Soccer advances to final four

Men’s team overcomes early penalty, beats Varsity Blues 2-1 Saturday

Amid the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto, the third-seeded men’s soccer team overcame an early goal deficit to secure a 2-1 win over the second-seeded University of Toronto Varsity Blues in Saturday’s OUA quarter-final match.

Playing on the unfamiliar field turf at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium, the Gaels fell behind early on a penalty kick after Blues’ striker Michael Bialy was brought down inside the 18-yard box, but responded with a determined effort and two goals to take home the victory. “This is by far the best effort we’ve put in all season,” said head coach Chris Gencarelli. “All year, we’ve fought through adversity. There was a questionable call on that penalty shot and they were up 1-0, but we responded within the next couple plays. I’m just so proud of the guys: they worked so hard this entire week and were really focused, and I’m just overwhelmed right now.”

Gencarelli said the team came prepared to play on the field turf this time after their 4-0 loss to the Blues in their previous game at Varsity Stadium.

“It was [an issue] last time,” he said. “We got in a practice at the soccer dome in Kingston this week to sort of get a feel for the turf. That was great: I think it helped us out.”

Gencarelli said the less-than-ideal beginning inspired the team.

“Sure, you don’t want to have that start, but the guys knew it was a questionable call and that fired them up,” he said.

Soon after the penalty, Toronto goalkeeper Luciano Lombardi came out of his box to intercept a long pass, but his clearance went to Queen’s midfielder Nick Milonas, who drove it into the empty Toronto net from 35 yards out to tie the score with his second long goal of the playoffs.

“I guess the long ones are a bit easier for me than those ones in the 18-yard box,” Milonas joked afterwards.

Five minutes into the second half, Queen’s midfielder David Kerr-Vayne picked up an injury and was replaced by Alex Makin, a fifth-year veteran midfielder who had only seen limited action for Queen’s this season due to injuries. Makin immediately made his presence felt, scoring his first goal of the season only five minutes later when Lombardi attempted to punch away a cross, but sent the ball right to Makin’s feet.

Makin said it was great for him to be able to make an impact on the game.

“I’ve been injured all season, and to come in and have a ball like that land on my foot, to have that opportunity was fantastic,”

he said.

Neither team capitalized on further scoring chances, and the late pressure from Toronto was ultimately unsuccessful.

The Blues were able to force Gaels’ goalkeeper Sean Martin-Courtright to make a fantastic save late in the game, however, as he reached up while falling backwards and delivered a one-handed spike to knock a shot off the crossbar that appeared destined for the top corner.

Martin-Courtright said he was lucky to make the save.

“It was a little bit of a prayer,” he said. “I felt like I could tip it over the bar, but I ended up just jamming it into it, and then it came back out.”

Martin-Courtright said Toronto’s late pressure made him slightly nervous.

“I’ve got to admit I was a little worried,” he said. “It was a little ominous … but we did well to hold them at bay. The defence really stepped up.”

With the win, the Gaels move on to the OUA Final Four at Carleton University next weekend. A victory against the York Lions in Saturday’s semifinal match would secure the Gaels both a place in Sunday’s OUA final and a spot in the national championships, to be held Nov. 8 to 11 at the University of British Columbia.

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