By Robert Mangelsdorf - Maple Ridge News
The Mountain Whitecaps U-16 boys soccer squad were crowned North American champions on Tuesday after beating TSF Academy of New Jersey 2-0 in the elite Super-Y League U-16 finals in Tampa Bay, Florida.
The team was founded two years ago as a youth development squad for the Vancouver Whitecaps professional soccer team, and features a pair of local soccer players hailing from the Alouette Soccer Club; Paul Piche and Giordan Payne.
“We knew we had a chance of success because the squad is a tight-knit group,” stated coach Les Krivak on the soccer club’s website. “I’m really happy for the boys, they really earned what they have achieved.”
The Super-Y League is the highest caliber of youth soccer on the continent, and the Mountain WFC team is one of three U-16 teams the fielded this year by the Whitecaps.
The team went a perfect 5-0 at the tournament, and netted four shut-outs en route to the final.
Assistant coach Rob Mazzarolo was unable to join the team in Florida due to school obligations, but said the win was historic for the fledgling club.
“This is huge for us,” he said. “It doesn’t get any bigger.”
Piche overcame a nagging hamstring injury in the final to help the ‘Caps to victory.
After playing the first half against TSF Academy, he subbed off so the team’s physiotherapist could work on his pulled leg muscle.
Piche, a senior at Thomas Haney secondary, had to miss most of the B.C. high school soccer championships earlier this month to join the Whitecaps youth team in Florida.
“His best weapon is his ability to deliver a cross from the wing, right to the striker’s head,” said Mazzarolo. “He’s a quiet kid, but he always gets the job done.”
Piche factored in the ‘Caps second goal, when he made a cross to Alex Yoon who played it off an opponent hand in the TSF Academy box, resulting in a penalty kick. Sasha Vukovic took the kick and buried it to clinch Mountain WFC the title.
“This is a huge win for Canada and for the Whitecaps,” said Piche. “It proves we can compete with the top teams in the U.S.”
Of the 16 teams competing in the U-16 boys’ division, only two teams were from Canada.
Payne, a senior at Westview Secondary, injured his knee in high school league play more than two weeks ago and was unable to play in the tournament, but still made the trip to Florida with his team.
Mazzarolo described Payne, who is left-footed, as the team’s utility player, playing every left-side position from defender to striker.
“He’s definitely one of the more versatile players on the team,” he said. “No matter what assignment we give him, he goes out there and gets it done.”
Mountain WFC qualified for the tournament by finishing atop of the U-16 Pacific Northwest division with a record of 7-2-1, edging the Abbotsford Mariners by two points.
The only other Whitecaps side to have ever won the Super-Y League title was the U-13 boys’ squad, who were crowned North American champions in 2003.