Sigma FC's A1 and B2 squads are about to put their winter training to the test against U.S. collegiate competition in the first outdoor games of the season.
Sigma's two most senior squads will travel for games against MAAC conference power Siena College and Blackwatch Academy U-18s on Saturday and Sunday.
The two-day trip is the first of many the A1 and B2 teams will make as part of Sigma's dedication to providing their players with exposure to the next level of their soccer development.
"The most important thing for the older age groups at Sigma is we want to expose them to the next level of the game, that being the collegiate level. The NCAA game in the U.S. is one viable avenue for them to continue their development and their play," said Sigma FC technical director Bobby Smyrniotis. "We always want to be able to expose them to university campuses, and challenge them against university competition."
Sigma has developed many strong relationships with top U.S. collegiate soccer programs over the past few years, including Siena College.
"Their coaches have been to our camps. And we also have the connection in that our recent graduate Emery Welshman, who was a member of the Sigma the past few years, is now a member of the Siena soccer team," explained Smyrniotis.
Welshman had a breakout rookie season with Siena, earning conference rookie of the year honours and leading the team in scoring.
"We are looking forward to the chance to play a couple of games, and see one of our old Sigma players," Smyrniotis said. "This our first trip of the season. Later in April, the A1 and B2 squads will visit Syracuse University, which is another place we have been invited. The school has a Sigma friendly coaching staff who knows us well and knows the work we do up here."
As the Sigma players get older, Smyrniotis said, the focus turns as much to the classroom as the soccer field - in order for the boys to continue playing at a high level, they have to be strong students.
"The big focus is preparing them for the collegiate game, so we make sure they are taking the right courses, and make sure they are doing well in school, that is the most important thing," Smyrniotis said. "After that, we have to get them the exposure."
Exposure however, doesn't just mean travelling to schools in the States.
"This can also happen here at home. Over the last three-four months, we have had a lot of coaches up here to watch the A1s, B2 and even the teams at the younger level," Smyrniotis said.