Yukon soccer teams have been leaving cleat marks on the international scene lately, with positive results at tournaments in Alaska and Denmark.
The Yukon Selects women’s team won the Alaska State Cup tournament in Wasilla last weekend, becoming the State Champions.
In its first tournament outside the territory, the newly formed women’s team posted three wins and a tie against teams from Anchorage and Fairbanks to claim soccer supremacy.
“The women dominated every game, more than any other Yukon women’s team I’ve seen,” said coach Peter Mather on Wednesday.
“It felt good winning it,” said forward Haley Stallabrass. “I was kind of surprised. I thought it would be tougher competition.”
The team doesn’t get many opportunities to compete in its own division, but that may have worked to its advantage. They regularly compete in the Whitehorse men’s league. “It’s helped us to become a good team, it really pushes us,” said Mather.
He added that although the team played well in Alaska, they had problems putting the ball in the net.
“We had a ton of opportunities that we could’ve scored on,” said Stallabrass. “We really need to work on finishing.”
Without strong scoring, the Selects had to rely on its defensive game, and the Alaskans were no pushovers. “It was a fight to the end for every game,” said sweeper Sarah Hanson.
The team isn’t about to rest on its laurels; bigger challenges await.
In October, the Selects will head to Vancouver for the nationals. It will be the first time a senior women’s team will have been sent from the Yukon.
The players are fully aware that contest won’t be like the Alaskan competition.
“Nationals are going to be a lot tougher,” said Stallabras, who played for Yukon at the Canada Games last summer. “The skill level is just much higher overall; they’re better players.”
In the meantime, the Selects will continue to play in the men’s league, which is good conditioning for the team. “All they do is lob the ball and run,” laughed Stallabras. “It’s good for our team though, it keeps us fit.”
The Selects men’s team traveled to Wasilla as well, and despite a strong tournament, they lost in the final to Full Force of Anchorage.
They beat Full Force 4-0 earlier in the tournament, with Kyle Finner scoring three goals.
The Selects went into the final missing two players and not hungry enough, according to player Peter Mather. “Maybe the guys weren’t so pumped, after winning so easily the day before.” They lost by a 2-1 margin.
Triumph in Denmark
In junior soccer, the Yukon’s Under-18 boys team recently returned from Hillerod, Denmark.
They competed in the Copenhagen Tivoli Cup tournament from July 9 to 16, and won the consolation round Wiibroe Cup.
“I’m really proud of them; I think they did a fantastic job,” said coach Dan Macdonald. “We were commended by several European coaches.”
Yukon played a strong defensive game, allowing only three goals in the entire tournament, (in a 3-0 loss to eventual champions Hillerod GI).
“We didn’t have much luck scoring,” said Macdonald.
Posting a 1-1-1 record in the round robin portion of the tournament wasn’t enough to put them into the Tivoli Cup playoff.
They won the consolation semi-final in a shootout, and went to extra time again in the final. Willy Quarton scored to win the Wiibroe Cup.
The Yukon team was the first Canadian competitor at the Tivoli Cup, and the Europeans were happy to have the players. “The guys kind of felt like Team Canada; it was fun,” said Macdonald.
The idea to travel to a major European tournament came out of a lack of any other options for players in the 17-to-18 age group.
“After the U-16 level, a lot of times there’s just no teams,” said Macdonald. “We only have a U-18 team every four years, for the Canada Games … that’s really hard for the younger players on that team.”
About half of this year’s U-18 team played last year in Regina at the Canada Games, and Macdonald didn’t want to leave them in limbo.
“Guys who want to play competitively and try for college teams don’t really have any developmental opportunities up here,” he said.
“We wanted to find something that would have as much appeal as the Canada Games.”
The Tivoli Cup seemed a perfect fit, and the team took advantage of the Condor flight to Germany, which made it a feasible alternative to a US tournament.
“The price difference wasn’t much, and for the experience of European soccer culture, it was a no brainer, so that’s what we did.”
Macdonald compared the tournament to “Tier One, or top level soccer here … in Europe, it’s more mid-level.”
He hopes the U-18 squad will return to the tournament again next year, and maybe even expand on the idea, adding a second tournament in Sweden.