Men’s Soccer: Rollercoaster Start Leaves Question Marks

The Stingers’ First Two Games Got Them Their First Points but Still Raise Concerns

Stingers defender Alexander Williams looks across the field as team suffers tough 4-1 loss to Universite de Quebec a Trois-Rivieres. Photo Elias Grigoriadis

When a club finishes in last place in virtually every single team statistic, a simple rebuild of the squad just won’t do. A large scale overhaul that encompasses more than just the players put on a roster needs to take effect. With all the doubts surrounding head coach Greg Sutton, he’s done just that.

The Stingers team that hosted and tied the Laval Rouge et Or 1-1 last Wednesday night could not be further from their counterparts last year, who barely scraped together four points in 12 games. They were dominant in every sense of the word, with confidence oozing from every attack they launched at Laval’s backline.

This was no slouch they were headed up against. The Rouge et Or side that would act as the first test lost in the RSEQ final to the national champions, the Université de Montréal Carabins. However, the runners-up were constantly on their back foot, subject to a relentlessly high press.

“We finally have the right to play the style we want to play,” said Sutton. “The team’s fitness improved and that lets us be more aggressive and attacking for a lot longer. We don’t give teams time to regroup before they have to deal with a new problem that we’re causing for them.”

From the opening whistle, Concordia largely dominated the tempo of play and enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession, creating chances and forcing uncharacteristically sloppy mistakes from Laval. That made it all the more disappointing when a mistake in coverage on a corner lead to the Rouge et Or taking the lead 20 minutes in.

For a couple of minutes following the opener, it seemed as though this was still the Stingers of old: a team that would get inside their own head and switch off mentally. They almost went down 2-0 six minutes later but were let off the hook.

That close call summoned the bees of game one. The Stingers’ new mentality switched back on and just 11 minutes later, captain Sean Holmes smashed in a shot from outside the box into the bottom left corner.

A Concordia team that, last year, would be looking for any points to end an ever-growing losing streak, was replaced by a side that could not be satisfied with a single point.

“We came into the season with big expectations and we wanted the three points,” said Holmes. “They’re a top team, but we’re better and we want to show everyone in the league that.”

After dominating the run of play for a majority of the game, the Stingers could feel a little hard done not leaving with all three points; but what they showed instead was something infinitely more valuable: character.

“More so than ever this year we’ve got an identity,” said Sutton. “We’re only going to get better as the team plays together more. Everyone’s bought into what we’ve got going on here and we showed tonight that we’re not scared of any team.”

On to the Next One

Only two days later, they hosted the Université de Québec à Trois Rivières Patriotes and everyone was shown why they finished bottom of the table the year before in a crushing 4-1 loss.

Every single aspect of the game was dominated by the Patriotes. They got out to a 2-0 lead after two brilliant set-piece goals from Corentin Artaillou. Felix Bouchard then extended their lead just three minutes after the start of the second half.

They enjoyed the bulk of possession and could’ve easily scored twice as many goals, had they not missed several golden opportunities. The previously insatiable and relentless midfield anchored by Holmes was nowhere to be seen.

“Horrible,” said Holmes when asked about his team’s performance. “We had a lot of good ideas coming in but […] that performance was one of the worst I’ve seen in my time at this school.”

This was in every way, shape, and form the Concordia team that finished bottom of the table last year. The back three were in constant disarray and the width that the UQTR wingers provided constantly pulled them out of position.

When the Stingers did end up winning back possession, stringing more than a couple of passes together seemed like an impossible feat. One positive sequence in the game, though, was their lone goal, which off a penalty after lazy defending from the Patriotes.

After Holmes converted the penalty and cut the lead down to 3-1 with 15 minutes left to play, there seemed to be a little bit of life to the game. The crowd got back into it and some tempo returned to the Stingers’ movement. That only lasted for a minute after which UQTR restored its three-goal lead after a quick counter-attack.

This was in every way a complete 180 from the team that bullied Laval and was unlucky to leave the game with a single point. While Holmes did not mince words, Sutton cast a more optimistic light on the team’s struggles.

“[Two goals from set pieces] they’re not something you see in every game,” said Sutton. “I think there was a bit of mental fatigue and it kind of hurt us. We made a couple of mental errors and our decision was off.’’

This new Stingers squad has clearly made an impression and shown that they can keep up with the top teams in the RSEQ for a full 90 minutes. Yet their loss to the Patriotes raises questions about consistency in such a condensed season that sees them play 12 games in only two months.

The Stingers are now going on the road to face off against the struggling Université de Sherbrooke (0-0-2) in the hopes of picking up their first win of the season next Friday, Sept. 13.