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Vermont Hoist Hardware In Inaugural Maple Cup Showdown

By on July 5, 2024 0 466 Views

It was a night to remember for Canadian and American footy fans as the masses descended onto the University of Vermont’s Virtue Field for the first-ever iteration of the Maple Cup.

With a reported 2,500 fans filling the bleachers of USL2’s Vermont Green FC’s home pitch, the hosts were looking to keep their fans energized with a win and a new piece of hardware to add to their trophy cabinets the maplewood cup awaiting the eventual champions at centre-field.

Looking to spoil the party were the visiting CS Saint-Laurent, who – as reigning Ligue1 Quebec champions – were invited to make the trip across the border on Highway I-89 and take on the hosts.

Despite the match being in all senses a friendly, it was nothing but business in either dressing room as both sides saw this meeting with the same level of importance as any of their league games.

The visiting Saint-Laurent entered the match in the midst of a mid-season rebuild following the departure of three of their key players, Loic Kwemi, Safwane Mlah, and Jefferson Alphonse. Since the loss of these three players, the club lost to eighth-place Royal Selects Beauport for only CSSL’s second loss of the 2024 campaign. Seeing this, it is certain that Gaffer Nicholas Razzaghi would be looking to rebound his side’s spirits with a win Wednesday night.

Photo Credit: CS Saint-Laurent (IG: @gsvisions)

Unfortunately for Razzaghi and company, the Vermonter spirit was too fierce and a travelled and rebuilding CS Saint-Laurent was quickly overwhelmed by the host’s offence.

Less than a half an hour in and the game was already looking to be a lopsided affair. At the 5′, former CS Saint-Laurent star Yann Toualy had already challenged his old teammates with a sprinting effort down the left line, nearly getting it past keeper Peter Scuccimarri. Four minutes later and Xavi O’Neil is brought down in the penalty area for the PK, allowing him to swiftly convert it to open the scoring.

Fourteen minutes later and a Saint-Laurent side that was caught in a poor transition was left undermanned against a speedy Green attack. A feed by Sebastian Gebhart would skim the top of the box to the feet of a wide open Jacob Labovitz, and with strong right-footed strike, Labovitz would make it two-nil.

By the half-time whistle, Vermont had netted a third, this one again coming off of the foot of Labovitz to clinch his brace, and the Saint-Laurent defence was as hole-ridden as a slice of Swiss cheese. Upon returning to the change room, Assistant Coach Ramtin Maherpour highlighted that they knew change was needed but that it was not unexpected.

“We already knew we were going to rotate our bench because we have very important game on the weekend [against FC Laval],” said Maherpour after the match, “but the message was simple: you play for pride and you have to figure things out.”

And while Maherpour’s club continued to play to their fullest extent for the badge on the front of their kit, as did their opponents who ended the the second half with another 10+ shots on net, two of which would find mesh, one by Xavi O’Neil (53′) once more and the other by teammate Yaniv Bazini (74′).

Photo Credit: Josh Wallace / Vermont Green FC

As the referee blew the game down with only one additional minute added on, the crowd erupted in excitement alongside their victorious Vermont Green FC, who rejoiced with the Maple Cup and a litre of Vermont-born maple syrup in lieu of champagne. Simultaneously, a sea of fans rushed the pitch to celebrate not only with their boys, but also with the visitors as autographs were signed by both sides.

Speaking after the game, Nathan Simeon – a Montreal native who grew up playing in the CS Saint-Laurent system – spoke on how the club had prepared for the Maple Cup and for their opponents, touching on how they were forewarned of the “familiar tactics that me and Yann [Toualy] we were accustomed to.”

“It’s a friendly rivalry but we took it seriously,” said Siméon, “we had a game plan, we wanted to perform and win for the fans and made sure we didn’t give up for 90 minutes.”

Photo Credit: CS Saint-Laurent (IG: @gsvisions)

This sentiment was shared by Toualy, who took the opportunity to not only out-play his old comrades, but also to reconnect, laugh, and pose for photos with those he once shared a Ligue1 Quebec championship with.

“It was weird playing against them, sure. But the game comes first. That’s just football and my goal today was to win with my new team,” said Toualy, just after sharing laughs and hugs with the current Saint-Laurent crew.

Toualy also discussed how, going into Wednesday’s match, his side had studied ad nauseam the incoming L1QC side and were “motivated and put in the work” to secure the victory.

Photo Credit: Josh Wallace / Vermont Green FC

For the remainder of 2024, VGFC Co-Founder Patrick Infurna stressed that his club’s focus remains solely on their USL2 season as, with three games left in the campaign, the club has an opportunity to vie for first place in the Northeast Division, a dream only four points away.

But even considering this, he remained insistent that the Maple Cup is a passion project, meant to grow the sport and be a fun event for all.

“The Maple Cup is this new idea and so what it becomes is to be seen,” said Infurna. “How we work with [Soccer] Quebec is open ended but I think we can make this… something that makes the L1Quebec champions want to come back and bring this to Quebec… These competitions take time to build a movement around them and each year it will get better!”

Photo credit: Spenser Powell / Vermont Green FC

The club’s desires do include the return of this cup game in 2025 and beyond with the possibility of expansion or a match on the road all on the table. And with L1Quebec currently being led by FC Laval at the time of writing, Infurna is sure that no matter who ultimately represents La Belle Province in the 2025 edition, it will be a spectacle for all

[Author’s note: the interview with Vermont Green FC’s no. 64 Yann Toualy was conducted in French and then translated from French to English for the purposes of this article.]

Header Image Photo credit: Spenser Powell / Vermont Green FC

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