The 2017 season was full of ups and downs for the Black and Blue army, with moments of genuine triumph mixed with moments of frustration and disappointment. It was a season characterized by break-out play by individual players. Yet, partly due to the ever-changing squad; the boys in blue struggled to really come together as a team. This struggle would become their downfall, as weaknesses in the chain were exploited first by the Michigan Bucks, and then by Thunder Bay Chill in the first round of the playoffs.
The season began with measured optimism; KW staff had pulled together a solid team with some returning players and some new players with great potential. Although the first game of the season resulted in a loss, the score line was not an accurate reflection of the level of play KW had achieved. The Michigan Bucks had already played together and had been training as a unit for the US Open Cup, winning their first game against Ann Arbor before facing KW United in the USLPDL regular season. They were a strong team, and went on in the US Cup to achieve an upset-winning against the NASL team Indy Eleven before being put out in the third round by Saint Louis FC. Despite this, paired with the fact that KW United was still waiting on a number of their key players to arrive; the Canadian team was able to defend well and create some good attacking
After KW United faced Michigan, they began a great run, winning seven games in a row. Yet there were some small reasons for concern, as none of those games included KW’s bugaboo the Michigan Bucks. While KW United was able to dominate their opponents, the victories were often based on individual play rather than team dynamics. This would not necessarily be reason for concern in the PDL, as it is a short season and most teams do not have the opportunity to develop strong team dynamics. Unfortunately, it becomes a serious problem when the players most relied upon for their strong play are lost to the team for one reason or another. Sameer Fathazada, the strongest player and most dynamic goal scorer that KW had, was benched halfway through the season as a result of paperwork problems. Wesley Cain, a local player who played with a lot of heart and helped to build attacks on numerous occasions was injured mid-way though the season, missing a number of crucial games. The Loebe brothers, Jannick and Janos, both returned to German near the end of the season, and Dayne St. Clair; the Canadian International who minded the net for the first seven games of the season, returned to his University training. These absences and others made for a difficult second half of the season.
The Cincinnati Dutch Lions ended KW’s winning streak on June 21st, with the final score sitting at 1-2. United followed this game with a tie against the Dayton Dutch Lions, and while they were able to dominate West Virginia at home, two out of their final three games would be against the Michigan Bucks. If these games had occurred earlier in the season, the story may have been different; as it was, KW played without a number of their key players. Both games were close, with the Black and Blue Army working hard to defeat their rival for the top spot in the Great Lakes Division. Boosted by a dynamic home crowd, KW kept the playing field level until late into the second half, when James Haupt was able to put one past Scott Levene. The away game three days later played out much the same; the teams were close and the matchup was certainly the most exciting in the division. Yet, the Bucks were the superior team and were able to come away with all
These two losses would become signposts for KW’s chances in the post-season. Their final game against the Dayton Dutch Lions would end in a victory, but with a vastly different roster of players, many of whom had gotten very little playing time during the rest of the regular season. Although some of these roster changes were intentional on Coach Martin Painter’s part, allowing some of his players to rest and other players the opportunity to have some playing time; the fluidity of the roster in that final game seemed like a representation of the season to many of the fans. KW United faced Thunder Bay Chill in the first round of the playoffs; the Chill went on to the final round after putting KW United out in a 2-0 win.
Although some of the priorities for the 2017 season were unmet by KW United, it was an exciting year for local soccer. Many of the players in blue were able to impress eyes looking for future starters in the burgeoning Canadian Premier League. Names such as Wesley Cain, Munir Saleh, and Sameer Fathazada should be remembered in the next few years, as this writer anticipates this will not be the last time they play for a Canadian team. The professional pool of Canadian players is on the verge of expanding rapidly, and KW United has certainly provided an atmosphere where some of those future players can flourish.