By Dan Smeenk

Welcome to the Paramount Fine Foods Centre to see your North Mississauga Soccer Club’s Panthers. 

Tonight’s game, against Vaughan Azzurri S.C. (7W, 1L, 21pts, 1st Place), is the fourth home game of the year for the Panthers. This match-up is the third in four weeks where the club is playing a team ranked at or near the top of League1 Ontario table, having already played against previously undefeated Alliance Utd SC (3-2 Loss Away) and last week against 2nd place Oakville Blue Devils (1-2 Loss at home). 

After the 90th minute loss to the Oakville Blue Devils (7W, 1L, 21pts, 2nd Place), Coach Balta knows that to beat the Azzurri, the squad has to be strong on both sides of the ball. 

“We’re going to have to score and get our chances,” said Coach Balta. “We’ll also have to frustrate them. They’ll get frustrated among themselves if they’re not breaking through.” 

Photo Courtesy League1 Ontario

The Panthers will have to keep an eye out on co-league leader on the scoring chart, Maksym Kowal. Kowal is a seasoned veteran of professional leagues in Poland and New Zealand before coming back to Canada. With a reunion of sorts with Coach Balta’s former youth player Ryan Raposo (Syracuse University) and Sameer Fathazada, the former Canadian Youth International provide ample attacking threats for the Azzurri. You can see why they lead the league in goals scored (29). 

Apart from the strategic aspects of beating Vaughan, facing a team tied for first, like they did last week, may be a potential playoff test. The Panthers are currently on the playoff bubble, being tied for eighth in League1 standings (the top eight teams make it in). 

That makes this game particularly key, as the team has six games left, and a win against Vaughan can send a message that the team is not to be messed with. 

“We’re in a battle now,” said Balta. “If we can get something out of this game, we will really help our chances of making the playoffs.” 

One thing that should help is that the team may get midfielder Lee Victor Massunda back from injury. Massunda has two goals for the club this year, which is only behind Jordan Prescod for the team lead, and missed the Panthers’ last game against Oakville. Balta said the Panthers may get the midfielder back for this game, which should provide extra and needed offence for the club. 

“He’s so valuable in the final third,” he said. 

The North Mississauga Soccer Club men’s Panthers team is 3-2-2, with 11 points, sitting in 8th place.