Solid debut for Gaels’ new coach

Gencarelli successful in new role

Gaels’ striker Stephane Detchou (left) pursues a Toronto defender as the ball is cleared. The Gaels tied Toronto 1-1.
Gaels’ striker Stephane Detchou (left) pursues a Toronto defender as the ball is cleared. The Gaels tied Toronto 1-1.
Men’s head soccer coach Chris Gencarelli paces in his coaching debut.
Men’s head soccer coach Chris Gencarelli paces in his coaching debut.
Gaels defender Wade Ennis (8) wins a aerial challenge against the Varsity Blues.
Gaels defender Wade Ennis (8) wins a aerial challenge against the Varsity Blues.

Men’s soccer head coach Chris Gencarelli was hired less than a month ago, but he and his team were already under the microscope as his soccer Gaels opened the regular season last weekend.

The team started strong, defeating the Ryerson Rams 3-1 on Saturday, and then earned a 1-1 draw with the Toronto Varsity Blues on Sunday.

Gencarelli, who played for the Gaels last year and planned to join the staff as an assistant coach this year, said the transition from assistant to head coach was somewhat difficult to do in such a short time, but the players had been a great help.

“It’s been fantastic: the respect is there, the guys are buying in, and I think the overall consensus is that we want to win.” Gencarelli replaces Al MacVicar, last season’s OUA East Coach of the Year, who stepped down last month for personal reasons. “We felt horrible for Al, because it was certainly a very personal decision, and it certainly was unexpected,” said Athletics and Recreation Chair Leslie Dal Cin. “I think we found a young coach who has potential and surrounded him with a good support system. The goal here was this was a very experienced team with good veteran leadership, and we didn’t want to bring in a new coach who was unfamiliar. ”

Gencarelli said his experience playing with many of the Gaels will be an asset for him as their coach. “Playing with these guys, I know their strengths and weaknesses, so it’s a bit easier to understand what they’re going to produce on the field.” He added that coaching at this level will be a bit of a learning curve for him.

The men’s squad, who won the OUA East division last season, but finished fourth in the OUA playoffs last season and narrowly missed a berth in the national championships, also had much to prove.

Saturday’s game started cautiously, with both sides defending well. Tensions flared early and often, and the game became a physical battle.

By halftime, the teams were deadlocked in a 1-1 tie.

The second half began with the teams fighting for possession in midfield. Late in the game, Queen’s rookie Mike Arnold scored a spectacular goal, taking the ball about 20 yards from the Rams’ goal and burst towards the net, juggling it in the air.

He managed to sprint past two defenders and the goalkeeper while keeping the ball in the air, and then volleyed it into the open net.

“I saw the first guy come at me, so I decided just to tap it over him, and then the next guy came and I did the same thing, and then tapped it over the goalie. It felt good [to score]. It was my first game playing at Queen’s, and it was the goal that put us ahead.” The Gaels continued to press, boosting their lead. One more Gaels goal meant the game finished 3-1 in Queen’s favour.

Gencarelli attributed his players’ strong games to a new system they’ve been working on.

The new system involves only one striker instead of two, and forces them to think creatively, Gencarelli said.

“It was a little rocky at the start, but the guys were learning a new system,” he said. “So far, with the first game, I’m very happy with it: the third goal was exactly what I want in terms of the new system,” he said.

“To introduce a new system with only a couple of weeks to prepare for it was somewhat tough, but the guys bought into it right away, which made it easier.” Gencarelli also said the team’s play improved as the game progressed.

“The second half, the guys were a lot better, a lot more aggressive, [and] understood their roles and responsibilities. Overall, I’m very pleased with the first game.”

On Sunday, the Gaels took on Toronto, a traditionally strong rival who finished just behind them in the OUA East last season.

Both sides started strong, but when they were unable to convert early opportunities, the game turned into a struggle for possession. Toronto created a few chances late on in the half, but Gaels’ netminder Sean Martin-Courtright was equal to the task and made several key saves.

After the half-time break, both squads came out firing again.

With only five minutes left in the game, Queen’s looked sure to lose when Toronto’s Joe Rini drilled the ball home for the Blues from 16 yards out.

The Gaels refused to give up, and were rewarded late in the game during injury time when Detchou took a long ball under tight pressure from the keeper and a defender, beat both and fired into the net for his second goal of the season, only seconds away from the final whistle.

“I was just dying to score,” Detchou said. “I think we played well: they were definitely a tough team, but we pulled through.”

Gencarelli said the late goal by Toronto is an example of the change in his role.

“It’s tough: as a player, you sort of lose all hope, but as a coach, it’s your job to really get the guys motivated to fight through to the end. Sure, after the goal I was a little depressed, a little down, but I had to perk up and show the guys there was still hope.”

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