Men’s Soccer Team Looking to Build Off of Strong Season
With First Playoff Appearance in Seven Years, the Stingers Are Only Looking Up
With a 3-0 loss to the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières Patriotes in the Réseau du Sport Étudiant du Québec semi-final, the Stingers men’s soccer team ended their season on a sour note.
The Patriotes were the only team in the RSEQ to comfortably beat them in both regular-season matchups. The playoff loss meant that the Stingers were a win away from the U Sports National Championship.
“It’s definitely something that was in the back of everyone’s head,” said captain and defender Lester Gariba. “But we’re a team that knows how to focus on stuff one game at a time and I don’t think I affected us [against UQTR].”
Experience was another factor that might have contributed to UQTR coming out on top. An achievement of taking a 1-10-1 team to a game away from the national championships becomes even more noteworthy when you take into account the youth in the squad.
“There are a lot of young and hungry guys on the team and everyone is fighting for a spot,” said head coach Greg Sutton. “Experience was on their side they have a team that played [together] for a while.”
The semi-final was also the last appearance by midfielder by Jorgen Ulloa-Aguilar, who was the focal point of the attack against UQTR before being substituted off after suffering a knee injury. Ulloa-Aguilar admits that a culture change was the biggest difference that helped the team play more consistently.
“Nobody’s position is assured now. I came on as a substitute and so did Sean [Holmes] a couple of times,” said Ulloa-Aguilar. “Last year I kind of slacked off because I knew I would start but this year there’s a lot of competition so you have to be on point if you want to play.”
This year also saw the culmination of what feels like years of just missing out on getting the team right.
Playing with a back-three—a formation where a team only plays with three defenders in order to flood the midfield—instead of a conventional four means that the structural integrity of the formation is quite fragile.
One weak or missing link can make the whole thing collapse, and that is largely what was seen last season.
However, what the Stingers recruiting team did was not only balance out the formation but strengthen it as well.
First-year players like goalkeeper, Julian Petrilli, wing-back Angus Legault and holding midfielder John Cevik, along with Gariba, were just some of the players brought in that made the team look like a nearly finished product.
“Recruitment is a 12-month job and we improved in some very needed areas,” said Sutton. “We have an identity and a style we want to play with and the guys here fit into that style well.
Entering the season, Sutton set his sights on a playoff berth—high expectations for a team that only managed to scrape together four out of a possible 36 points. However, after securing a playoff berth for the first time in seven years, the Stingers aren’t resting on their laurels; they want even more.
“This year was a great teaser of what we can get done,” said Gariba. “We’ve got a good young squad that plays really well together. We want to finish higher up in the standings next year and we know we can.”
Sutton appeared to be on the same page as his skipper, wanting the team to host a semi-final, which means finishing either first or second in the league.
The goal is not an unrealistic one, as they forced the defending national champion Université de Montréal Carabins to come from behind late and salvage a draw both times they faced off.
“Those games against Montreal and UQAM show that this isn’t a fluke,” said Sutton. “We’re a team that can be serious contenders and we have every intention of showing that next year and definitely surprise some people.”
I had the privilege of watching this team go from last place in the 2018-2019 season to a game away from Nationals this year, and it definitely seems like they’re on the right track.
However, they still have some areas that need serious attention, namely on the offensive side of the ball. When trailing to UQTR in the semi-finals, desperation began to set in and that resulted in just heaving balls upfield and hoping for the best.
The Stingers have made it their staple to be as disruptive as possible for opposing offences and have put on a masterclass in winning the ball back this season. However, they need to get more dangerous and creative when they have possession. Ulloa-Aguilar was a massive asset and provided a massive amount of unpredictability to the Stingers’ offence.
Will the Stingers regress back to being closer to the 1-10-1 team we saw last season? Or will their youth propel them to a long playoff run? We’ll only know for sure see next season, but things are certainly looking up for the men’s soccer team.