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Mike Hennessy, Lawyer
Caruso Club
Wednesday, Jun. 28, 2017
Ashton helps to open doors for Passi and Jordan
2017-04-29
by Randy Pascal
The notion of trying to finish on a high is not a new one when it comes to sports. Athletes and teams alike often strive to find a positive carry-over when completing one season and looking ahead to the next.

The notion of trying to finish on a high is not a new one when it comes to sports. Athletes and teams alike often strive to find a positive carry-over when completing one season and looking ahead to the next.

In that sense, the timing is near ideal for the move from “Randy in the Rings” to “Pascal on the Pitch”.

Beyond the mere fact that the curling season has pretty much completely wound down and that a new summer of soccer has already commenced, comes the reality that the recent success of both Sudbury Curling Club rinks at the inaugural U18 national championships allows for a completely upbeat transition to the “beautiful game”.

And no surprise, for those who follow the Sudbury soccer scene closely, that the off-season has brought about change, an ever-shifting landscape for those who wish to pursue the game on either a recreational or competitive basis.

Start with the expanded program offering of former soccer pro Brian Ashton through his Northern Soccer Academy. The summer of 2017 will mark the first entry of teams donning the Academy colours to compete under the umbrella of the Canadian Academy of Futbol, offering both elite (13 and up) and developmental (8-12) programming.

Since the demise of the former “Regional Program” a few years back, Ashton has been searching for opportunities for top-end local talent. “The one thing that we really lack is playing quality competition on a regular basis,” he said recently.

“Now, we have an in for players. We'll have kids looked at.” At this point, the Northern Soccer Academy is fielding just four teams in the loop – U16 boys, U16 girls, U12 boys and U9 boys. While Ashton recognizes that the set-up is less than ideal and nowhere near as wide-ranging as he would eventually like to see, it is a starting point.

“The purpose of what we do, as an academy, is not simply to put teams together,” he explained. “We want to make sure we have a platform for our better players to get noticed.” In that sense, the early payoff comes courtesy of Jack Jordan and Calum Passi.

The 14 year old locals have signed on to compete with Athletic Institute Football Club (AIFC), based out of Orangeville and now in their second year of play within the Ontario Player Development League (OPDL), the top youth competitive soccer loop in the province.

The initial contact was established through Ashton, working with former provincial coaches affiliated with Athletic Institute, the closest OPDL center for athletes in Northern Ontario. “We're able to send these players down, training there three times a week (mostly on weekends),” said Ashton.

“They will be playing at a provincial level, looked at by scouts. Part of the deal is that they also train with me when they are in Sudbury.” While still very much in the infancy stages, the partnership has garnered immediate support from the players involved and their families, recognizing the opportunity that has been presented to them, an opportunity they hope to take full advantage of.

“Training with the OPDL team, that kind of gave me the drive that I wanted to be on this team, want to be in this league,” said Passi, the younger brother of University of Toronto cross country runner Liam Passi.

“My skill level isn't there yet, but I think my athleticism is on par with them. All of the guys have been really positive with me. I think the experience of playing with them, learning to dish the ball off and feeding people, making runs and making crosses, at speed, is helping.”

“And seeing the quickness and rate of play that I need to be at.” It was this last aspect which also sparked a return to form, if you will, for Jack Jordan. Spending much of his youth in Hawaii, the grade 8 St Charles College student benefited from both the climate and the competition, and following in the family footsteps.

“My brother (Zack) started soccer at an early age, and I kind of just followed what he did,” stated Jordan. “Zack played for the Hawaii select team, so I strived for that. I kind of felt a passion for it.” Despite his solid resume in soccer, Jordan would still be something of an unknown quantity when the family moved back to the Sudbury area two years ago.

“Down there, I was trained to be a left fullback, because I am a dominant left foot,” he explained. “When I got up here, they had defenders, so I was kind of all over the place, because they never really knew me.”

Trained primarily as a midfielder on a local level, Jordan has now returned to his role as a defender in Orangeville, tackling the center back position. He does so armed with knowledge he has accumulated every step of the way.

“Some of my teammates in Hawaii would give me tips on their positions,” he said. “As a fullback, you can see the whole field, you can pretty much see everything in front of you. I kind of picked it up from there.”

Still, both youngsters have quickly learned that there is still a gap that must be bridged in order to reach that point where they truly feel they belong with the elite in Ontario. “I am a good ball-handler, but nowhere near their level,” said Passi.

“Technically, on my OPDL team, there are some amazing kids, they dance with the ball. I look at them and it's magic.” All the more reason to put his head down and tackle the challenge that lies ahead. “My footwork and ball-handling need to improve,” Passi continued.

“The speed at which I play. All the tiny little things, always checking my shoulder, being aware of everybody who is around me, where the spaces are, there are gaps are, spatial awareness.” These are the lessons that are also shared by Jordan.

“When somebody passes me the ball, I want my first touch to be exactly where I want it to be, because that's probably the most part of the game right there,” he said. This is a fit between player and opportunity that Brian Ashton believes in.

“We're giving the better players a chance to compete at a higher level,” he said. “This isn't for everybody.” For some, however, it is something truly special.

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