A domineering triumph, the men’s soccer team (2-0) aims to continue with the success that has had them ranked in the top ten in the country over the past decade. With their reputation cemented as one of the best teams in the nation, the team’s goals for the upcoming year are to pick up where they left off: on the cusp of completing the triple crown of Canadian collegiate soccer.
Last year under Carmine Issaco’s first season as head coach, the team nearly pulled off winning the league, provincial, and national titles. The Blues compiled a 7-1-2 record during the Ontario University Athletics regular season, winning the league’s East division title. But the Blues finished with silver medals in the OUA tournament, as Carleton defeated the Blues 2-0 in the finals for the second straight season, and in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championships the University of British Columbia dispatched the Blues 2-1.
Assistant Coach Hieu Quach believes the Blues have the potential to be the best team in the country, provided that the team takes care of the proper preparations.
“For every roll of the ball, we must out-compete our opponents,” he said. “Working hard while training for every phase of the game offensively, defensively, and in transition translates on the field. Taking care of the little things, such as being technically sharp in training, will carry over to the matches.”
Defensive core returns
Looked upon again to lead the team are an impressive core group of returning veterans, who enter this season with the experience gleaned from last year’s postseason runs in the OUA and CIS tournaments.
The strength of the previous season was a defense that allowed four goals in league play. The team returns three strong back anchors, headed by Eric Tse, the 2005 OUA MVP and CIS All-Canadian. Joining Tse are left back Alen Keri, a fearless tackler who possesses a strong ability to win balls in the air, and goalkeeper Luciano Lombardi, whose outstanding play led the OUA in shutouts and goals against average.
In the midfield, Joe Rini’s leadership was the heart and soul of the Blues and will be looked upon to continue his strong defensive stops and distribution skills. On the offensive side of the ball, Mike Bialy’s excellent control and vision make him a scoring threat on every offensive attack. Coupled with Evan Milward, one of the top scorers in the CIS last year, the duo possesses excellent strength, speed, and lethal finishing around the goal.
Yet with all the returning prowess of the Blues, the weaknesses of the team lie in the recovery of players nursing injuries from Summer Club play, and the key departures of George Davis, Sean Myers, and Kyle Hall. Davis was an inspirational captain who provided integral leadership along with offensive and defensive balance in the midfield. Myers, a 2004 CIS All-Canadian, scored crucial game-winning goals throughout his five years on the team. Hall’s outstanding pace down the flanks will be missed as he accepted a soccer scholarship to Syracuse University.
The recruiting class of the Blues offers new talent for the future of Blues Soccer. Incoming freshmen include Alexander Riga, a 2005 Gold Medalist from the Ontario Canada Games squad whose vision on the pitch is lauded. Joining Riga are Michael Braithwaite, an athletic and pacey defender/midfielder with great versatility, James Katsuras, a creative and offensively gifted center midfielder, and Alexander Raphael, known for his skillful and agile forward play.
This weekend the Blues plan to continue their winning ways as they face Laurentian Saturday and Nipissing Sunday. U of T kicked off their season this past weekend, defeating Ryerson 1-0 Saturday, and Trent 2-1 Sunday, and currently lead the OUA East Division with six points.
The team began its preparation for the upcoming year by participating in the pre-season Old Four Soccer Tournament over August 26 and 27. The first game against Western led to a scoreless tie in regulation followed by a loss in a penalty shootout. The next game against McGill led to a 2-0 loss.
“We did not get the results, but a lot of questions were answered in terms of personnel and proper positions,” Quach said. “We were looking for a forward, a playmaker and a right back to replace Myers, Davis, and Vancouver native Josh Gordon. The tournament gave us an opportunity to test new players at those positions.”