Stingers 2, Redbirds 1: Men’s soccer clinches playoff berth with win over rivals
Impressive offensive showing gives Concordia second straight trip to postseason
After waiting eight years to find their way into the postseason, a 2-1 win over the McGill Redbirds means the Stingers men’s soccer team will see playoff action for the second straight year.
Concordia came into the game leading their bitter rivals in the race for the final playoff spot by four points with two games to play. McGill needed a win in order to keep their season alive. While the Stingers only needed a point, captain and star centre back Sean Holmes was out of the lineup with a hamstring injury.
“You know me, I’m not missing this if there was any other way,” said Holmes, who was at Concordia Stadium three hours before the game receiving treatment in hopes of playing.
The responsibility of both the captain’s armband and organizing the defense then fell to his partner Alexandre Hajjar.
Things would get off to a rough start for the new-look back line as only three minutes in, McGill’s Nicholas Destaing broke through a poorly executed offside trap and opened the scoring. Concordia’s response to conceding has been inconsistent throughout the season. Just two days prior, they conceded two quick goals in the finals six minutes against Université Laval, dropping an important point.
“It’s been a while that he [Concordia defender Kyle-Vincent Garcia] hasn’t played center back, so he was a bit rusty,” said Hajjar. “All that matters is we only conceded one goal and didn’t make any more mistakes.”
This game would not be the same, however, as Concordia responded immediately with two amazing chances, both stopped by Chris Cinelli-Faia who had another standout performance.
Both teams appeared to take their foot off the gas until the 37th minute when Simon Spenard-Lapierre was played through on goal, forcing another important save by Cinelli-Faia. Spenard-Lapierre a missed significant chunk of this season with nagging injuries, but the inclusion of an out-and-out striker gave Concordia that present threat they had been missing for a lot of the season.
“Having him play in two games back to back and getting him up to speed has been really important,” said head coach Greg Sutton. “When he’s firing on all cylinders and paired up with [Mohammad Reza-Nafar], that’s probably one of the top strike pairings in the league and even the whole country.”
The second half is when Concordia’s offensive buildup finally started to click. It took all of two minutes for offensive-minded substitute Nareg Kalloghian to make his presence felt, sending a beautiful arching ball into the path of Reza-Nafar who squared the ball for Spenard-Lapierre’s first goal of the season.
With momentum on their side, Concordia began to dominate the ball and control the middle of the field.
“When we execute, we’re a really dangerous team,” said Sutton. “Tactically, we’ve put ourselves in a situation to create these opportunities. It shows the kind of guys that we have and our quality that makes us so good.”
That execution would pay off 20 minutes into the second half when Kalloghian played Reza-Nafar in with an inch-perfect ball and the tied-second leading scorer in the league made no mistake, giving Concordia the lead.
This has been a breakout year in many ways for Kalloghian who was featured regularly in the starting lineup and made a fairly significant change to his game. “I was in the mindset that I could only play as a winger, but this year they made it comfortable for me to play in the midfield,” he added.
Concordia will now have the benefit of resting some players and rotating their squad when they face off against the Université de Sherbrooke Vert et Or on Oct. 31. Doing so is a luxury that cannot be overlooked in a league with such a condensed season.
“Being able to secure [a playoff spot] without the burden of that final weekend and the added stress is definitely a good thing,” said Sutton. “With that freedom, now we can use that game to work on some things and make sure we head into that playoff game with some momentum.”
The Stingers will face off either against the Université de Montréal Carabins or the Université Laval Rouge et Or in the semi-final matchup.