This is the big one. Sunday afternoon, the biggest game in the history of the North Mississauga men’s Panthers club. This is the one you want for your collections, this the one you’re going to want to take pictures of, this is one that Coach Balta, his staff, General Manager Chris Keem, and the players have been preparing all year for … all years for.
The Panthers will be playing their first ever playoff game on Sunday. It’s happening, unusually, on a Sunday at 2:30 p.m. A perfect Sunday matinee. It’s happening for the first time since the team formed in 2016, it’s happening against Alliance United F.C., and luckily for Panthers’ fans, it’s happening at home.
But despite an enormous win against Sigma at home last Friday in their regular season finale, despite winning the Credit River Cup as the best of Mississauga soccer, Coach Balta is not satisfied with just making the playoffs. He has been working his players all week, hosting video sessions as well as training on top of individual improvement and a game plan.
He knows his team has a tough task ahead.
“We know we don’t want to rest on our laurels,” he said. “The next step is to see if we can get through Alliance and see if we can continue the season. … We have a tough test ahead.”
The team that they play on Sunday is based in Markham, and Alliance United F.C. have been at or near the top of the standings for the entire year. They finally finished in third place this year, battling all season for the top spot Oakville Blue Devils (1st place) and Vaughan Azzurri (2nd place) who have distinguished themselves at the top winning the last two League1 Ontario crowns between them. All three teams finished within touching distance of one another finishing with 38, 37 and 36 points, which is six points ahead of fourth place Masters Futbol.
Alliance United F.C. has a well-balanced attack, with 10 goal scorers scoring 28 goals this year, and the best defence in the league, with only six goals allowed this year.
Luckily for the Panthers, they have proven to be able to break that defence. Two of the six goals scored on Alliance were in the first half of the match the Panthers played in Markham on June 6th. This was only one of two times all year Alliance United F.C. gave up two goals in a game.
The Panthers raced out to a 2-nil lead, but a red card early on in the second half saw the hosts make a remarkable comeback. North Mississauga lost that game 3-2, but the team proved even early in the year that they could compete against Alliance. As Coach Balta notes, they’re even better now.
“Defensively, they have some tendencies we can be better prepared for,” he said. “The big thing is that we’re better. I think some of the things that didn’t work for us back then will be better now, that’s one thing we can build up. … We just need a little bit of a different game plan for this Sunday.”
For the Panthers, Luke Rankin is likely to be out of the line-up again after suffering a knee injury before the season finale against Sigma. Coach Balta said there were no other line-up changes coming.