The 2014 edition of the Italia Flyers men's soccer team provides an interesting mix: the old guard, not nearly as mobile as in their younger years, relying on their knowledge of the game, now combined with an infusion of youth and speed.
That combination spelled success Sunday evening at the James Jerome Sports Complex, as the Flyers knocked off Sudbury United 3-1 in the final of the Milan Vrab Cup, the second of the league's inter-seasonal competitions.
With both teams exercising a degree of caution, quality chances were almost non-existent in the early going. United appeared on the verge of opening the scoring in the 28th minute as Laurentian Voyageur Omar Allison played a cross that created a scramble in tight, with a chipped ball headed away from the goal-line at the very last second by Flyers' defender Justin Visentin.
The play seemed to spark the Italians, who countered quickly, capitalizing just two minutes later as Michael Marcantognini drilled a low shot just to the right of the wall on a direct kick from 20 yards out.
Sudbury United was not without chances to pull even before the half. Saed Oumar pounced on a deflected ball some 25 yards off and rifled it off the crossbar, with Flyers' keeper Thomas Guscott making a big save in the 40th minute as speedy Brandon Ladouceur found a gap in the back line, slipping through uncontested.
By contrast, the Flyers proved more opportunistic, doubling their advantage just before the first half whistle sounded as Marcantognini played a low cross to the foot of Joel Cropp, who redirected the ball nicely past United netminder Stephane Marier.
With the wind at their back and momentum on their side, the Flyers were more assertive in starting the second 45. In the 69th minute, Marcantognini showcased his deft ball-handling skills, taking on a pair of defenders, one on one, and weaving a path in tight before being denied by Marier.
Just three minutes later, however, the soon-to-be Michigan State freshman found just enough room, unmarked, to free himself up for a shot from 27 yards, making no mistake in targeting the top right-hand corner.
United would get on the board with under 10 minutes to play, as Cody Grisby scored in tight, providing the 3-1 final.
"A cup is on the line, so everyone is out to win," noted Flyers' veteran Enzo Bitetto after the game.
Playing in the league since he was 15 years old, a stretch that now spans more than two decades, Bitetto is pleased with the addition of youth in the Flyers' ranks, highlighted by the presence of the likes of Marcantognini, Visentin, Guscott and Thomas Peterson, among others.
"The fitness part of it helps us a lot," said Bitetto. "The old guys can't run as much as the young guys, for sure."
In fact, there is a marked contrast in pitting the United crew opposite the Flyers, one that can be noted early in the game.
"They're a young, fast team," said Bitetto. "We're not a fast team, we're more of a ball-control team. The young guys do our running."
There is little doubt that the single biggest difference maker has been the addition of Marcantognini, the first Sudbury male soccer player to crack a provincial team roster since Brian Ashton.
Now, the two are teammates on the Flyers, with Bitetto benefiting from a first-hand look at both ultra-talented athletes.
"Brian, at 15, was a tackler," said Bitetto. "He was in every play, fighting hard, controlled the ball and could play any position.
"Michael is a sprinter, a natural goal scorer, a little more pace and finesse, a phenomenal player."
In the end, it is the addition of players like Marcantognini and countless more locals who have been exposed to Central Soccer League and Ontario Soccer League competition that will be key to maintaining a reasonably high level of men's soccer in the Sudbury area.
"It's starting to pick up again, and that's good to see," said Bitetto. "The kids have to come, the kids have to take our spots."