The second Playoff Cup in as many years for the Impact Alumni was the sweetest.
Saturday’s 1-0 outcome against Force United completed an 11-1-2 championship season after going 12-1-7 as the 2018 playoff winners in the St. Albert Men’s Soccer League.
"It was a better season than last year. We were a lot more decisive. We scored when we needed to. We had less ties. Last year we had a lot of last-minute ties, but this season we were a little more definite,” said Vince Bustamante, the lone scorer in the final at Riel Park. “We also have good depth on our bench. Any guy that comes on off the bench can slide in anywhere. It’s awesome.”
Bustamante’s strike in the 39th minute stood the test of time.
“It was a ball played in to Adam King and he just touched it to me and I was about 25 yards out and I just hit it across the goalie (Kurt Steendam) and it went bottom left,” said Bustamante of his team-leading 12th goal.
In the first half, the Force provided solid defensive support in front of Steendam as the Impact held the upper hand with ball possession and field advantage, but were held in check expect for the one goal.
Leading up to the scoring play were a couple of quality chances by Marcello Cimino; a low boot that missed the net off a feed by Scott Lysenko in the 21st minute and a header over the cross bar in the 26th minute.
Sasa Borojevic also launched a header that missed the mark in the 42nd minute.
At the other end of the pitch, the Force kept Impact goalkeeper Jason Krebes on his toes with sporadic opportunities.
“Both teams were a little bit apprehensive to play their game. We were kind of feeling each other out,” Bustamante said. “It became a real direct game. It wasn't the game we're normally used to playing. We like to knock the ball around a little bit, but they put a lot of pressure on us and we kind of had to change our game plan.”
There was more flow in the second half as the Impact dialled up the pressure for the insurance marker and the Force attacked with more pace as the match wound down.
“The first half we were pretty slow. The second half we came with a little more bite, but we just couldn’t get anything into the back of the net,” said Daniel Ward, the most dangerous player on the Force.
In the opening 10 minutes after the break, Lysenko and Cimino threatened offensively with Steendam standing his ground.
In the 82nd minute, Lake Bossert of the Force made a big defensive play in front of an open cage with Steendam caught out of position during a frantic challenge for the ball before Brent Anderson booted it into the trees behind the net.
With time about to expire, the Force tried in vain to pot the equalizer as Steendam joined the play in the Impact end. However, the Force were denied another opportunity to tie it up on a non-call on the last-ditch scoring attempt.
“The ref made a bad call. It went off a guy's hand. It was a hand ball,” Ward said.
Overall, from a Force perspective, Ward summed up the match. “We were second to the ball every time. That's pretty much it,” while adding, “We played all right.”
The Force gave the SAMSL teams fits in the first season for the young and talented lineup that finished 10-5 overall, including playoff wins of 8-2 against Lads FC and 5-1 against Prestige Worldwide after posting an 8-4 record in the regular season with a league-high 52 goals.
“Most of us played U16 to U18 together as a group and we have a couple of new guys, too,” Ward said. “It’s always good to be in the final and even though we didn't get the result we wanted that’s OK. There is always next year.”
Ward, 19, finished league play as the Golden Boot scoring champion with 13 goals, one more than Brandon Smith of Prestige and two more than Terry Esposito of the Forest Rark Rangers and Bustamante.
“It’s pretty good, especially being young. I just wished I could’ve finished with a goal (in the final),” said the volleyball player with the NAIT Ooks and multi-sport star in his Grade 12 high school season with the Bellerose Bulldogs.
Bustamante, 33, was impressed by the Force.
“I have to give credit to this new team that came up this year. They’re a good team and really solid. It was a hard fought game,” said the second-year Impact forward.
The teams combined for some yellow cards and the usual finger-pointing clearing-of-the-air grievances that soccer is famous for, but the final was incredibly tame compared to last year’s brouhaha in the snow and cold between the Impact and DV Youngmen that was marred by brutal playing conditions on the unrecognizable Riel Park first pitch, two red cards in the second half and an on-field tussle between representatives from both teams during penalty kicks.
“This was a different game. It was nice to actually play the ball around this time,” said Bustamante, who scored once in regulation time and notched the 4-2 winner on penalty kicks after a 2-2 stalemate at the end of regulation time.
The Impact, SAMSL pennant winners in 2018 (8-1-6, 51 GF/21 GA) and this year (9-1-2, 44 GF/8 GA), qualified for their third consecutive final in the team’s three-year history with the 2-1 semifinal decision against the Rangers, the same team that beat them for the 2017 Playoff Cup. Lysenko and Cimino scored before Andy Wellwood replied for the Rangers.
At the SAMSL banquet Saturday, the Impact were the recipients of two awards. Clement (Frenchy) Lagrue was recognized as the playoff MVP and Dave MacEachran was selected manager of the year.
The Impact will also represent SAMSL at the Tier III provincials next weekend in Calgary. Last year the Impact finished 1-2 (4 GF/6 GA) at provincials in Edmonton.