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The Gordon Sullivan Story

Managing in a "fantastic" Canadian soccer system
Started on 25 November 2015 by Greyfriars Bobby
Latest Reply on 16 February 2016 by Jack
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Note: I saw MJK46's "Canada Fantasy Leagues" database, and thought I'd give it a try. Soon, I decided it would be a fun environment for a career story. It'll be different from "Canterbury Tales," which I'll also continue writing.

Anyway, I hope you'll enjoy it, too.

27 February 2015

Gordon Sullivan was an emotional man, and he knew it. He wasn’t surprised, then, to find tears forming in the corners of his eyes as he looked out over the training grounds at St. Michael’s College School on that cloudy, windswept February morning.

He knew those fields very well. How many hours had he spent there, playing lacrosse and football? Unlike most Canadians, Gordon wasn’t referring to the gridiron game when he talked about “football.” He used the term in the English style, and with good reason.

Gordon Sullivan had been a star athlete at St. Michael’s. Like many Canadian boys, he played hockey, and played it fairly well. He was a decent lacrosse player, too. However, it was on the football pitch where he truly stood out. Gordon’s father, Matthew, was English, and had played semi-professionally there before he moved to Canada, married, and raised his family. Gordon picked up the game from his dad, and even played best in the same position—central midfield, providing defensive support in front of the back line.

The Sullivans returned to England during Gordon’s last year at St. Michael’s. Gordon followed, attending university in England and playing as much football as his talent would allow him. He took his degree in history, became a teacher, moved to Coventry, and turned out for semi-professional clubs in the area. He met a local girl called Kate, married her, and became a father—first to Peter, then to Caroline. He began taking his coaching badges and discovered he enjoyed coaching even more than he enjoyed playing. At age thirty, the course of Gordon Sullivan’s life seemed well set.

That’s when Simon Jirta called him on the phone and offered him the chance to come back to St. Michael’s.

Since Gordon left school, soccer’s popularity in Canada had skyrocketed. It had become the favorite outdoor game of many Canadians, throughout the nation and, in response, the Canadian soccer authority had created a new league system. Modeled in some ways on the Canadian gridiron and hockey leagues, the new setup featured a twelve-team league at the top (NASL Canada). Four regional leagues—one in the West, one in Ontario, one in Quebec and one in the Maritimes—comprised the next level. There were eleven provincial leagues, with semi-pro teams. The Canadian universities fielded teams, too.

Gordon had been following these developments with interest while he was in England. He thought the most unique feature of the new Canadian system was the creation of Major Junior Soccer leagues, much like those that had existed in hockey for decades. St. Michael’s had fielded a legendary team in the Ontario Hockey League. The Majors won four Memorial Cups and produced some of the greatest players the NHL had ever known. It only seemed fitting that when the Ontario Major Junior Soccer League was created, the St. Michael’s Majors should be included.

The hockey team had moved out to Mississauga a few years ago, and that’s where the new soccer team’s grounds were located, too. They still trained at the school’s campus in Toronto most of the time, however, and the players attended classes there.

Simon Jirta was the chairman of the new Majors soccer program. Joe had been Gordon’s biology teacher and soccer coach when he was a student there, and had kept in touch with him, off and on, since then. He knew he wanted Gordon to be the team’s manager, and it happened that the school needed a new history teacher, too. It was a good offer, and Gordon wanted to accept it.

To his delight, Kate was more excited about living in Canada than Gordon had expected. To Peter, age six, and Caroline, age two, life was still one big adventure. So, in August of 2014, the Sullivans moved to Toronto, and Gordon returned to the school he loved. Kate had settled in wonderfully, teaching fifth grade at St. Michael’s sister school, Holy Name of Mary.

He’d loved England, where he’d met his wife and started his family. Canada, however, was home.

Tomorrow was the first day of training.
Awesome my man i will be following
Good luck!
I'm back, after an absence of nearly three months. Life got busier than usual for a while, with some illness among the older members of my family. Everyone is doing better now, so I have more time and energy for things like FM.

Hopefully I won't go three months between posts from now on
. :)

28 February 2015

Gordon sat back in his favorite chair, a well-loved leather recliner that was just like one his dad particularly enjoyed. He was truly a chip of Matt Sullivan's block, and both men couldn't be happier with the way that had turned out.

His phone buzzed, and he picked it up to see a message from Dad. It's nearly midnight there, he thought. What is he doing up?

Matt had simply wanted to know how Gordon's first day on the job had gone.

He smiled, dialed his dad's number, and the two of them chatted for fifteen minutes or so.

Yesterday, Gordon met with his staff--both of them--and it had gone well. His assistant, Harrison Tannenbaum, seemed to have a decent enough eye for talent, and he seemed to be able to relate to the players well. The Head of Youth Development, Nick McLean, was older--he was 47, fifteen years Tannenbaum's senior and two more years older than Gordon--but he wore a hairstyle that made him look like the fifth Beatle. Like Tannenbaum, McLean was particularly attuned to the needs of young footballers; this was a good thing, since the Majors were, by league rules, all age 20 or younger.

A quick glance at the Majors roster revealed a mixture of names that looked like it would fit Chelsea or Manchester City better than a club representing a Canadian college. Surnames ranging from Carboni to Gomez to Karatovic to Paavilainen dotted the page, with very few "all-Canadian" names like Pridham or Dell. As Gordon thought about it more, it made a lot of sense. Boys with family ties to countries where "football" meant a game played primarily with the feet were still most likely to have the skill required to play for a club like the Majors.

Gordon met with the players that evening, and they responded very well to his suggestion that they battle for a mid-table finish.

This afternoon, he watched while the senior team played a friendly against the Under 18s. Tannenbaum managed the seniors, with McLean taking the youth. The seniors won, 2-1, on goals from a pair of 16-year-old lads, a forward called Anthony Chiarot and a winger by the name of Jon Dell. The youngsters got a late goal from Zeljko Blazevic, a lanky wide man whose parents were born in Croatia, to make the scoreline look more respectable.

The best player on the pitch that day was a lad called Raju Rebello, who stood 6'5", wore shoulder-length dark hair, and spoke Hindi almost as well as English. A holding midfielder, Rebello looked comfortable on the ball and wasn't afraid to get stuck in.

"We've got a fair lot of footballers here," Gordon told his dad, and smiled.

1 April 2015

A month had passed, time for Gordon and his family to settle into their new lives in Canada. They were renting a house about halfway from Hershey Center, where the Majors played their matches, and the St. Michael's College School campus, where the players trained. It was easy for Gordon to walk a block to a train station and catch the train to St. Michael's, and the drive to Hershey Center wasn't bad, since he was usually moving against the flow of traffic into and out of Toronto.

He had received a bit of a surprise on one of his first days on the job. Simon Jirta brought a man around to meet him as he was preparing for training.

"Gord, I'd like you to meet Daniel Bellar. He's our new Director of Football."

Taken aback by the introduction of a new staff member--one to whom he would possibly answer--Gordon hesitated a moment, collected himself, smiled, and extended his hand.

"Good to have you aboard, Daniel."

A bit later, Gordon tapped on the door to Simon's office. The chairman motioned him to come in.

"Simon, I wasn't aware we were going to bring a Director in. Should I have been?"

Simon nodded. "There's been a plan to bring in a DOF for a while now. The club's organizational plan was in that file I emailed to you before your interview...wasn't it?"

"I'm sure it was. I must have missed it."

"St. MIke's can't work like the teams you're more familiar with. Most of these boys are seventeen, eighteen years old. They're footballers, but they're scholars first. Or, at least, they should be.

"I don't want the man who's training our players to be the one who has to wade through the paperwork to get a boy registered for school, that kind of thing. Dan Bellar is a smart football man, Gord. I've known him for a while. And you'll have the final say about a player before we close the deal. Will this present a problem for you?"

"No," Gordon replied. I'm going to have to pay closer attention to things, he thought.

Soon, the Majors had a complete backroom staff, by Ontario Major Junior standards. Dan Milonas joined the coaching staff, and Marc Joly came aboard as an assistant with the U18s. Jason Velastegui joined the team as a scout, and two physios--Manny El-Asmar and John Hamilton--manned the training room.

Gordon was satisfied, more or less, with how the team was playing as it approached the end of preseason. They'd burst from the gate with style, winning their first two matches and bagging six goals in the process. Lately, they'd stalled, losing 1-2 to Ajax FC and playing a goal-less draw with Rangers. Still, the players looked lively, and their morale was good.

Early on, Gordon had been particularly impressed with Jon Dell, who'd scored in the intrasquad friendly and against Caribbean Selects in their first official friendly. Jon had a noticeably receding hairline which made him look older than 16. He was also a bit of a slacker and a clown, and given his mature appearance, his antics seemed even more out of place. Still, the lad was talented, and Gordon was going to have to find a way to deal with him.

On the other hand, Gord was delighted with the leadership he'd seen from Fabiano Cabrelle. A right-footed left winger, Fabiano had been born in Italy, and played with a bit of Continental flair. He'd also lived in Canada long enough to acquire some of the blue-collar vibe of the Canadian working class, which showed itself in a variety of ways on the pitch. There were a few other teams trying to prise Cabrelle away from the Majors. If he stayed, Gordon was seriously considering handing him the captain's armband.

There was no transfer window in the OMJSL, which meant a player could come or go at any time. On the one hand, it meant the club could patch a weakness as it arose. On the other, it meant a team could swoop in and grab a good player like Fabiano Cabrelle. So far, the team had been remarkably stable, given the league's rules; only one Major had left the club, and no new boys had joined.

The league programme began in just over a month. There was still work to do.

2 May 2015

The Ontario Major Junior Soccer League contained 20 teams. Each played the others twice, home and away, but the programme was packed into a period of just under five months, from early May to late September. As a result, the clubs faced a daunting schedule that required them to play twice a week, usually on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Just as there were in hockey, there were three Major Junior football leagues. The winner of the Ontario league would meet the champions of the Quebec and Western leagues in the Champions Playoff.

The Majors' first fixture saw them away to the Toronto FC Academy. Here was the team that Gordon would lead into battle at Kia Training Ground that day.


Karatovic, whose family immigrated from Croatia, was the first choice between the posts. He'd enjoyed a good preseason, keeping three clean sheets in six matches. Gordon liked his professionalism. Interestingly, Karatovic spoke some basic Inuit.

His backup, Haber, was a tough kid with some promise. Daniel Bellar wasn't convinced the goalkeepers in the team were good enough to win in the Ontario League, and he'd made some effort to bring a new lad in, without success.


McMahon was the team's newest player, recently arrived from Sigma FC--who shared the Hershey Center with the Majors. Young and talented, McMahon was the easy choice at left back.

Tannenbaum and Casupanan would start at center half. Tannenbaum was laid back off the pitch, but between the white lines, he was a different sort, a hard man who wouldn't have been out of place on the back line of an English club, a half-century ago. Casupanan was far from a shrinking violet himself. He was good in the air and had decent pace.

Matkovic, another member of the team's Croatian contingent, was a valuable reserve who might even be tougher than Tannenbaum.

When Berdusco recovered from a twisted ankle he'd suffered in early April, he'd slot in at right back. He was extremely athletic and determined, but his technical skills needed a lot of work.

Among the other backups, Zupo had pace and little else at this point, while Paiva and Valiente understood the game, but were slow.


Gordon had a soft spot for the time-honored 4-4-2, but his team wasn't constructed to play that formation very well. He liked the 4-1-2-2-1 just as well, so that was the tactic he'd used most in the preseason.

Right now, Rebello was the defensive midfielder, but he was being pushed hard by Jamie Haworth, who'd played well for the U18s. Rebello was faster and better with the ball, while Haworth was nasty in the tackle.

Gordon thought the central midfield was the weakest part of his team, and this bothered him. "I want us to be strongest in the middle of the park," he sighed, "and that's where we need the most work."

When there was a defensive midfielder on the pitch, Pridham would play in the engine room. He was the most complete midfielder in the team, by a long shot, with the technique and energy to boss the midfield. Still only 16, Pridham was the team's best prospect for a long football career.

Cerovac and Santinelli were the next best options. Cerovac was much more comfortable on the right wing, where his skills played better. Santinelli was eager and wanted to do flashy things, but his technique fell far short of his vision.


Pridham was even better as an AM(C), where his playmaking skills shone brightly. However, using him there meant Gordon would have to start both Cerovac and Santinelli, or move Rebello up the pitch, where he wasn't nearly as comfortable.

Gordon was much happier with the situation on the wings. Cabrelle brought pace and a decent amount of skill to the left flank. Budalic and Dell were competing for the first team spot on the right wing, with Budalic probably a bit ahead at this point. For one thing, Budalic was a leader. The players, along with Gordon's staff, were delighted when Budalic was named the club captain, with Cabrelle as his lieutenant.

Paavilainen could fill in without the team losing too much quality. Mullings was very raw, but had potential.

Harrison was the team's best striker, with very good pace and creativity. He could also play in the hole behind another forward, which created a spot for Stalteri, a clinical finisher, The team's best eleven probably featured Stalteri up front, with Harrison behind him and Pridham in the central midfield.

The media had picked the Majors to finish mid-table, with the consensus being 11th place. Gordon thought that was probably about right. The three academy teams, which were attached to professional clubs, were tapped to finish on top. Ajax FC was considered the best of the non-Academy sides.

"We're up against it when we face the academy teams," Gordon admitted. "They've got some really talented kids in those clubs. We'll give it our best, though, and you never know what will happen when we get out on the pitch."

They would all find out, soon enough.
That's a decent squad, but a quality update mate, keep it going :D

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