While one Yukon soccer team was playing in North America’s largest youth soccer tournament in the U.S., another was playing in the world’s largest in Europe last week.
The U16 Yukon Strikers faced tough European competition at the 41st annual Gothia Cup in Gothenburg, Sweden.
The Strikers team was one of just seven from Canada at the tournament that each year sees over 1,500 teams from about 80 countries play 4,500 matches on 110 fields.
They were one of 187 teams from 32 countries in the U16 boys division.
With the team getting set to swap their Strikers jerseys for Team Yukon ones with the approach of the Western Canada Summer Games, the Gothia Cup was fantastic preparation, said head coach Edgar Musonda.
“The goal for us wasn’t to win games, it was to take them in preparation for the Western Canada Summer Games,” said Musonda. “Playing tough European teams who are used to playing in stronger, tougher leagues … was a good way for us to compete against teams who will give us a competitive advantage when we play Canadian teams when it comes to the Western Canada Games.”
The Strikers went winless in five tournament matches at the Cup, eventually losing in the 1/64 final. Though they didn’t pick up a win, they showed improvement with every match, said Musonda.
“They actually went beyond my expectations,” said Musonda. “Playing with European teams, they are much bigger, faster, stronger, and their skill level is higher.
“The areas of improvement for us were passing, holding onto the ball, reading the game and getting physically involved … which we lack here because of a lack of competition. There’s no league here in the Yukon, so that helped us a lot in raising our physicality of the game.”
The Strikers opened with a 6-0 loss to Sweden’s Karlslunds IF before a 4-0 loss to Sweden’s Unik FK and a 7-1 loss to Germany’s Heikendorfer SV with a goal from Yukon’s Dawson Weir on a free kick from just outside the 18-yard box.
The Strikers then fell 4-2 to Norway’s Alta IF in their closest match of the tournament. Yukon’s Skyler Bryant scored both goals for his team.
“The players were able to move the ball smartly, progressively attacking and they were able to have more shots on goal compared to the other team,” said Musonda. “Defensively, we were very solid … stopping attacks from the other team.”
The Yukon squad wrapped up the tournament with a 12-0 loss to Germany’s Blankeses SV in the 1/64 final. The Strikers began their stay with a loss to a Lebanese team in a friendly exhibition match.
“Skylar played very well – he got two goals for us,” said Musonda. “He’s a really good player and I think that gave him an advantage.
“The player who improved so much through the tournament was Nick (Koe) … Nick just started playing soccer a year ago, so for him to contribute to the team, to be able to play defensively was really good to see.”
The U12 Yukon Strikers Selects competed in back-to-back tournaments at the USA Cup International Youth Soccer Tournament last week in Blaine, Minnesota, reaching the semifinal of the U12 boys Gold Flight.
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