Not surprisingly, given that stat, scoring is down. However, one of the league’s head coaches says he believes this is more the result of increased parity within the league as opposed to failing offences and/or teams playing tighter in their own end of the pitch.
“First of all, scoring is always difficult in soccer. Attacking is not an easy thing to do,” said Feildians Steve Howell.
“But I think the big thing this year is that the league is so much more competitive. I mean, six of the seven teams have shown they can win on any given day.”
An example would be Sunday’s game in St. Lawrence, where the Gerry O’Brien Financial Canada Games team blanked the league-leading and defending champion Labatt Laurentians 1-0. That put the Games team, which is playing in the league on an exhibition basis, at .500 with a 3-3-1 record, with two of their three victories coming over the Laurentians and Mount Pearl First Choice Haircutters, the teams that met in the 2016 Challenge Cup final.
“Those young fellows can play. They’re proving it,” said Howell of the Games team, which he jokingly refers to as the “Feildians B” side given that it includes eight players who are with the Feildians Athletic Association.
“Same goes for the Strikers. They seemed to have turned it around.”
That may be an understatement. Last year, the C.B.S. That Pro Look Strikers didn’t record a win in 22 games, going 0-19-3, and giving up 75 goals while scoring only seven times.
As of today, the Strikers are 5-4-2 and plus one in the goals for/against department.
In other words, with the Strikers’ improvement and the strong showing by the Games team so far, there appears to be far less easy goals to be had in Challenge Cup these days.
In 2016, there were 256 goals scored in 72 Challenge Cup contests, an average of more than three and a half goals a game. So far this year, there have been 83 goals, for an average of less than two and a half goals per games. Teams have posted shutout wins 20 times, while there have been four scoreless draws.
Eleven different goalkeepers have recorded shutouts and every one of the league’s seven teams has whitewashed an opponent.
“However, I wouldn’t say goalkeeping is the biggest reason (for scoring being down),” said Howell. “It definitely is a factor and certainly it is very good throughout the league … just about every team has a bona fide No. ‘keeper.
“But if you look at last year, and only counted the games between the top four teams, you would see that the top scorers in the league only had about four of five goals each.
“The rest came against the other teams, but there aren’t as many of those kind of goals this year and it’s because there are more competitive teams.”
The stats from the past three seasons help prove Howell’s point:
• In 2016, the Strikers, Games Team and Corner Brook United surrendered 160 goals combined, almost two-thirds of the league total.
• In 2015, the Strikers and Corner Brook, gave up 102 goals, more than half the total in what was a six-team league (the Games team did not compete that season)
• In 2014, with no Strikers, Games Team or Corner Brook — only St. Lawrence, Holy Cross, Mount Pearl and Feildians were in what was a small, but always competitive, league — the goals-per-game was below three.
The 2017 Challenge Cup circuit, while larger, seems to more like the one of three years ago.
This season, Feildians sit second in the standings with a 5-2-3 record. This even though Howell’s Double Blues have only managed 14 goals in their 10 outings.
“I know when it comes to us not scoring, I mostly put it down to the fact we have four injured strikers,” said Howell, who is missing Iain Gamba (broken arm), Aaron Buckingham (broken hand), 2016 all-star Zach Hynes (ankle) and youngster Daniel Godden (knee).
The Feildians, who take on the Games team Wednesday night at King George V Park, have made up for their dearth of goals with solid defence and the work of goalkeeper Braeden Sheppard, who has five shutouts, tied for most in the league with D’Arcy Bennett of the Games squad.