Academy the Suns? last hurdle to final
THE North Coast Suns face one last, enormous hurdle in their quest to reach the final of the Summer Soccer Youth League for the first time ? the Queensland Academy of Sport.
The Suns are on top of the ladder and will host the second-placed QAS at Weston Park, Goonellabah, tonight from 7 o'clock, with a draw or win good enough to secure their place in the final next week.
But subduing a QAS team bristling with some of the best young talent in the country and fresh from a 7-1 mauling of a full-strength Palm Beach on Wednesday night poses the biggest challenge the Suns have faced.
Suns coach Jonathan Harlen is particularly concerned by lightning fast QAS striker David Williams, who he described as 'the next big thing in Australian soccer; the best striker I've seen'.
Williams is just back from touring Holland and Belgium with the Australian Under-20 squad and is in ominous form.
He single-handedly destroyed Palm Beach on Wednesday, scoring four goals and setting up the other three.
His striking partner Robbie Cruz is also well-credentialled, recently returning from a trip to Peru with the Joeys.
To contain their combined threat, Harlen will look to midfielders Joel Rudgley and Joel Gosper to control possession and starve the QAS strikers of the ball, but appreciates the Suns face the biggest challenge in their three years in the summer league.
"It's a huge challenge, but we're not going to go defensive," Harlen said.
"We'll stick to the attacking formation we've used throughout the competition, but we'll also be making sure we drop numbers behind the ball when we have to."
The Suns' cause will not be helped by the absence of key players Lucas MacPherson, Kyle Sutton, Tom Ruhl and Josh O'Driscoll, but strikers Tom Guttormsen and James Hirst are both in good touch and flanker Eden Robinson is always a threat.
"We're a bit stretched but will still field a very strong side that is a bit older, bigger and stronger than the QAS and that will help us," Harlen said.
The Suns match will be part of a double-header at Weston Park today, with Palm Beach favoured to win the curtain-raiser against Toowoomba Raiders from 5pm.
n The North Coast Flames will play their final pool match in the Women's Summer Soccer League today, when they take on the strong Gold Coast side at Coomera from 5pm (Queensland time).
The Flames will field the same side that found form with a 3-0 win over Brisbane side Eastern Suburbs last week and will look to end what has been a tough competition on a high note.
A win over the Gold Coast could put the Flames into the third/fourth play-off next week, with coach Brendan Logan confident the girls can upset their more experienced opponents.
"Absolutely, we're in with a chance," he said.
"But we'll need to counter their pace by playing a controlled game and holding possession."