Excelsior academy players having success

Strong play in Richmond tournament helps prove to soccer association that its elite players stack up against others

Two busses loaded with Pinnacles FC Excelsior academy players travelled to Richmond with one goal in mind:

They wanted to discover how they stacked up against teams from the Lower Mainland.

An under-18 boy’s squad, coached by Ezra Cremers, won, while the under-18 girl’s squad took bronze. The under-15 girl’s team took silver, while the under-15 boys teams placed fourth among six teams. The under-11 boys team won half their games.

“Overall, we are competitive against the coast,” said Cremers, head coach and executive director of the South Okanagan Youth Soccer Association. “We’re gaining quickly, that’s what’s enjoyable.”

Coaches in the academy have trained the players to focus on keeping the ball on the ground and developing a strong passing game.

“We don’t just kick the ball,” said Cremers, adding it’s a hard way of playing. “It’s a more technical way, which develops our players and is more enjoyable to watch. At a younger age they struggle. When they are U-18, it’s a more dominant way of playing.”

When required, Cremers doesn’t have a problem with his players being physical, or playing as he calls it, “hockey soccer” as long as they don’t forget to score goals.

“We grew through the tournament,” he said, adding that the Excelsior squad won 4-0 in the final after building a 3-0 lead 20 minutes into the match. “We don’t run as much, we let the ball do the work. On defence we do low pressure. If we lose the ball in their end, we go hard for three seconds to try to win it back. If we don’t get it, we all drop back and wait for our opponent. We will wait on our half of the field in front of our net, and you come over here. The other team didn’t know what to do.”

Cremers said it was awesome to watch.

The Excelsior program, which Pinnacles FC is modelling on Excelsior Rotterdam from Holland, a professional club they visited, is designed to be a step up from district play for SOYSA.

Manuel Borba, a coach with SOYSA, said Cremers chooses players for the program by assessing them during the summer. Over 100 kids were invited. Because of the size of Penticton, some ages are mixed.

“The idea behind the program is to train players at the level they are at right now,” said Borba. “Before they had two levels — house and district. We have told the district players this is not a demotion. We will move kids up to Excelsior as they improve.”

The idea is to train kids with other players of equal calibre. A year from now Borba sees 150 kids being part of Excelsior.