1st Ever Winter Futsal Classic Report
By: Kris Fernandes
Nacional Win a 3-2 Thriller over rivals Cruz Azul
TORONTO – The first ever Canadian Winter Futsal Classic wrapped up in Toronto this past weekend and it turned out to be a success on and off the court.
Eight of the top teams from the province of Ontario, where the best Canadian futsal teams play, were invited to compete in a newly formed tournament that was played under the FIFA Futsal Laws of the Game. Teams from both, FIFA rules leagues, including the Toronto Central Futsal League (TCFL), as well as the best from AMF leagues came together for the unity and progression of Futsal in Canada, which has not been the case in years past.
The tournament itself started off with a with a great match in Group B as Atletico Nacional, entering the tournament as the #2 ranked team in the province, defeated # 8 London Benfica 4-2, who were finally getting their full roster back after many 1st team players had left for school and other commitments earlier in the season.
#5 Century Sam Futsal Club, champions of the TCFL’s October tournament, and the # 12 London Eagles kicked off Group A action with an incredibly tight game that resulted in a 3-3 draw.
Unranked Toronto City Futsal Club, comprised of players from the Toronto FC supporters group, U Sector, found their initiation into top calibre futsal very difficult as London Benfica easily walked away with a 6-0 victory in their 2nd match of the day, keeping alive their hopes of progressing to the knockout stage.
Coming into the tournament as the heavy favourites Toronto Cruz Azul showcased exactly why they are considered one of the most dangerous Futsal clubs in North America by making light work of the London Eagles as they marched on to a big 12-2 victory, led by Johnathon Bustamante and Carlos Rojas who each produced a hat-trick.
Atletico Nacional (to be known as Eloy Alfaro FC after this event), held off a very tough TCFL Selects squad by a 9-5 scoreline, led by Alex Lopez’s brilliant 3 goal performance and also by one of Canada’s best goalkeepers, 19 year-old Joshua Lemos, who prior to this tournament had signed a professional futsal contract in Nicaragua.
JP Marchant’s 4 goals were the difference as Toronto Twister eliminated the Eagles with an 8-5 victory. Unranked Twister were making their return into competitive Futsal with a roster mixed with top Brasilian and Portuguese players from Toronto and looked as if they hadn’t missed a beat.
Toronto Twister make an attempt on net against the London Eagles (Photo courtesy: Kris Fernandes)
The TCFL Selects and Toronto Cruz Azul won their next two matches to finish off Saturday’s games and more importantly each clinched playoff round spots in the process.
Throughout the day club owners, referees, administrators and national team players all networked with one another in an attempt to build better relationships with each other to progress the state of futsal in Canada. For years, the sport has been plagued and stifled by numerous hurdles including red tape from governing bodies, ill-educated technical development coordinators, and, of course, the great divide between AMF and FIFA rules. About 70% of Futsal players in Ontario play in AMF leagues but in recent years teams have also joined FIFA leagues as they wish to make the move away from throw-ins. Bridging that gap between AMF and FIFA teams/leagues is one of the key goals everybody is trying to accomplish and this event resulted in some positive dialogue and strong ideas that will hopefully bear fruit in the upcoming year. A Canadian Futsal Symposium is planned for late February in hopes of making concrete plans to take the sport to the next level.
The 2nd day of matches got back under way with Toronto Twister and Nacional both moving onto the next round after wins against Century Sam and Toronto City.
Both semi-final matchups had everybody salivating as Group A winners Toronto Cruz Azul took on the TCFL Selects while Group B victors Nacional squared off against Toronto Twister.
#2 Kurt Mella of Cruz Azul takes aim at the TCFL net (Photo courtesy: Kris Fernandes)
The strong TCFL Selects side had some trouble handling the powerful offense of Cruz Azul and tried to get them off their game through some physical play which resulted in Cruz Azul retaliating as they landed 3 quick yellow cards and maxed out on fouls in each half. However, Cruz Azul calmed down in the 2nd half with a pair of goals from Canadian/Croatian standout Alex Braletic that took the steam out of the Selects as Toronto Cruz Azul moved on to the championship final with an impressive 8-3 victory.
Cruz Azul watched intently from the sidelines to see who they would face in the final as Twister was looking to upset 2nd ranked Nacional. Twister got their dream start as they quickly opened up a 2-0 lead from a pair of beautifully crafted goals. They almost scored a third moments later but Joshua Lemos made a tremendous save with his foot to keep the lead at two. The game went back and forth as each team traded a few goals before Twister went into halftime with a commanding 6-3 lead. After half, Nacional changed up their formation and it paid huge dividends as they continually spread the ball around which allowed Julio Garcia and Alex Lopez to net 3 goals a piece as Nacional scored 6 straight unanswered goals to complete the thrilling comeback with a 9-6 victory and a place in the final with arch-rivals Cruz Azul.
Toronto Twister try to hold Nacional off in semi-final action (Photo courtesy: Kris Fernandes)
There were big expectations for the final as both #1 and #2 would fight it out for the title. There have been countless championships in which these teams have played each other and each player we spoke with were pleased they would dual once again. It proved to be another classic derby as each team battled hard with each other and showcased strong defensive play in the early part of the game. Nacional struck in the 6th minute as Joshua Jaramillo laced a rocket into the net after a fine cross court pass from Matthew Rios to put them up 1-0. Rios scored the second of the game minutes later and Cruz Azul were forced to take a timeout to adjust their game plan. Whatever they were told worked very well as they immediately came back in style with Adolfa Mella bringing them back within one before highly regarded national team keeper Roy Blanche blasted a gorgeous shot from half-court into the top corner to tie it up 2-2 at halftime.
The 2nd half started up with some very aggressive man-to-man coverage by both teams as each squad were waiting to pick their moments. Cruz Azul founds theirs and moved up 3-2 when Alex Braletic scored but that lead was quickly erased when Mattew Rios tied the game at 3-3 just moments after.
The last 8 minutes were very intense as the tight man-marking did not allow for much room to maneuver around the court. But around four minutes from time, Alex Lopez buried a shot down low to move Nacional up 4-3. Cruz Azul pressed hard to force it to overtime but it was not to be as Nacional held off them off for the 4-3 win and the championship.
Despite the bitter rivalry they share, both teams congratulated one another on a hard-fought final as the fans applauded a great match. Nacional keeper Joshua Lemos was voted Tournament MVP.
The next major futsal event for men will take place in the nation’s capital of Ottawa where the Ontario Futsal Cup will be running on February 21-22nd for the men’s and women’s divisions. The girls and boys U12, U14, U16’s finals will be in Toronto on the same weekend. For more information visit www.soccer.on.ca and click on futsal.