12 for ’12: From Toronto’s Goan Soccer League to Europe’s Elite


The views expressed don’t representative the Goan Soccer League, but of the author, and were written for entertainment purposes. I encourage you to post a comment below, or get in touch with me. Thanks.


Four years ago, I wrote Goan Soccer 2008 All Star List (Unofficial),” an article inspired by my desire to promote the league. Time has passed, and Indian soccer has developed exponentially. Four Goan-based clubs have won 6 of the past 7 I League Championships including Dempo SC, whom has partnered with Danish club FC Midtjylland. Manchester United, Arsenal FC and the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) have begun developing academies for youth in Goa, with the Red Devils offering a place in its Soccer School to starlet Brandon Fernandes, now at South Africa’s Cape United Academy. Tony Fernandes, a Malaysian of mixed-Goan descent, and CEO of AirAsia is the owner of English Premier League’s Queen Park Rangers. Things are just as accomplished on the women’s side where Goan Maria Rebello became the first women to join the Asian Football Confederation’s elite referee panel, on her way to joining FIFA.

 

Dempo SC's success has led to the development of Goan soccer, including Salgocar SC who played Werder Bremen's youth academy in the Under-15 Manchester United Premier Cup. In India, Goa continues to compete for the national state tournament award, the Santosh Trophy.


Similarly, gradual changes have made its way in its Toronto diaspora: an influx of new young talent, the creation of the G.O.A youth development program and Sombrero Club Mississauga, as well as the rise of former bottom league seeds and the collapse of historic dynamo Parra United SC. But have the dynamics changed?…

Goan soccer has led to international success: Thomas Pereira played for the Norway national team; the G.O.A Maroons (Kuwait) are one the world`s more dominant Goan amateur teams (how would they fare in the GSL?); and Tony Fernandes, of mixed-Goan descent recently purchased QPR.



12 for ’12: From Toronto’s Goan Soccer League to Europe’s Elite” tackles twelve different topics, with the final three sections speaking of more philosophical issues (Women’s Soccer; Ambition, which inquires about ‘competition,’ whether between teams or an individual’s mentality). The article’s thought process began a year ago, and analogies were constructed based off of months of reflections and consulting with experts, particularly Michael Cox of ESPN.


1. The Rise of Navelim SC

In my seven years playing in the league, I’ve noticed a surprising paradox: the universal belief that any team can win on Sunday, contrasted with the “week off” mentality citing “it’s only Navelim…” in response to the upcoming game.

Navelim SC seems to have taken this to heart, and have built the foundation to compete, and later to win. Its first stomping ground was the G.O.A’s Teen Soccer Tournament in Sept 2010, where they stunned the youthful, star-laden Saints FC, to win the title. Its momentum has continued with closer games, including a 4-4 draw against Loutolim several years ago, a narrow 2-1 defeat in the final few minutes against than-#1-ranked Margao SC, and picking up the 2011 Dominic R. DeSouza Memorial Trophy (Junior MVP), awarded to Chad Fernandes.

Navelim stunned Saints FC


In many ways, Navelim’s success has been the brainchild of founder and current player Ashwin deXavier. “My vision hasn’t been just soccer, but also community,” says deXavier in an interview, “I’ve noticed that there was no family interaction on our team besides just soccer, with the wives of players not knowing each other.”

Eager to break down these walls, deXavier focused on building a soccer program. Navelim SC has two teams; an over-35 team with nineteen to twenty-three players in the Thornhill Soccer League, as well as the junior team that resides in the Goan Soccer League, while also playing Indoor during the winter. Both teams train together at Mount Joy Community Centre in Markham, and strong bonds exists as there are six father-son combinations among the two teams. “We focus on team spirit,” says deXavier.

But with its dramatic rise, comes a price. “It costs between $18,000 to 21,000 to operate the soccer club per year,” states deXavier. To combat operating costs, Navelim hosts three events during the year, including one fundraiser, along with player fees. It intends to leverage its strong management team and resources to create a future six-team Over-40 indoor soccer league.

Despite the obstacles, Navelim SC has a bright future. It’s core is armed with dynamic weapons like Kyle Coelho, Josh Henriques, Delwin Pereira and the Marshall brothers (see below), where the team is placed above the individual. “There is no loyalty,” utters deXavier, “we’re trying to change that.”


2. 2011 Championship Game Recap & Analysis

As predicted, a David versus Goliath type-matchup was expected with Loutolim Goatees winning two of the past three GSL Championships; and Navelim SC, who was appearing in their first-ever finals.

Despite the movie-like storyline, neither team impressed early on with Loutolim looking sluggish and unwilling to control the game, and Navelim showing nerves. Loutolim, as pictured, retained what looked like a 4-2-3-1 with a “Parra” backline, consisting of three former players including Daryn Fernandes, patrolling as a sweeper. On the flip side, Navelim looked what came out as a 4-3-3 with a similar stopper/sweeper formation and their two star players, #18 Christopher Marshall and #9 Kyle Coelho, in the middle.

Around the 15th minute, the Goatees picked up the pace with Ron Monteiro using his signature mobility to deliver short, crisp passes to surrounding players. Navelim, looked as if they were marking zone, were made to ball-watch with neither Marshall or Coelho actively pursuing the ball back. “We used Bradley Fernandes and Pierre D’Souza to man-mark them,” said Atiq Ahmed, coach of the Goatees, after-the-game. The strategy paid off as neither of Navelim’s stars greatly influenced the game in the first half.

Loutolim continued to exploit Navelim’s apprehension through splitting the ball in between the stopper and right back (seen below). After a careless error by the Navelim, Loutolim’s Neil D’Silva took advantage with a quick goal to end the half 1-0.

Navelim take control

After the ball being played in their half, Navelim picks up the game around the 60th minute. After a nice cross, Navelim’s 52-year old Ashwynn de Xavier scores on a header. The goal lifts a burden off Navelim’s shoulders and instantly they start to relax with Chris Marshall influencing the game more through distribution and long-distance shots, culminating with a good effort just three minutes later.

Loutolim and Navelim exchanged chances till the end of overtime, with the latter transitioning more efficiently through their wings. At the 78th minute, Loutolim’s Nick Green missed a sure-fire goal in-front of the net. After much tension, Loutolim wins the 2011 Gaudencio Fernandes Memorial Championship Trophy with Navelim’s #17 missing his teams’ 5th penalty kick to give the Goatees a 5-4 victory in PKs.

With the lively crowd shouting “Chris” numerous times, Navelim expected to win one award – the Fernando Barreto Memorial MVP Trophy. Marshall carried Navelim throughout the year, scoring four goals in the playoffs, including a hat trick against Colva. The lively crowd was stunned after Ron Monteiro picked up his third MVP trophy. But after the dust settles, the question remains, how has Loutolim created the newest soccer dynasty?


3. Why Loutolim Wins

In the Goan Soccer League, Loutolim has risen from 6th place in 2003 to league champions just five years later, and winning three of the past four championships, excluding their 2008 Winter Classic indoor title. Their dramatic rise can be attributed to their talent, including the ‘Batman & Robin’ combination of Ron Monteiro and Neil D’Silva, but primarily due to the man behind the curtains, Ron’s brother-in-law and Loutolim coach Atiq Ahmed.

Friendly and charming, Ahmed’s analytical mind has helped steer the Goatees to become the GSL’s new dynasty, reminiscing of Parra United. “We focus on tactical set-up and adaptation,” says Ahmed after the game. Margao SC was unfortunately treated to a dose of Ahmed’s adaptability in the 2009 championship game, when attacking midfielder Neil D’Silva was moved from his attacking midfielder position out wide to the left-wing to avoid defensive stalwarts Elton Fernandes and Gavin D’Mello in the middle. Neil was a threat all day and helped lead the Goatees to a victory.

Ahmed’s success begins with creating a coaching philosophy, as one of the GSL’s most successful coaches Bogmalo SC’s Cyprian D’Cruz has. Ahmed requires an emphasis on the collective with structured roles and a frequent rotation. “Half the players are shoe-ins, the other half are based on competition.” Players rarely undertake dribbling and one-on-ones, instead focusing on quick passing and creating width for Ron to operate. Extensive scouting has also become part of the Goatees’ mantra, with Neil’s father often noticing players while serving as a referee.

So with success expected, how does a team beat the Goatees? Simple but crudely; cut the head off, and the body will fall.

Ahmed’s gameplan is centralized through 35-year old Monteiro, the pulse of the team.  An artistic and intelligent playmaker who has become more refined with age, he uses his low center of gravity, tremendous ball control and boundless energy to dictate the tempo of the game. Like Xavi, he can spray a variety of passes typically to the wings, and can break down defenses via hair-splitting through-balls. Calm with the ball at his feet, he uses he is very difficult to dispossess.

When Loutolim is without Monteiro, the Goatees don’t show the same zest. Having played against him for many years, and conferred two professional coaches in England, including a youth coach for the English Premier League’s Fulham FC, limiting his impact can be accomplished in three different ways.


First, man-mark him with an athletic and disciplined defensive player. In all likelihood, Monteiro will get to the ball first, but his breadth of passes will be limited to sideways or back to defenders. Ensure the player does not over-commit otherwise Ron will use his cleverness to push the ball past the defender.

Secondly, put two defenders on him; one above him preventing him from receiving the ball, the other restraining him from turning and distributing it in the final-third. Thirdly and most creatively, cut off the supply by pressing the fullbacks. Typically, former Parra defenders Conrad Fernandes and Gavin Francis, whom are comfortable and intelligent on the ball when given time, but can be beaten with speed. Best accomplished through a 4-3-3 formation.

With Monteiro marked out of the game, Loutolim will be forced to utilize their coaches’ agile mind. If not, perhaps it’s time for the emergence of a new MVP?


4. New Player of the Year: Chris Marshall (Navelim SC)

Two years ago, Racing Santander were odds-on favorites as bottom-dwellers in Spain’s La Liga, and were preparing for yet another dreadful campaign. That is until a young, flappy-haired boy named Sergio Canales propelled the team to a 12th placed finish, placing him in the spotlight and leading to a transfer to Real Madrid.

“Who is that kid?” says an Aguada player to me. Chris Marshall’s Canales-like story stemmed from his families’ recent immigration experience in the past year. Having reportedly lived in Goa, Bombay and Bangalore, their mother’s connections helped enable Chris and his brother Sherwin to play for Navelim, and carry them to the 2011 GSL Finals.

While Marshall and Canales are overly-reliant on their left foots, they both have good game intelligence from the centre of the field, have subtle off-the-ball movement in confined spaces and share similar ages, with 21-year old Marshall just a year above Canales. Their acute awareness is their shared calm persona, despite dropping deep in the middle to collect the ball. “He plays as if he was in the hallway of his house,” remarks Marca’s Roberto Palomar on Canales, “his heart rate never went over 40 beats per minute.”

For all his composure, Marshall is vocal about his desire to have the ball at his feet. Just as Canales, attacking midfielder Marshall is capable of flashes of brilliance, but must take the step-up if he is to attain the MVP award. For starters, he is the New Player of the Year.



5. Breakout Players of the Year

(Colva FC’s Andrew Fernandes & Aldona SC’s Jason D’Souza)

When I spoke to Andrew Fernandes two years ago, I told him that his style reminded me of a certain FC Barcelona star. Ironically, another player who I now believe draws closer comparison, felt in a similar manner. “I have the same style as David Villa,” stated Paris Saint-Germain’s forward Kevin Gameiro, “Small and mobile, to the search of the verticality in the country, without being an egotist…” confessing to the French press.

Fast, nimble with the ability to make well-timed runs, second-year player Andrew burst onto the Goan Soccer League season bagging the Damiao F. Lobo Memorial Trophy as the highest goal scorer with 11 in 2011. Like Gameiro, he is unlikely to outmuscle defenders and can miss chances when under-pressure, but is best utilized on a smaller club where he can excel. A classic form player; with added pressure and attention this year, the 24-year old has tremendous room to grow, but has earned the right to considered a rising star.


When he first appeared in a tryout for Aldona nearly three years ago as a stopper in an exhibition game, it was apparent that the then-19 year old, despite being a basketball player, was destined for success. Combining physical tools and raw athleticism, the 6’2, 180 pound defender was moved to right back to acclimate himself to a new sport, but subsequent performances were inconsistent.

In a 2011, with an improved focus and time in the weight room, came greater confidence and ultimately, a switch in position. Jason was impenetrable this past year as a centre back, demonstrating enhanced poise on the ball, along with flawless aerial ability and solid short-range distribution. Similar to Manchester United’s Chris Smalling, both are 22 and have had a rapid rise to success when switching from RB to CB, but will need to work on positioning if he is to maintain his spot as a contender for the best defender in the Goan Soccer League.


6. What makes an MVP?

Cristiano Ronaldo, Juan Román Riquelme and Roy Keane. What makes them talented? Better yet, what makes them worthy of being the Most Valuable Player? Is the MVP the player who is the most talented on the team (Ronaldo)? Is it the player most crucial to operating (Riquelme)? Or is it the leader who inspired them to success (Keane)?

There continues to be a lack of debate in the GSL on who are the top players. When there is, it typically focuses a combination of just two aspects – technical and physical skills, disregarding close to 97% of soccer being played off-the-ball.

A 2009 study examining the national youth coaches in Denmark stated that most are looking for a “practical sense” and a “feel for the game.” But what constitutes this is even hazier – sometimes skill, othertimes attitude and resilience. Germany’s DFB approach recently released a report “Talent Identification in Germany,” which cites six factors for seeking top players, including personality, cognitive abilities, motor skills and tactical attributes; most of these being overlooked in the GSL.  Gilles Grimandi, Arsenal FC’s scout in France, stresses tactical ability: “You have some players who are very, very good technically but don’t understand the game. There’s no point having those technical skills if you don’t have the intelligence.”

With the GSL’s Ron Monteiro and Chris Marshall previously profiled, here are five more players to watch out for MVP in 2012.


“The Prodigy”: Cruyff dos Remedios (Agauda Waves) – Paulo Henrique Ganso (Santos FC)

As his name implies, 24-year old Cruyff dos Remedios comes from a passionate, talented and well-known soccer family. His father, Walter Romeo is a former professional soccer player in Goa, and where he was used to scoring goals, his son is used to setting them up.

Having impressive left-footed technique, impeccable vision and a flair for the spectacular, Cruyff’s languid style mirrors that of Santos FC’s Paulo Henrique Ganso. Drawing from an endless bag of tricks, Cruyff is just capable as distributing as he is putting it in the back of the net. While never being the mobile player, a recent string of injuries, along with being unsuitably positioned as a forward has hindered the #10’s ability. Needless to say, with forward Andrew Saviel expected to return, lookout for Cruyff in 2012.



“Jack of all trades, Master of None”: Neil D’Silva (Loutolim Goatees) – Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich)

When I played against a then 14-year old Neil D’Silva in an outside summer soccer league many moons ago, he seamlessly moved for his team from starting right back to an attacking midfielder, ominous for a future dilemma: what position does he play?  It was only suitable that the search for a similar player was equally challenging.

Combining Malaga’s Santi Carzola’s ambidextrous technique, game speed and physique, D.C United’s Dwayne De Rosario versatility, and Liverpool FC’s Luis Suarez craftiness, 24-year old Neil’s dynamism closely resembles Bayern Munich star Thomas Müller – a hybrid between winger/attacking midfielder and second striker. Quick, a slick passer and a lethal finisher, Neil has an attacking presence like the 2010 World Cup Golden Boot Winner. As demonstrated by the heatmaps below, their positioning can vary all over the field.


“The Continental”: Keegan Moraes (Bogmalo SC) – Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United)

Universally known for his silky touch and quiet demeanor, 28-year old Bogmalo SC’s Keegan Moraes has been challenged with limited youth around him. Like Manchester United’s Dimitar Berbatov, he alternates between collecting balls in the final third and distributing, and finishing chances, occasionally showing bursts of magic.  Often satirized as “The Continental” on Yahoo! Sports Dirty Tackle Blog, he is nonetheless applauded for his silky style and his ‘feel for the game.’

Although considered a talented second striker, he elevated his name into the MVP race when he buried 16 goals in 2010, while simultaneously drawing accusations of uncharacteristic with seven of those counting against a short-sided Dabolim in the final regular season game. A fantastic talent!



 “Looks like an Indian, Plays like a Brazilian”: Wendall Mascarenhas (Aldona SC) – Kaká (Real Madrid)

At age 17, he led his team in scoring; at age 19, he encountered double-teams; at age 21, he won MVP of the league; turning 23 in late 2012, what will the future predict for Aldona SC’s Wendall Mascarenhas?

A graceful player whose linear counter-attacking style and teamplay reminds many of a young Kaká on AC Milan (see video). Still a raw talent, he may best in a “freedom” role, utilizing creativity, poise and a cerebral mindset with limited defensive responsibility, a function often demonstrated in Brazil’s Campeonato Brasileiro Série A. (It is only fitting that one of Wendall’s middle names’ is Bernardino). He can create his own shot off the dribble, and score goals unpredictably by running at defenders.

Despite great potential, the slight-of-frame Wendall, like Kaka, has been hampered by persisting lower-body injuries, and must continue to work on aerial ability.


“The Dark Horse”: Dwain-Lobo-Pires (Margao Simba) – Michael Ballack (Bayer Leverkusen)

Tall, muscular and soft-spoken, 25-year old Dwain-Lobo-Pires is used to letting his game speak for itself. But just like Bayer Leverkusen’s Michael Ballack, a switch in position – one that moved him from left to centre midfielder – heightened his game and his dominating presence.

Boasting a wide-range of passes along with his ability to arrive late in the box and strike from distance, Dwain is a threat in the air and in the defensive phase of the game. Strong in the tackle and covering an incredible amount of territory, Dwain is the modern centre midfielder. Consistently the best player never mentioned in the MVP race, he must continue to exert his influence and be the head of the Simba pride.






7. Most Underrated Players of the GSL


Lester Fernandes (Aguada Waves) – Nicolás Gaitán (Benfica)

Aguada can offer a host of players for this honour including winger Shaun Fernandes and defender Kevin Minas, yet the diminutive Lester Fernandes’ success as an auxiliary player that makes him shine.

Using mobility and quick decision making, the left-sided midfielder is excellent at holding possession and linking up play. His positioning as an off-the-margins centre midfielder who can shuttle from box-to-box (what Brazilians call a carrilero), enables him to be perfect fit in a 4-4-2 with a Diamond midfield, reminiscing of a young Clarence Seedorf at AC Milan. Yet his cleverness, acceleration and well-roundedness, Lester is similar to that of Benfica’s Nicolás Gaitán. Similair to the former Boca Juniors playmaker, Lester must continue to work on consistency and taking on a bigger role for the Waves.




Ryan Santiago (Colva FC) – Nicolas Burdisso (AS Roma)

With large black Ray Ban sunglasses, Ryan Santiago’s cool-as-a-cucumber disposition is just as apparent off the field as on. For several years, he has been the captain and fulcrum of the Colva FC team, whose focus often seemed to be on the social element, including after-game BBQs (making nearby onlookers jealous).

Yet underneath Colva’s team bonding, Ryan has quietly made his name as one of the league’s best defensive players. Intelligent, calm under pressure and confident with the ball at his feet, Ryan is a strong distributor. Similarly to AS Roma’s Nicolás Burdisso, he is the type of player that does job well, but does not get enough credit for. For all his strengths, Ryan is prone to through balls as his ability relies on excellent defensive positioning and attentiveness.





8. Comeback Player of the Year


Andrew Saviel (Aguada Waves FC)

For all his talent, Andrew Saviel might be remembered for the wrong reasons.

In 2007, upset with his Aguada FC team, he made a shock in-season transfer to Margao Simba, only for the Waves to accept him back after two games.  The unprecedented switch in GSL history brought memories of Robbie Keane’s switch from Tottenham to Liverpool and back, yet the move highlighted Andrew’s exceptional talent and Agauda’s void.

Starting as a Centre Forward by leading the line, he often drops into space just ahead of the opposing centre backs and behind their midfielders to pick-up the ball and distributes or dribble. This superb off-the-ball movement emphasizes his awareness of teammates and the desire for the ball to be at his feet. The mobility is nearly identical to soon-to-depart Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez, who plays a false nine, feigning to be a striker only to collect the ball in space.

With clever footwork and deceptive pace, Andrew is an instinctive and predatory goal scorer. Aguada, like City in the early portion of the 2010-2011 EPL season, looked lost without their explosive threat up-front who was out for the year due to injury. Time will only tell if Andrew is as temperamental as Carlos.

Andrew best operates "between the lines"


9. Ten more GSL Player Comparisons


LW Brendan Gomes (Margao) – A.C. Cesena’s Jorge Martínez

Hot-headed, outspoken yet determined, Margao’s mercurial Brendan Gomes is often in the referee’s book, whether it be for a yellow card or his powerful long-range strikes. The diminutive midfielder, like A.C. Cesena’s Jorge Martínez (on loan from Juventus FC), is best as a 4-3-3 inverted winger, where he stretch the play wide and utilize his quick dribbling to cut in. Tricky, and with a cannon of a left foot, Brendan’s body structure enables him to hold up the ball. Gomes, like Martínez, must improve consistency and humility if he ever is to make a jump into the ‘elite’ category.



CM Elton Fernandes (Bogmalo) – Inter Milan’s Wesley Sneidjer

“Man, I played with Elton when we were about 16 at Dixie,” said a competitive amateur player outside of the GSL two years ago, “and that was kid was something else.”

Like his Inter Milan compadre Wesley Sneidjer, one of the league’s most well-known players, Elton Fernandes’ impact has been inhibited by injuries and missed games. Quick, confident, and possessing a golden touch, Elton is dangerous from set-pieces because of excellent technique and precision. Best as a trequartista (#10/attacking midfielder), Elton is one of the few players in the league with superb game-vision, but needs to take on a more commanding role in playoff games.


GK Delwin Periera (Navelim) Galatasaray’s Fernando Muslera

“I think he’s the best player in the league,” said one onlooker to me at the GSL Championship. While it may be a bold comment for a recent newcomer, Delwin has impressed with superb athleticism and with a commanding presence on the field. But like Galatasaray’s Fernando Muslera, he must improve his fantastic campaign with increased concentration and positioning.







FW Nick Green (Loutolim) – Fullham FC’s Clint Dempsey

Like Nick, Juventus’ Mirko Vučinić, Paris Saint-Germain’s Jeremy Menez, Napoli’s Ezequiel Lavezzi and Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli all are dangerous enigmatic hybrid winger/strikers who have a tendency to attack in space, with one major chink in all of their armour – consistency. “Nick has the talent, but he has terrible decision-making,” says his Loutolim coach Atiq Ahmed. Blessed with athleticism, good dribbling skills and neat lay-offs, Nick is dangerous on diagonal runs from the wing, though he fades in-and-out of the games and can miss easy chances like Fullham FC’s Clint Dempsey.




CM Croydon D’Mello (Aguada) – Valencia CF’s Mehmet Topal

Known for his boyish humour and charm, Croydon D’Mello’s rambunctious persona brings verve and combativeness on the field as a defensive-minded centre midfielder. Tall, lean and a conservative passer with good acceleration, the 6’2, 25-year old has the same age and height as that of  Valencia’s Mehmet Topal, affectionately known in his Turkey as Örümcek or “the Spider” for his long legs to win loose balls and intercept passes. Growing up with him as a child in Mississauga and knowing his skill-set, Croydon is better than he thinks he is.



FW Robin Valdares (Loutolim) – Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuain

In my last preview, a then-19 year old Robin’s greatest challenge was form, five years later, his biggest test will be his ability to recover from long-standing injuries. Robin is a talismanic striker who combines fox-in-the-box instincts with excellent awareness to put himself in good positions. Confident on the ball, he is similar to Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuain as he is “swifter on the break” and likes to play on the shoulder of the last defender. A complete striker that Loutolim sorely misses, and arguably the best player in the league when healthy.





RW Nick Roach (Aldona) – Arsenal FC’s Theo Walcott

Disregarded by many teams, 20-year old Nick Roach burst onto the scene in 2009, using energy, electric pace and a doggedness when tracking back, instantly making him one of the league’s most feared wingers and mirroring Arsenal FC’s Theo Walcott.

Three years later, Roach looks like a shadow of his former self. While his stamina and defensive capacities may have not changed, his finishing, decision-making ability and coachability is erratic, questioning his hunger and humility. A form player and still young, Nick must reflect and rise to the challenge if he wants to re-enter the league as one of the top players that he capable of inhabiting.



RB Sherwin Marshall (Navelim) – Ajax’s Gregory van der Wiel

While he may not be a self-proclaimed a former-‘spoilt brat’ with a penchant for Jay-Z and tattoos like Ajax FC’s Gregory van der Wiel, Chris Marshall’s younger brother Sherwin brings the same acceleration and pragmatism, albeit away from the spotlight. He already has staked his claim as one of the best fullbacks in the league with consistency and work ethic, though he must be bring more drive to Navelim. A notable job in the final on Loutolim’s Neil D’Silva; a star on the rise.



CB Elton Fernandes (Margao) – Real Madrid’s Ricardo Carvahlo

Real Madrid fans may not know it, but when he retires, they will lose one of the greatest players in his position of all time – and his name is not Cristiano Ronaldo. Rather, his Portuguese and Los Blancos compatriot Ricardo Carvahlo, like Margao SC’s Elton Fernandes, are two of our most cultured players whose leadership and silent competitiveness has led the Simba to triumph.

Along with Loutolim’s Daryn Fernandes, he is the only two-time defensive MVP in league history. A cerebral defender whose supreme intelligence is displayed in his positioning and distribution of balls, Elton Fernandes uses a quick response rate for superb timing of tackles, but must combat nagging injuries to strike fear in forwards.



LM Dion D’Mello (Aldona) – Inter Milan’s Joel Obi

He was supposed to take his time and develop, but Dion D’Mello did not get the memo. 16-year old D’Mello ripened earlier than expected, helping Aldona’s “Old Guard” players transition into part-time roles, just like Inter Milan.

With verve, tackling and all-action playing style put him in the first-team in 2011. Reminiscing of the Nerazzurri’s Nigerian midfielder Joel Obi, the short, squat Dion is well-rounded and combines quickness with a rare fearlessness. But he must continue to develop his positional sense and decision-making if he is to improve.



10. The Other Side: Women’s Soccer

Who is the best Goan soccer player in Canada? Hint: it’s a female.

19-year old Brampton-resident Victoria Correa-Parsons may not be a household name, but the University of Michigan Goalkeeper is a budding star after playing professionally with FC Neunkirch in Switzerland, being noticed by local media, and garnering interest from some of the United States’ top women’s teams including the University of Texas, Indiana University, University of North Carolina and George Madison University. Rising up the ranks from the Under-14 Ontario Provincial Team, Correa-Parsons developed at Red Devils Academy, including a stint at semi-pro outfit Buffalo Junior Flash, which led to playing for Canada’s womens’ U-20 team.

“While she was playing, a gentlemen from the FC Neunkirch club was visiting family and was watching the tournament,” says her father Shawn Parsons, in an interview in 2010. “We were contacted a week later with the proposal. This was huge, she got professional keeper training 2-times a week in Germany and trained with 16 –18 boys on their way to pro teams… She learned so much about the game itself, the history the passion, and now loves the game like never before.”

Luck also played a minor role. “We just Googled her and found many articles of success for such a young player,” said Beat Stolz, Manager of FC Neunkirch.  “We were impressed with the technical skills shown by Victoria in these videos,” said the club. “We are a young team, averaging 18.5 years, and we are certain Victoria will become a leader within the team and further develop her career through our program.”

Being of mixed-descent, Victoria has had to negotiate her identity, just as her father has. “I myself am not a Goan, my wife is… My wife’s Father Joe Correa was a very active member in the Goan Community,” says Parsons.

According to Shawn, Victoria harbors passion and international ambition for her community. “She does wish however that there was a Goan National team, but that is a dream for a later date. Perhaps when she is older she can help develop soccer as a coach in that part of the world, that is what she would like to see.”


The Groundbreaker

Despite Correa-Parsons’ success, she is not the first Goan to achieve success. Forward Megan Dourado may be the best Goan-Canadian player of all-time, even being featured in an article from The Gauntlet. She captained the University of Calgary’s team while being selected as 2nd team All-Canada (CIS) in both 2003 and 2004 (Goan Voice UK). “She started the first few games as a forward but moved to a midfield position where her talents could be used better,” said former University of Calgary’s women’s soccer Head Coach Robin Slot. “She’s quite good at taking on players and setting up scoring chances.”

She was also recognized by the Fédération Internationale du Sport Universitaire when it selected her for the prestigious and hyper-competitive 2005 Summer Universiade team, a festival in Izmir, Turkey including 9,000 participants from 170 countries.

Now 29, she plays for Calgary premier soccer team South Harmon and her devotion is unparalleled. “I actually flew to Toronto way back and played in an all male Goan soccer tournament,” says Dourado in an interview.


Steps into the Future

With so much success, why are Goan women continuously overlooked? Demand is often cited as an obstacle, but perhaps this is also further reasoning for greater outreach. Three of arguably the GSL’s strongest fans are females (Steffi D’Cruz, Bogmalo SC; Nikita dos Remedios, Aguada Waves; Melissa Dias, Margao SC). Furthermore, some of the most exciting games I have witnessed have been in the female arena. Just take a look at the recent Women`s World Cup Final where Japan defeated the US, or our own Viva Goa 2009 final where Marcella’s come-from-behind victory over Saligao SC in the Championship game.

Women are often on the sidelines but rarely seen in the game. Is it lack of interest or encouragement?


Beyond promoting athletic and social development, the NCAA’s legislation of Title IX allows high school players to have a considerably higher percentage of attaining an athletic scholarship in the United States. “I can honestly say three major things happened for me that changed my soccer life,” says Correa-Parsons. “The academy, my first real goalkeeping training with a really old guy they just call Keeper, and the big one, being selected to the Provincial Program… Basically, I love soccer. I love competing and fighting for what I want.”

On the international stage, the Indian women’s national team continues to surpass the men where they are currently ranked 53rd in the world and rapidly improving. We need to encourage our young women to play (I am fortunate as both my two sisters play, one of which plays quite frequently). “Another girl Sheena, also Goan, played for the local team Blizzards,” says Dourado. “It was nice to know there was another female Goan playing.”

Correa-Parsons and Dourado shouldn’t be the only ones.



11. Ambition: Parity or Competition?

Colva SC’s meteoric rise from second-last place in 2010 to finishing atop of the standings in 2011, only to be dismantled 4-0 by Navelim SC  in the first-round of playoffs (a team that collected just 4 points in 10 games), was symbolic of the changing power hierarchy within the Goan Soccer League. Historically, the GSL was dominated atop the standings by a handful of teams, and this was replicated in the standings with Margao attaining four straight league titles from 2003-2006, and  with Loutolim finishing in the top three thrice within the same period. Parra United, the now-defunct nemesis of Margao and Aldona, continued to thrive with their winning-mentality in playoffs.

End-of-season Standings for past 8 years (2003)


Standings (1st to 4th place)

  • 2003: Margao, Aldona, Parra, Bogmalo
  • 2004: Margao, Loutolim, Bogmalo, Parra
  • 2005: Margao, Loutolim, Bogmalo, Parra
  • 2006: Margao, Bogmalo, Loutolim, Calangute,
  • 2007: Bogmalo, Old Goa, Margao, Loutolim,
  • 2008: Loutolim, Aguada, Margao, Parra
  • 2009: Margao, Loutolim, Aguada, Parra
  • 2010: Loutolim, Aguada, Margao, Aldona
  • 2011: Colva, Margao, Loutulim, Aldona


Coincidentally, just across the Atlantic Ocean, many of Europe’s top leagues’ embodied this oligopoly of power. From Slate Magazine.

“In reverse chronological order, the last eight champions of Portugal’s top soccer league are Benfica, Porto, Porto, Porto, Porto, Benfica, Porto, and Porto. In Scotland, the list reads Rangers, Rangers, Celtic, Celtic, Celtic, Rangers, Celtic, and Rangers. In England, the same three clubs—Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea—have won all but one Premier League title since the competition was founded in 1992. La Liga, the top division in Spain, has ended 51 seasons by crowning either Real Madrid or F.C. Barcelona.”


Loutolim Goatees: a modern dynasty


This sharply contrasts with France’s Ligue 1 and Germany’s Bundesliga in the past three years, where small-town minnows like Montpellier, Toulouse, Hannover 96, Borussia Mönchengladbach, and Lille achieved success, with the latter going on to win the league title in 2010-2011. (The 09-10 Ligue 1 Season witnessed this extreme form of parity when 1st-place Lille was separated from 8th-placed powerhouse Lyon by just two points).

Sure enough, in a breakdown of 40 GSL games this past season, only 3 would be classified as upsets according to rankings (Loutolim’s 4-3 win over Colva, and Dabolim’s 4-1 victory over Bogmalo are the highlights).

With these drastic changes, does a pattern emerge? Perhaps just one: Stability breeds success.


***


“Margao is the team I fear playing most,” said two players on different teams to me. Beyond their organized defense and notoriously-physical style, Margao has another trait to boast: the records for Aero Tours League Championship Trophy with five (2002, 2003, 2004, 2006 & 2009), the Goan Konkani Troupe Trophy awarded to playoff finalists (1998, 2000, 2001, & 2008), as well as the most number of seasons to go undefeated (1998, 2001, 2002, & 2004). Both Margao and Loutolim also happen to be two of the three oldest teams in the league, along with Margao.

Expectedly, Parra United is no slouch either with four league titles (1999, 2000,2001 & 2005), and the record amount of Gaudencio Fernandes Memorial Championship Trophies (1996, 1997, 1999, 2001,2005, 2006 & 2007), despite being defunct in 2008.


So what is the reason for their success? Beyond talent, Parra United had a remarkably low attrition rate with many of the players playing together and maintain team chemistry, placing the team ahead of the individual. Margao SC has maintained their strong subcultural ties, and groom many of their stars in an impressive youth set-up. As I wrote in a graduate admission essay a year-and-a-half ago:

Typically, players have aligned themselves with certain teams based on ancestral history and village ties in the league. One team, Margao Simba, are appropriately named off a strong African Diaspora, and comprise mostly of first-generation Canadians. Within this team, a power hierarchy is created based on age, leadership qualities and sporting experience. Any member who challenges this hierarch, risk being ostracized or even expelled from the team. This contrasts with a newly-formed team, Dabolim S.C, who simply are a conglomerate of older multi-talented players with no apparent strong village ties and a fluid power structure that was created for the sole purpose of winning.

With these varied power structures and unpredictable game results, one must question what is the better mantra for the Goan Soccer League, parity or competition?

Dr. Chris Anderson, a professor at the Ivy-league Cornell University, and soccer statistic aficionado, writes about the ‘competitive balance,’ or the degree to which there is parity among the league’s teams.  A common rationale for fans and players’ alike engaging in sports is to “witness intensely competitive games—contests between evenly matched opponents in which the outcome hangs in doubt.”

While the Goan league has seen Parra, Margao and recently Loutolim exert their power, it remains to be seen whether this will continue in the future. We have seen ‘mega-teams’ formed in the past for the purpose of winning, as demonstrated by Old Goa FC in 2007, Saints FC (formerly known as Assonora FC, than Santa Cruz Saints FC) in 2009+, and Bogmalo SC in Viva Goa 2009, but anxieties around village ties, personal friendships and playing opportunities muddy the waters. However, this may change with the upcoming third-generation.

“This league is a bit crazy,” says Bourissa Monchengladbach’s  defender Dante, stunned, after his team’s loss to Bundesliga’s FC Augsburg, “It doesn’t matter who is in last place and who is in first, everyone can beat anyone. No team is really bad.”

Somehow this isn’t the first time I’ve heard that.



12. Ambition: Players’ Mentality

“I don’t know why players give Ron Monteiro so much respect,” said a prominent player in the league to me last year. “They treat him like he is untouchable, like he is some kind of a god.”

Although provocative in nature, the player was not intending to slight the three-time MVP, nor was he speaking about deference given to elders, he was touching upon the unconscious actions of many players in the league: to avoid challenging the status quo. “You don’t play against the names,” said Lille’s Aurélien Chedjou. “You just play eleven other players on the pitch.”

***

“Competition is to find how much you have inside of yourself, it’s to realize your potential,” says Pete Carroll, coach of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. “It’s without competition that we can’t find who we really are and so in that, those who make us compete at the highest level are the people who are the most important to us.”

Mr. Carroll is speaking about competition as a test of character and a vehicle for personal growth. Unfortunately, many GSL players have not taken on the task to help drive their team to success, preferring to stay within their comfort zone. Particularly frightening is when a skilled young player is paralyzed by anxiety – neither willing to ‘fight for their place,’ nor willing to transfer to another team, instead plying their trade on the bench or simply not exerting the influence that their talent dictates, forever being labeled as an ‘underachiever.’ “If players aren’t afraid to leave their teams and explore other options,” says Colva FC’s Andrew Fernandes, “they will never know how good a team could be.”


15 years of MVPs


Part of this may be embedded in the historical Goan susegad psyche hierarchical family structure, where  there was a clear division of bhaktars (land owners) and mundkars (tenant labour), where citizens towed the line. This is hardly better demonstrated in the GSL style of play which places an emphasis on collective play, where truly individual one-on-one goals are rare.

Others will retort that, “it’s just a recreational league.” Doubtful, considering all eight teams have some form of pre-season preparation and in-season practices (and many of whom were roused by this author’s opinion on All-Stars.) In many ways, the league’s success is crucial to the stabilization of the Goan culture. Scholarly research has consistently shown that ethnic soccer teams help maintain cohesion and a distinct identity, particularly in adapting to a foreign environment (as many Goan immigrants had combat harsh racism when coming to Canada).

As the GSL has transitioned to a league of second and third-generation players, emotional bonds to this ethnic identity are often alleviated, as witnessed by the detachment from playing on your village team. But with such a high percentage of players only soccer participation being the GSL, perhaps we need to elevate the league, re-fortify this weakened ‘Goan identity’, all while building their skill, networks and personal development.

Nick D’Silva is a good athlete and can play anywhere,” says Loutolim coach Atiq Ahmed. “He’s still developing, but he needs to work on decision-making. He hasn’t played at a high level, and has developed bad habits.” In fact, in a league filled with young players, approximatley only 10 out of 157 players have played at very  competitive levels within Ontario.

The outspoken player mentioned at the beginning of this section was calling for action whether it be the rise of new blood contesting for the spotlight, or re-establishment of the Celaz Soccer Trophy, awarded to the winning All Star team of Salcete vs Bardez. “You guys are faster, better and younger than us,” said my Uncle Keith D’Silva, a retired Aldona SC star striker, an occasional spectator and current team sponsor, “but you lack the killer instinct that we had.”

Perhaps the only way to way to do this, is expand the criterion of who can play in the Goan Soccer League.



Acknowledgements: Mario Correia for the photos, Michael Cox and Roberto Gotta of ESPN, Edward Fernandez, Nicolas Cunningham of Lineupbuilder.com, Michael Campbell for the banner, and all those interviewed or not mentioned.

This article has been dedicated to Evaristo Fernandes, Roy Fernandes, Cyprian D’Cruz and Micky Rodrigues for their tireless effort and years of unconditional service in the Goan Soccer League. My love of my Goan culture and Goan soccer has been re-enforced by this ‘recreational league,’ and our communities’ sporting success has been augmented because of you. Thank you.


If you are interested in learning more about Indian Soccer, here are a collection of resources: All India Football Federation (www.the-aiff.com) Barefoot Magazine (www.barefootmag.in), Journalist Chris Punnakkattu Daniel (http://www.chrispd.de), SportsKeeda (www.sportskeeda.com/football/india/), Goal.com India (www.goal.com/en-india/) + more.

 

4 Comments to “12 for ’12: From Toronto’s Goan Soccer League to Europe’s Elite”

  1. Would love to visit to witness the growing talent over the season.

    Rohit

  2. Nice piece Roland…keep it up!
    Cheers
    Titus

  3. Loved reading d article… I never knew der was a Goan Soccer league der..

  4. Great Journalism Roland. Lots of pain taken to disect information and make excellent reading. You will always get the Kudos and the criticism as well. So be aware! Your comparisons of playmakers of the highest level with our Goan players is quite an imaginary and flattering tale. Our Goan Soccer needed something like this. My earnest hope and pleas is for our guys to show their Skills and talents on the field and not the unwanted, unacceptable slang and insulting Slurs. It is a real Pity! to watch them and also see their parents encouraging this distasteful saga.
    Also watching our Indian or Goan teams on a recent visit to India with all the flourishing Academies and the foreign third rate talent, was a big disappointment. However, there is still time and a chance to improve. So I wish them all the best.
    Please do take some time and dwell on the plus 40 guys as well. They would like to hear from your free flowing InkJet.
    And thanks to Ashwin and his team for bringing to us this well run tournament. Hopefully, our Knees will hold the weight!
    Thanks and Godbless
    Romeo Dos Remedios

    (former Sesa Goa, Salgaoncar and Dempo Player)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: