Celtic's under-18 centre back, Taylor Bohmann, volleys the ball away from harm in an exhibition game prior Tuesday evening prior to Sunday's one-game showdown. Herald photo by Gary Pearson
--PRINCE ALBERT-- Pressure mounts for the Prince Albert Celtic under-18 boys soccer team, whose one-game showdown in Regina Sunday is for all the marbles, which will determine whether they can pack their bags for nationals.
The Celtics go into the match Sunday as marginal underdogs, losing the last encounter with the Regina Unidads by a lopsided 5-0 score.
"We're playing a good squad because they beat us 5-0," said head coach Clark Hillaby. "We have a little bit of an edge to grind.
Playing the Unidads in two home-and-home sets this season, the Celtics have split the season series with both teams winning twice.
Hillaby said the Unidads' wins - 5-0 and 3-0 - were in meaningless affairs.
"We were missing five starters because of graduation," he said.
Goals came in bunches for the Celtics in their two wins, scoring nine while only conceding four. The venue for the rubber match suits Hillaby and his squad, who have a point to prove.
"We can beat that team, we are much bigger than they are," he said. "We have to shut down the wing-midfielders and their wing-forwards."
The league's leading scorer, Kyle McKay, plays for the Celtics and possesses agility, quickness and strength, but is unsure in what position he will start the final.
McKay has been used by the manager at the heart of defence and as a striker, both having the desired effect.
"I have played defence for most of my life, up until this year," said the Prince Albert-born 17-year-old. "I'd like to try striker, it's something new - and exciting."
During indoor, he started playing striker with more consistency and found the scoring touch.
"I feel like I am composed in front of goal," he said, which for a natural defender is something of an anomaly.
McKay has played in six matches, amassing eight goals, a return seldom seen in the sport. To beat the Unidads, McKay believes there is no room for complacency.
"We have to go after them, we took advantage of their smaller goalie (last game)," the marksman said.
The injury bug hasn't affected the squad, with only "bumps and bruises" to worry about going into the weekend. Hillaby has his entire 20-player squad at his disposal, of which only 18 are permitted to dress. A nice conundrum for the coach to have to face come Sunday.
Midfield veteran Tanner Russell is playing his last year of minor soccer and yearns to go out with a bang.
"Recently it has been tough, but if we play our own game we should win," said the native of Prince Albert.
The speedy 18-year-old relies on his quickness to skip by opposing defenders, and relishes an opportunity to run on to a through ball. Russell said most players on his team get together away from the pitch, epitomizing the team's reverence for each other.
The Celtics employ a standard four-four-two system, ensuring a balanced attack from all angles.
The defence also finds solace and support from their patrolling midfield. However, Hillaby said the team does not intend to approach the game in a conservative, cagey fashion.
"We're going down there to spank them," he said.
Going into Sunday's colossal match, the Celtics have accumulated three wins, two losses and three draws over the fleeting season.
Interest is seemingly dwindling for youth soccer across the province, with only three teams participating - two from Regina, and one from Prince Albert - this season.
Hillaby's disappointment was palpable.
"The SSA (Saskatchewan Soccer Association) doesn't do anything," said Hillaby. "Who is making a commitment?"
For a sport so popular elsewhere in Canada and the world, it is high time Saskatchewan follows suit.
The winner of Sunday's mammoth encounter will represent Saskatchewan at club nationals, which is held over Thanksgiving in Fredericton, N.B.
You can follow Gary Pearson on twitter: @newagejourno