The common thread for the UPEI Panthers men’s soccer team’s recruiting class is speed.
Head coach Lewis Page has added five players to his roster as the team prepares for the upcoming Atlantic University Sport (AUS) season. The Panthers open camp on Friday.
“We were looking to get a little faster at least off the bench,” Page said as for his game plan heading into the off-season.
The team has added Duncan Murray from Saint John, N.B., Jack MacMillan from Bedford, N.S., and a trio of players Page coached with Team P.E.I. at the 2017 Canada Games in Winnipeg.
“I think it makes us deeper,” he said. “We didn't need a lot of new players this year. Our core group of players are in their fourth and third years. . .
“Those players, I think, are primed and ready to have a really great season.”
That core includes the likes of Sam Smiley, Nacho Sanchez, Mark Smith, Jake Deighan, Lucas Ross, Mo Jaber, Cohen Reddick-Stevens, Josh McKillop, Mon San Aung and keepers Brett Strba and Nathan Ford.
The team lost Jeff Moore, Ben Keefe, Jesse Cameron from last year’s squad.
Here’s a look at the incoming class:
An attacking midfielder from Saint John, N.B., who plays with Fundy United in the McCain New Brunswick Premier Soccer League.
“He’s very fit. Kind of a quick, wiery midfielder. He’s got a good soccer IQ. He just makes us a little bit quicker in midfield,” Page said.
“He’s a great kid as well,” he added. “He’s very respectful, hard-working and I think his attitude will fit in great with the squad.”
A left side defender from Bedford who plays with Suburban in Nova Scotia. He has good size, but still needs to fill out, plays with good pace and is seen as a key piece long term on the back-line as either a left back or left centre back.
“That’s a spot that’s always hard to fill on a team. Left-sided players are rare, so to get one in is important,” Page said. “There’s openings on the back-line right now so we’re looking for him to come in and compete for a place, along with the players we have returning.”
Page acknowledged he was after another Suburban player when he discovered MacMillan. He said it is important not to get tunnel vision during the recruiting process.
“Jack is very keen on the university and the engineering program. You want kids who want to be here.”
Sear is back in Charlottetown after spending a year going to school in Switzerland after graduating high school in 2017.
He played centre back at the Canada Games, but is versatile to play on the wing or as a striker.
“Chris is just such a good athlete, you can really play him anywhere,” Page said.
“He’s very fast,” he added. “If he plays on our back-line with Smitty and Deighan, we’re suddenly very fast back there.”
Bitar brings more speed to the Panthers lineup with the ability to play on the wing and as a striker.
He comes from a soccer family with three brothers (Liam, Noah and Elias) who have all played the game at a high level.
“You know he comes from a competitive family with four brothers who all played,” Page said. “His compete level is very high which is one of the things I really like about Simon.”
The coach has known the family for years and Simon for nearly half his life. Simon will join Noah on the Panthers team.
The Cornwall native and Bluefield High School graduate is an attacking midfield known for his playmaking ability and smarts.
“He’s very fit, really mobile, a good technical player. He sees passes really well and is always available for the ball,” Page said. “He understands the game, sees the game very well.”
The Panthers open training camp on Friday.
“We’re really excited to get going,” Page said. “I think this is an excellent squad we’ve got.”
The team will play exhibition games in Halifax on Aug. 29 and 30 against Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s, respectively. As part of the Mulligan Cup, the Panthers will play Holland College on Sept. 1 and Mount Allison on Sept. 2.
UPEI opens the regular season at Memorial in St. John’s, N.L., on Sept. 8 and 9.
“I know the players are excited,” Page said. “We're just raring to go. We want the season to start.”