Another successful regular season is officially in the books and the Muskie boys' soccer team is one step closer to their ultimate goal.
The conditions were poor and they definitely didn't play their best brand of soccer, but the black-and-gold still managed to earn a win and a draw in their final league games last Wednesday in Kenora against the host Broncos and Dryden Eagles.
The Muskies solidified their first place standing with a 2-0 win over the Broncos and a 2-2 draw with the Eagles to finish with a 5-0-1 record and a bye to today's NorWOSSA final in Dryden.
Muskie coach Chris Sinclair said his squad's focus is on securing a ninth-straight league crown and another trip to the all-Ontarios, which are slated for June 6-8 in North Bay.
“We are in a great spot going into next week, both the boys and girls team are at that,” he told the Times last Thursday.
“Having the advantage to only play the one game is such an important factor in the NorWOSSA league as fatigue always sets in throughout the day,” he reasoned.
"Having both our teams finish first is also huge. Since we travel together, we can leave at a decent time in the morning and neither team is sitting around all day waiting for their game.
“But our mindset going into next week is one thing—one more win to reach our second goal of the year,” he stressed.
Sinclair said that the Muskies need to play their game and “not worry about who we play or what they are doing.”
“The guys know that our game against Dryden wasn't our greatest, and they know what we have to change going into next week,” he noted.
“There is no doubt in my mind that during our next couple practises, they will be working hard, improving in our weak areas, and will be ready for next Wednesday,” he predicted.
“Looking back at our season, I thought we have gotten better and better during the season. On Wednesday, we took a little step backwards, but with the personnel and leadership on this team—I have total faith that we will get back to playing our game and come out as strong as we have all year on Wednesday in Dryden,” Sinclair enthused.
It was a sloppy day in Kenora last Wednesday, but the Muskies were able to outduel the host Broncos (2-4) and secure a 2-0 win in the morning.
Nick Hahkala and Ethan Carlson-Jourdain both found the back of the net to pace the Muskies' offence while Jacob Albright—who was just coming off an injury—and Brady Meeks shared keeper duties.
Fort High then ended regular-season play by battling to a 2-2 draw with the Eagles (2-3-1).
Austin Armstrong and Brett Allan bulged the twine in that one while Albright manned the pipes for the Muskies.
“I didn't think we had our best day of soccer this past Wednesday in Kenora,” Sinclair conceded.
"We started the day in the cold and rain where we managed to win 2-0, with Nick Hahkala and Ethan Jourdain scoring the goals.
“I thought we played pretty good considering the conditions," he lauded. ”We kept the ball on the ground (out of the wind), and were passing the ball nicely, even considering the rain and the wet ground.
“Our second game against Dryden where we tied 2-2 was not our best effort,” he lamented.
Despite being up 2-0 at one point, Sinclair felt the Muskies got away from their game and allowed the Eagles to come back to tie it within the last couple minutes.
“We just didn't have it that game. We weren't being aggressive on the ball by allowing them time and space to make plays,” he recalled.
"We weren't battling for position or for free balls, we just kind of sat back and it cost us the win.
“Having said that, I do think the weather and the day had a big factor in our play, especially during the second game,” he reasoned.
“It's hard to stay motivated on a day like that, where the game ultimately didn't mean anything. Having said that, we do need to battle through adversity and rebounding next week is going to be my challenge to the team,” he added.
Second-place Dryden and third-place Kenora are slated to battle each other in today's semi-final to earn the right to advance to face the Muskies in the league final.
Sinclair believes that Dryden would pose the bigger threat to the Muskies' title hopes, but noted that Eagles and Broncos have improved considerably over the course of the season.
“The biggest thing for us, is going to be playing solid defensively. We get ourselves in trouble by giving them time with the ball,” he noted.
"We need to take away time and space, especially with a few players on Dryden who are pretty skilled soccer players.
“But they both play a similar kick-and-chase type of game and the best way to shut them down is control the ball,” he stressed.
“Play the possession game and making smart plays with the ball and taking advantage of our opportunities.”
Sinclair also has been impressed with how tight-knit the Muskies have been this season and believes it has been one of the biggest factors in their success so far this year.
“They are a very tight group and have high expectations of themselves, they want to win every game,” he lauded.
"In reality, we aren't going to win every game, as much as we'd like to—it is just unrealistic.
“But they hold each other accountable and are able to give, and accept, feedback from each other in such a unique way,” he noted.
“At times they can get frustrated, but they are never getting down on each other," he stressed. "It's always positive and building each other [up] and helping one another improve.”