By: Lucas Uggenti
Following a rather unsuccessful 2016 season, the McMaster Marauders men’s soccer team was determined to flip the script and make the 2017 campaign a much more lucrative one.
Facing adversity right from the get-go, the soccer team was going to be without their returning veterans Aleks Vincic, Marco Gennaccaro and Kieran Doyle-Davis. All three had solidified a starting position on last year’s roster and played an important role as the team leaders on and off the pitch. While the loss of the team’s big three left a hole in the roster, this made room for new players to step up and claim the leadership role.
The team forged ahead, leaning heavily on their new fifth-year players, hoping they would be able to fill the void. Having trained together as a team throughout the offseason and improving with every training session, the transitional period came with ease and the integration of a new formation and system suited the players well, leaving team morale high entering the new season.
“Confidence was high, we played as a unit and trusted one another,” said Carlo Difeo, starting right wing back. “We worked a lot harder collectively and it made all the difference.”
The team came out firing on all cylinders, exploding for a 6-0 victory in their first game against Waterloo. A total of nine players registered at least one point in their season opener while keeper Tristan Joyce made five saves en route to the team’s first clean sheet of the season. Following the dominating win against Waterloo, the boys defeated Laurier in defensive fashion, earning yet another clean sheet in a 1-0 victory.
Optimism was as the forefront of emotions for head coach Dino Perri who saw his team start the season off well, dominating their first two games, which was considerably different than last year’s start.
Despite such a strong start to the season, McMaster is challenged with playing in one of the toughest leagues in the country, resulting in a wave of difficult games. The Marauders were beaten in two of their next three games, gaining only three out of a possible nine points.
“We had a lot of ups and downs, starting the season with two opening wins and making a big statement to league,” stated Difeo. “Unfortunately, the losses to York and Western were upsetting, knowing we were the better team. It gave us a reality check, realizing we have to take every game seriously from this point on.”
A reality check was certainly in place, as the Marauders strung together a series of wins in consecutive fashion following the tough loss to York. The Marauders were dealt a tough rebound game playing the defending league champions, the Guelph Gryphons.
The boys defeated last year’s champion with ease, holding a 4-2 lead after the final whistle blew. The game seemed to spark the Marauders as they continued to steam roll ahead, winning their next three contests and claiming points in four of five games.
A big part of the team’s success thus far has been the performance of Sasha Ricciuti, Yunus Mallayev and Chris Luxton. Ricciuiti has been the most productive Marauder this season, tallying a total of seven goals and three assists for a total of 10 points in 14 games played.
“Everything goes through Mallayev,” said Perri. “He’s been great as a player and a good leader on and off the pitch. Ricciuiti and Luxton are fifth-year guys, they know what it takes. Their biggest contribution is passing on their leadership to the young guys on the team.”
The Marauders finished the season on a strong note, rattling off four more wins outscoring their opponents 12-2. The team will finish with three more wins and a total of seven more points than last season. Ending on a high note, the team plans to keep their momentum up heading into the postseason.
“The regular season has been a success thus far, but the real season starts in the playoffs and the standard is nationals,” stated a determined coach Perri. “We’re in the toughest league in Canada, anyone we meet from here on in will be a tough game. As long as we’re prepared and come out to do what were capable of, we’ll be okay.”
McMaster erased any negative notion that this season was going to be a struggle. Coach Perri was able to describe the season in one phrase, stating it was a “learning curve”, adding, “The guys did a great job of adapting and making the season a good one.”
The determined Marauder squad will finish second place in the table with a total of 37 points. They have earned themselves a bye to the quarterfinals, which will take place Oct. 28.
There were some growing pains for this up-and-coming young Marauders team but this year was not robbed of its entertainment. There were no shortages of compelling storylines during this impressive season, leaving expectations high as they enter the playoffs.