Every glimpse of top level soccer increases the passion that Michael Marcantognini has towards the sport, nurturing his love of the beautiful game.
Given the rare stratosphere in which the 16-year-old Sudbury native currently finds himself, this is a very good thing.
Marcantognini represents the first male soccer talent from northern Ontario to compete with a provincial team at the national championships in 22 years, since his current mentor Brian Ashton last accomplished the feat.
The past 12 months have provided a whirlwind adventure for the skilled midfielder. When I last caught up with the teen over the Christmas holidays, Marcantognini had cracked the U-16 Ontario team roster, preparing for a trip to Spain for a series of exhibition games in March.
Holding their own against junior division II teams, Marcantognini and company ran smack dab into the crew from Espanol, breeding ground for many of Spain's future national team players.
"Nobody runs with the ball — it's just one touch passing the whole time," Marcantognini said of the opponent who recorded a 4-0 win. "On the cultural side, it's easy to see why they're so good. Everywhere you look, it's Real Madrid, or Barcelona."
Returning to Canada for a brief exhibition set against Team Quebec, Marcantognini eventually closed out his school year at St. Andrew's College in Aurora. After kicking off his high school career at St. Benedict, the soccer hopeful moved south, well within range of the provincial team training grounds in Vaughan.
Provincial player assessments continued through the summer and Marcantognini focused his efforts on off-field training, working out regularly with Cal McGibbon and company.
His efforts appear to have paid dividends. While as many as six or seven members of the Spain entourage were not invited back for the July provincial team tryouts, the Sudbury lad had clearly made his mark.
"I tried to do my best, but I really wanted to get noticed by the national team coach (Sean Fleming)," Marcantognini said.
With U-17 Team Canada officials on site for much of the tournament in Newfoundland earlier this month, he knew he would have to strike a delicate balance.
"It's tough in the game, because you really need to pick your times, when to dribble and when to keep it simple," noted the talented playmaker. "When you're in tight areas, play it quick. And then when you have space, you have to look up and go."
Along with helping lead Team Ontario to a gold medal win over British Columbia in the final game, Marcantognini was most notably pleased with a direct goal kick versus Alberta struck with near perfection from some 27 yards out.
"It was to the goalie's right, perfect for a right-footer," Marcantognini said. "They put four on the wall, we put our three beside them. I just laced it and the goalie didn't move. Top corner, I hit it to the far post. It was perfect."
The local soccer star will enjoy another opportunity to showcase his wares in mid-August, heading to England to train for a couple of weeks with the junior academies for both Leicester City and the Blackburn Rovers.
"It will be a great experience to go and play at the level," Marcantognini said. "The experience is the main part, but I would love to get an offer to go back."
In the meantime, he will continue to work and grow his game, with the first tryouts of the U-17 national team set for November and a final roster to be named in April of 2013.
Plenty of time for Michael Marcantognini to take in more of the game he loves.
Posted by Laurel Myers