To say the Red Deer College soccer Kings are young may be an understatement.
Head coach Wade Groenewegen felt the team was young last season, but nothing compared to this year.“This year the bulk of our team will be 17 to 19 year-olds, so we’re really young, but that may not be bad,” he said. “A huge chunk of the roster will be here moving forward. And I also feel good about putting the new guys in right now.”
Groenewegen has only two third-year players in defender Nonso Onwuekwe and midfielder Yenner Teah. He does have nine second-year players to go with 13, or possibly 14, rookies.
Meanwhile, the RDC Queens have a 16-player roster with eight returnees, including third-year defenders Krysten Strand and Chelsea Webster.
The Kings have played a pair of exhibition games against the University of Alberta, Augustana, winning 2-1 and 4-1.
“We’re still building a foundation and because we’re so young we’re still hammering that in to them,” said Groenewegen. “But still we have a backbone to the team, which we didn’t have last season.”
Several rookies last season saw regular duty, led by midfielder Theo Gill and defender Tanner Steenbergen.
Defender Nathan Bergeson, midfielders Timmo van Klaveren, Toni Suhalj and Jeremy Gopal, keeper Talon Grenier and forward Bryce Vleeming are in their second year.
Three of the new players could be from Brazil. Keeper Joao Bizerra and defender Eduardo da Costa are already in camp with the possibility of Roberto da Silva joining them.
“Roberto has to get his visa, so we’re hoping it will be shortly,” said Groenewegen. “He plays centre back, like Eduardo, and is highly skilled and seasoned. Eduardo isn’t flashy, but is strong, keeps it simple and is a physical force.”
Jacob Hamilton of Lacombe is the third keeper in camp.
Several of the newcomers have already caught the eye of the coach, including defender and Notre Dame grad Kolton Childs.
Other first-year players are forward Lee Wagar and Shaun Funk, midfielders Hugo Janssen, William Aciniegas and Kyle Bett and defenders Keeghan Tingley and Mohammed Abdi.
Groenewegen doesn’t expect any one player to lead the offence.
“We have excellent team speed, but no one guy that much faster,” he said. “We expect to score by committee.”
Both RDC teams were fourth in the South Division last season and missed the playoffs. The Kings were 3-6-1 and the Queens 4-4-2.
Queens first-year head coach Esad Elkaz should have a solid defence led by Strand and Webster. Jaden Humphrey is in her second year. Brownyn Pfeifle was also around last season, but an knee injury kept her on the sidelines. Corrin Graham, Malinka Voytechek and Nicole Phillips return in the midfield and Kayle Kaip in goal.
As for the newcomers, Erin Gill will work in goal with Tash Saalan on defence. Other rookies are midfielders Alexandra Murphy of Red Deer, Reesa Garez of Stettler, Kayla Yeo of Calgary and Teryn Wright of Edmonton and forwards Adama Soumah of Hamilton and Helyay Nassichuk-Dean of Crossfield.
The Queens have also played a pair of exhibition games, defeating Augustana 2-1 and tying Grande Prairie 2-2.
“We’re almost building from scratch, but we have some experience and the new players are fitting in. You can see the chemistry already. We started working out in early August and they’ve become so tight.”
Elkaz has been involved with minor soccer in the city for several years as a technical director, so knows many of his players. He knows they should be strong on the back end and in goal.
“I believe in having a strong defence and building from there, but I’m not going to have a team that sits back either. I believe we have the talent to create offensively.”
The RDC teams open their season on the road — Sept. 9 in Lethbridge and 10 in Medicine Hat. They host Olds Sept. 16 and SAIT Sept. 17.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org