Playing the long ball

Men’s soccer is rejuvenated. Now, Joe Zupo is ready for more

Joe Zupo made 14 appearances at centre back with Kingston FC this summer. The fourth-year defender spent the season with the professional team on an amateur deal.
Joe Zupo made 14 appearances at centre back with Kingston FC this summer. The fourth-year defender spent the season with the professional team on an amateur deal.

After three seasons as men’s soccer captain, Joe Zupo has an opportunity to go pro.

The fourth-year defender spent the summer on an amateur contract with Kingston FC of the Canadian Soccer League (CSL), and now plans on going to England after the Gaels’ season to possibly get try-outs with professional clubs overseas.

Heading into his time with Kingston FC, Zupo wasn’t expecting a prominent role with the squad, but ended up seizing the opportunity given to him, appearing in 14 games and often starting at centre back.

“When an opportunity comes around for any player, it’s a matter of taking it and trying to do the best they can with it,” Zupo said. “I think I did that this season.”

The time spent playing for Kingston FC gave Zupo a wealth of experience — a great deal coming from the lessons he learned from his older teammates.

“Gaining those experiences from those individuals who are veteran players definitely helped improve me as a player and made me a smarter player as well,” he said. “Going forward, that’s an important thing.”

Zupo also said that he benefited by playing against opponents who had professional careers abroad. He received tips on how to properly position himself against better strikers, some of whom had gone up against top-tier defenders elsewhere.

The added pressure of the CSL wasn’t completely foreign to the three-time OUA all-star. His appointment to captain in his second year at Queen’s had made him one of the youngest men’s soccer captains in school history.

Zupo sees himself as a natural-born leader, having captained teams throughout his career — though he acknowledges the help he’s gotten throughout his time playing soccer at Queen’s.

“I was named a captain fairly early and the older guys on the team were really good at helping me through that transition, because it wasn’t like anything I’d been given before,” he said, noting the difference in captaining his high school team as opposed to his time with the Gaels.

“I think it brings out the best of my abilities, both in the game and my leadership qualities as well.”

Zupo’s time as captain has coincided with a revival of the men’s soccer program. The team had a breakout year in 2012, capturing the OUA East regular season title and advancing to the OUA final four for the first time in five years. They conceded just eight goals along the way.

Head coach Chris Gencarelli said having Zupo and centre back partner David Tom has been a key part of the team’s ascent through the OUA standings in the last four seasons.

“[Zupo and Tom] have been instrumental to our defensive scheme,” he said. “Those two guys are going to be responsible for making sure our back line is really tight and compact this year.”

Gencarelli credits Zupo for his ability to communicate the coach’s ideas to his teammates. After seeing the defender’s leadership potential during his first year with the squad, Gencarelli made the decision to name him captain.

“At the time, we were going through a building phase, so we felt it would be a good idea to name him captain because he was playing such an important position,” Gencarelli said. “The leadership qualities he showed were evident on day one.”

Gencarelli said that Zupo’s time with Kingston FC made him sharper entering training camp and gave him the ability to pass on the experience he learned to his teammates.

With another solid season, Zupo could easily put himself in the position to gain more experience — this time, abroad.

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