Maccabi Canada’s soccer program growing fast
In a symbolic passing of the torch from one generation to the next, the first ever “elite” Maccabi youth team took on their parents in a friendly end-of-season game.
The contest marked the closing chapter for a auspicious first year for Team Maccabi 2002 (the date refers to the players’ year of birth).
Team Maccabi 2002 finished the last six months of the year without a loss. That included playing at least five of the top 10 teams in the province. They finished the year winning the SAAC (Soccer Academy Alliance of Canada) fall tournament, not conceding a goal in five games.
The 2002 team also won the Toronto indoor futsal championship after capturing the league title and was a finalist in the March break indoor competition at the Downsview Hangar.
Not bad for a soccer program that only got off the ground in 2009. Back then, Maccabi Canada joined forces with JCC Chai Sports to create a soccer program aimed at Jewish youngsters in the Greater Toronto Area. Maccabi Soccer is affiliated with the Prosserman JCC and the Schwartz/Reisman Centre.
Starting with a recreational house league that attracted 41 kids, the Maccabi
Soccer Club now offers programs in recreational, elite development and rep levels in the SAAC, said Alex Voihanski, managing director of JCC Chai Sports.
The recreational program has grown to more than 400 kids, while the elite and SAAC academy groups bring in another 100 or more. The goal is to attract at least 600 youngsters for the spring and summer sessions, which kick off in April and run through to October, Voihanski said.
While the majority of kids play at a recreational “house league” level, there has been growing interest in the “academy” model.
House leagues “place more of an emphasis on winning, tournaments and games,” Voihanski said.
The academy approach focuses on players’ skill development and is something like the European approach to soccer, he added.
Kids enrolled in the Maccabi academy program practise three or four times a week and play one game. Even the younger academy players, five and six year olds, practice two or three times a week followed by a game.
The academy provides a natural outlet for youngsters who want to continue to progress as soccer players and play on Jewish teams, he continued. More than half of Maccabi’s SAAC team graduated from house league play.
“We didn’t want the kids to go somewhere else. We wanted them to stay in our system and develop there and keep them within the larger Jewish community organizations,” Voihanski said.
“We get a lot of kids from different backgrounds – Argentines, South Africans, Israelis and Russians,” he continued. “That’s the passion they have and now they are able to get involved in our program.
“Our MO is building community one game at a time… It’s a different part of community-building and one that a lot of people find is fun,” he added.
Coaching and instruction are a big part of the program’s allure: Jamie Teixeira serves as technical director, while Henrich Svetko is the senior technical adviser.
The list of coaches is likewise impressive: longtime Maccabi Canada athlete Jason Mausberg coaches the boys, along with Gil Vainshtein, Kilian Elkinson, Ilya Orlov, Oliver Spring, and Tomer Chencinski.
Vainshtein was captain of the Maccabi Canada team that competed in the Pan American Maccabi Games last year in Brazil. Elkinson plays for the University of Toronto Blues and was a former TFC reserve player. Orlov represented Canada at the World University Games. Spring was CSL reserve defender of the year last season and is spending the year in Israel, where he is finalizing a contract with a top Israeli club. Chencinski is a professional goalkeeper who has played for TFC as well as the top professional leagues in Finland and Sweden, and has just signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Team Maccabi also fields an adult team that has been quite successful. The team has racked up two indoor league titles and one league cup title. Currently, the indoor team has 10 players who were chosen to go to Israel next summer for the Maccabiah Games. As of last week, the team was two points out of first place in the premier division of the Hangar Sports Leagues.
Maccabi soccer draws youngsters largely from the northern part of the GTA, but Maccabi Soccer is hoping to expand its presence south of Steeles Avenue, even as far as Eglinton. The one factor holding it back is the unavailability of playing fields, Voihanski said.
So, did the 2002 team manage to teach their parents a lesson on the soccer pitch?
In the end, the game ended in a tie, keeping everyone guessing about next year’s rematch.
For more information, visit: www.maccabisoccer.ca or phone 416-665-1836
With files from Lorraine Baumann.