Unchartered territory

Last season, the men’s soccer team finished fourth in the OUA. This year, they’re fighting for first. What’s changed?

The men’s soccer team currently sits in a tie for first in the OUA East division, a year after finishing fourth.
The men’s soccer team currently sits in a tie for first in the OUA East division, a year after finishing fourth.

There’s no easy answer for the men’s soccer team’s breakout season.

With five games left in the regular season, the team is ranked seventh in the country and sits atop the OUA East division.

Last year, they finished fourth in the division and fell in the first round of the playoffs. A 7-1-1 start has the team poised to reach far greater heights in 2012.

Position-wise, the Gaels are equally dominant across the field.

Goalkeeper Dylan Maxwell has let in four goals in nine games — the fewest allowed in the OUA. He’s been the backbone for a group unfamiliar with their spot at the top of the field.

“In my past years … we’ve been playing for fourth place, whereas this year, we’re locked in a battle to see if we can finish in the top [spot],” Maxwell said.

Maxwell said having a core group of experienced upper-year players has been crucial to the team’s success.

“This year, the difference has really been the ability to focus for the full 90 [minutes], [and making] sure we’re not making those silly mistakes at the ends of games that have cost us points in the past.”

The Gaels’ only loss came on Sept. 26 at Carleton. The 1-0 defeat was the result of a throw-in — a set piece which caught the defence sleeping early on.

“We need to be a bit stronger on set pieces, making sure we command our area a bit better,” said head coach Chris Gencarelli.

Aside from allowing dangerous free kicks, Gencarelli said the team is very strong at the back, with players like Maxwell, defender David Tom and captain Joe Zupo.

Backup goalkeeper Max Materne is a capable reserve, while several young defenders have demonstrated the ability to step into the lineup.

“Those guys are awaiting their opportunity, but when things are going well, it’s tough to make changes.”

Gencarelli has been forced to make a few changes due to injuries, which have ultimately paid off. The team has wielded a versatile offense, with 10 different players totaling to 19 goals.

Forward Chris Michael leads the team with four goals, closely followed by Patrick Zanetti and Eric Koskins with three apiece. Koskins has only played in four of nine games due to injury.

This weekend will be another tough test for the Gaels, as they host the Toronto Varsity Blues on Saturday and the Ryerson Rams on Sunday. Toronto is fresh off an upset over Carleton, while Ryerson sits third in the OUA East, just four points back of Queen’s.

“If we have a strong weekend, that really sets us up for our season goal,” Gencarelli said.

“You’re only as good as your last game, and that’s the bottom line.”

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