The new kids on the block
The Stinger’s men’s soccer team welcomes 11 rookies
The Concordia Stingers' men's soccer team has seen a lot of changes since the end of last season.
A whopping 11 new players have taken the pitch, including six defenders, three midfielders, one forward and one goaltender.
On top of this, ten players have graduated since last season, including former captain and defender Sean Holmes, whose captaincy role was passed on to midfielder John Cevik.
One of head coach Greg Sutton’s most important tasks for this season will undoubtedly be to ensure the cohesion of his team's new lineup.
However, the 2023-24 campaign for the Stingers has been off to a rocky start with the team recording a win in their most recent game, two ties and three losses in their first six games.
Now that the Stingers have secured their first win of the season, Sutton can finally exhale as his team has finally entered the win column.
“We have a lot of new players, there’s going to be a little bit of growing pains, but we’re going in the right direction,” Sutton said.
With half the team now composed of rookies, this year's men’s soccer roster looks a lot different than years prior. However, the new recruits are in good hands with Sutton.
The former Montreal Impact (now CF Montreal) star goaltender has coached with the Stingers for ten years. He understands what it takes to compete at a high level, holding his players to the same standard.
“We’re lucky to have a coach that has so much experience,” said Stingers’ defender Lundon Durand Browne.
Sutton said he knows that this new roster has the potential to be electric, but first, the players must get on the same page—and that starts with the team’s veterans.
“We got a lot of veterans that understand what it’s like to come in and play for a new team,” said Sutton. “They’ve taken the rookies in and it’s helped for sure.”
Jared Leheta, a third-year forward for the Stingers, exemplifies what Sutton is describing. Having embraced the role of mentor and leader, Leheta is optimistic about his team.
“There’s not a bad day with this team,” said Leheta. “The vibes are good and I know everything’s going to come together.”
Leheta has been able to push the Stingers’ offence well this season. He scored both of the Stingers’ goals in their 2-2 draw to Université du Québec à Montréal on Sept. 10 and is set to lead the way more throughout the season.
The Stingers’ defence has been up to standard at the start of the season, as they have only surrendered 1.75 goals per game. However, the offence is looking for a spark in order to propel Concordia into the win column after scoring a subpar 1.25 goals per game throughout the first five contests.
The second step to success is team chemistry, and according to rookie Browne, the Stingers’ have built up a lot of it.
Both Leheta and Browne also agree the veterans and rookies have been on the same page from the get-go in order to change these results.
“As much as the rookies have respect for the vets, the vets have the same respect for the rookies. It’s been a smooth transition and I couldn’t ask for better, honestly,” Browne said.
The St-Hubert native talked about how the camaraderie in the Stingers’ locker room reminded him of his six years playing with the Montreal Impact youth development team.
He also described the squad as his second family due to the amount of hours spent together in preparation for the season. Not only has the team meshed well, but their intensity in practice and drive to compete at a high level have never wavered.
With first-year players being put in a position to play meaningful minutes, they are expected to acclimate to the varsity level sooner, rather than later.
Browne mentioned how university soccer has been different from any setting he’s played in before. He described the U Sports level as more physical, with less focus on stylish plays as seen from soccer greats like Messi and Maradona. The game is more about getting the ball up the field by any means necessary.
“I think the new guys coming are still adapting to the speed and directness of soccer at the university level,” added Leheta. “It’s less passing, it’s less cute and it's more physical for sure.”
The Stingers have acknowledged and understand the expectations set by Sutton, embracing the challenge as the season is in full swing. Their focus is now directed towards racking up wins.
Now that the Stingers’ new and improved roster has their first win under their belt against a strong Sherbrooke team, they have proven that they have what it takes to compete for a playoff spot.
This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 2, published September 19, 2023.