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Veterans key to Muskie soccer season

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Heading into this season, the Muskie boys’ soccer team is full of question marks regarding what type of system they will use and which players will play where.

But what returning head coach Keith Gilbert and his assistants, Jason Kabel and newcomer Ben Andrusco, do know is this year’s team will feature at least 11 veterans, and as many as 13.

Gilbert will pare down his roster to 18 (down from an original tryout camp of 35) later this week. And although he said his team is “looking good,” he’s still not completely certain of its makeup.

But what he does know is this veteran-laden group has the experience, particularly led by keeper Jordan Roy, who has been pencilled in the starter.

“Jordan’s a tall player, who has experience at the high school level and in the [Borderland] summer league,” said Gilbert. “He has the ability to control a defence, which is important, and he plays with a lot of spirit.”

Still, the Muskies are admittedly weak in the backup keeper position due to the loss of Chris Dennis, currently out of the lineup with a broken wrist incurred while playing hockey.

“Roy will be our starter but it would be nice if we could plant a seed for another keeper to get his feet wet,” Gilbert said yesterday.

Gilbert said it’s important for his team to have a dependable backup to give Roy a rest, or if the game gets out of control because the other team’s forwards start to get too aggressive on the ball.

Defensively, the team once again will be led by sweeper Colin Wielinga, Dave Bond, and Andy Hallikas. Up front, the Muskies will be looking for some offensive output from Trevor Hyatt and Jon Lloyd, as well as what could possibly become a key addition of Brazilian-born Daniel Ribeiro, here as part of a high school exchange program.

“[Daniel] definitely has the skills, it just remains to be seen if he’s a team player,” said Gilbert, adding Ribeiro has been bothered by a deep thigh bruise the past week.

“The other teams can quickly have four or five guys on him when he has the ball.”

Other key players this season include Josiah Morris, Adam McTavish, and Ray Koprowski.

“With half of our players returning, we can work more on set plays, conditioning, and technique,” Gilbert enthused.

But while Gilbert admits he has several talented players on his team this year, he’s still not sure what type of system they will use to start the season.

The team switched from a defensive 4-3-3 system to a more offensive one last year.

While Gilbert said he would like to continue with that offensive philosophy, he warned they may have to adjust their system depending on the teams they are playing against.

But having a veteran keeper allows his team the luxury of being more offensive on their attack. “We can start out offensively because Jordan’s not afraid of going after errant balls,” he reasoned.

Meanwhile, as the Muskies prepare for their first set of exhibition games at the St. John’s Ravenscourt tournament in Winnipeg in two weeks, Gilbert said the team is “well ahead” of last year’s practice schedule, which didn’t see the team picked until a day before their first exhibition game.

That, and the fact the team has a strong contingent of younger players coming up through the local youth soccer league, has Gilbert brimming with confidence has the Muskies look to avenge a semi-final loss to Kenora in the NorWOSSA playoffs last year.

“You certainly notice the difference from three years ago when we had 19 guys come out and we told them they made the team,” he noted. “Now we have 45 [players] come out and they have much more talent.”

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