In­ter­na­tional tour­na­ment vic­tory one of most im­pres­sive in Moose Jaw soc­cer his­tory

Moose Jaw - - Sports Express - Randy Palmer - Moose Jaw Ex­press

When the Ex­cel­sior FC soc­cer club started in 2012, the goal was to do things a lit­tle dif­fer­ently when it came

more train­ing and a steady fo­cus on im­prove­ment. That strat­egy turned into one of the most im­pres­sive tour­na­ment vic­to­ries in Moose Jaw soc­cer his­tory over the July 21 week­end at the Sch­wan’s USA Cup.

di­vi­sion last year. -

Girls Sil­ver di­vi­sion.

The USA Cup is a mas­sive tour­na­ment fea­tur­ing fea­tur-

Cen­ter in Blaine, Minn.

“When we started Ex­cel­sior, one of the goals was to do some­thing a lit­tle big­ger than just provin­cials,” said Ja­son Jones of JJ Soc­cer, which runs the Ex­cel­sior pro­gram. “Get out there and play teams that are from the U.S. and other places in Canada and if you get lucky maybe a Mex­ico or Spain or some­thing.” Osten­si­bly, it’s all just about new ex­pe­ri­ences and hav­ing a chance to be part of some­thing as im­pres­sive in scope as the USA Cup. That is, of course, un­less you hap­pen win the whole thing.

“Ev­ery­thing just aligned per­fectly for the girls, they came in play­ing the way we asked them to play, right from the be­gin­ning at U12 and up, the stars aligned for them and it was very spe­cial to watch,” Jones said. Ex­cel­sior’s ap­pear­ance at the tour­na­ment was the sec-

were down there, we re­ally knew what to ex­pect in re­gards to go­ing through and what to do with re­spect to penalty shootouts and how the draw was drafted,” Jones said. “We came back with things from last sea­son and credit to the girls and (coaches) Rob (Fran­cis) and Shasta (McCul­loch), we put some things in place and were able to work on them.”

of Hast­ings, Minn. Ai­dan McLoone scored three times for the lo­cal squad, kick­ing off an in­cred­i­ble of­fen­sive ef­fort for one of the team’s three guest play­ers (see side­bar). Al­li­son Billy scored Ex­cel­sior’s other goal. Next up was host Blaine, Minn. FC and a 1-1 draw, with McLoone pick­ing up the lone marker.

As it turns out, that would be the last time they’d do any­thing but win the rest of the week. “The girls knew what needed to be done, they didn’t let them­selves get in over their heads, they took it one game and one half at a time. The big­gest thing was that

game,” Jones said. “When teams showed us some­thing dif­fer­ent, we were able to change how we played.”

Minn. Sabers showed that. Ex­cel­sior strug­gled to get on the end of through-balls short passes, keep the ball on the ground and move the

“That changed the game for us, we were able to take con­trol,” Jones said.”In year’s past that would have been

and it made a huge dif­fer­ence.”

four times and Maisie Cham­ber­lain adding their other marker.

into Two Har­bors, Minn. SC and ended up in a game for the ages.

McLoone scored twice and Didumo Omot once in reg­u­la­tion, with the game end­ing up tied 3-3 through reg­u­la­tion and over­time -- set­ting the stage for an im­pres­sive per­for­mance by Sage McCul­loch.

Af­ter split­ting time in goal with Gil­lian Fran­cis, McCul­loch got the nod in the penalty shoot-out. Two Har-

sec­ond shot for Ex­cel­sior. She scored, went back in goal and made three straight saves to give Ex­cel­sior the win. “She did a great job and re­ally came through for us when we needed it the most,” Jones said. - cago, end­ing up in an­other game that needed ex­tra time

Moose Jaw the 2-1 win.

- cer was a back-and-forth bat­tle that saw long-time Ex­cel­sior veteran Gil­lian Fran­cis score the lone goal of the con­test.

And with that, the celebration was on.

“It was just an in­cred­i­ble week and I couldn’t be prouder of the girls,” Jones said. “To play that well against that kind of com­pe­ti­tion and end up win­ning it all, it’s Ai­dan McLoone is most cer­tainly a name Moose Jaw soc­cer fans aren’t fa­mil­iar with.

And yet there she was, scor­ing 11 goals in six games for Ex­cel­sior as the lo­cal squad won their di­vi­sion at the Sch­wan’s USA Cup.

As it turns out, McLoone and two of her team­mates -- mid­fielder El­iza Lynch and de­fender Danielle An­der­son -- were ‘guest player’ pick­ups from a team based in New Prague, Minn., called on by Ex­cel­sior man­ager Ja­son Jones to help bol­ster the team in the all-im­por­tant tour­na­ment.

What makes it in­ter­est­ing is the trio weren’t part of the Na­tional Sports Cen­ter pool of play­ers com­piled for the USA Cup. No, it was a re­la­tion­ship from years ago – and a guest player ap­pear­ance back then – that saw McLoone and her team­mates take the field for a team from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

Back in 2015, Alexis Jones – Ja­son’s daugh­ter – at­tended the USA Cup in the NSC pool as a po­ten­tial guest player. As you prob­a­bly al­ready guessed, she ended up get­ting the call from New Prague.

Her ex­pe­ri­ence with the team was noth­ing but pos­i­tive, so when Jones was look­ing for guests for Ex­cel­sior in 2018, the choice was ob­vi­ous.

“I reached out to the coach of the team that picked up Alexis and asked if he had any­one who was avail­able and he was like ‘oh my gosh, yes, how many do you need’. And we said ‘three’,” Jones ex­plained. “The three he se­lected were just per­fect for us...They were so good be­cause they had such great at­ti­tudes and were such great team play­ers.”

McLoone proved to be an es­sen­tial fin­isher for the team, with her hat trick in Ex­cel­sior’s open­ing game just a sam­pling of things to come. “She was our striker and it was her job to score goals and she re­ally came through for us,” Jones said. “All three of them played so well... The chem­istry we had with them was amaz­ing, it was like they had been with us from the be­gin­ning. They fit in with the way we played, they were very coach­able and they fit right in with our sys­tem.” Jones pointed to a mo­ment that showed just how much the New Prague play­ers felt the same way about their Ex­cel­sior team­mates. When it came to the penalty shoot-out in the quar­ter-fi­nal, the trio asked if the list of shoot­ers had been set be­fore ask­ing to be placed as far down the list as they could. Why?

“They said ‘we don’t want to be at fault if your team doesn’t win this and go through’,” Jones ex­plained. “They didn’t want that pres­sure, they were there to help us, and they were very happy that we were go­ing to take that on. It meant that much to them, that let­ting us down would have been too much.

“So we have noth­ing but amaz­ing things to say about the girls who joined us be­cause they were a true class act.”

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