt with enough to do effectively.”
The Yukon squad lost 7-0 to Ontario on Monday and 2-0 to New Brunswick on Tuesday in Sherbrooke.
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