Perfect start for Cougars men’s soccer
Looking strong after 2-0-0 in opening weekend
By Dan Khavkin, Sports Editor
Mount Royal Cougars men’s soccer team kicked off their 2018/2019 campaign with two opening victories, sweeping their first weekend and home-stand of the season against cross-province rivals Lethbridge Pronghorns and the Saskatchewan Huskies.
The Cougars dominated the ‘Horns in the opening fixture with a score-line of 3-0 and carried their momentum heading into the next day against the Huskies, holding on to defeat Sask. 3-2 to start of 2-0-0 for the first time since the 2014/2015 season.
Heading into head coach Ryan Gyaki’s fourth season at the helm, his MRU squad was ranked seventh in the Canada West pre-season coaches poll, a statement taken as a compliment by Gyaki and his team.
“We’re very proud of that,” he says.
“To be ranked in the middle of the pack means we’ve been ranked to have the potential to fulfill that, we’re pretty honoured and happy about that… the schools above are major hitters with great squads and coaches, to be in the middle of the pack for the size of our school and how long we’ve been in the league rebuilding, we’re excited about it and we hope we can fulfill that.”
Coming off a 4-4-6 season in which MRU made the final playoff spot and were outlasted by number one ranked UBC in extra-time in the quarter-finals last year, Gyaki sees the 2018/2019 year as one where the Cougar program can start reaching new levels, despite having major setbacks either at the injury level, or missing the extra edge and drop available points every season.
An area of work in which the Cougars will need to improve on, is turning consistency on the pitch into results in the Canada West league table.
“Everything you do is for the team and hope we can bring in a bit more consistency, to find the three per cent more we need in certain areas to jump from 2-2 tie to a 2-1 win, for us marginal gains in the right areas will make a difference,” Gyaki says.
Despite having a history of slow starts, Gyaki suggests that this has no bearing to the overall success on the season.
“Something we’re proud of despite having slow starts are games where we were not far off, last year we lost to the national champs [because] of a penalty in game one for example. We just got to minimize the mistakes,” he says.“You can have a bad start and make playoffs and have a great start and still miss playoffs… (we) don’t care, just have to work hard.”
“Last year was definitely a rebuild year, I think we need to learn to be better at winning ‘ugly,’ I’d love to win a game where we walk off and say ‘we didn’t have a right to win that but somehow we did.’ I’d love to do that,”Gyaki says.
Making playoffs is a set goal for MRU.
The constant juggling of rotations and starting 11’s are a struggle that Gyaki and his staff have been dealing with since day one and again, faced the same adversity before this season has even kicked off.
“Every year I’ve been a coach we’ve had to rebuild our backline, which is frustrating,” Gyaki says.
“This year we’ll have it again where we have one third-year manning the back-line and that’s been consistent throughout the last couple of years, one experienced and three young players in the back,” he says.
This horrible pattern of constant injury was evident in the first weekend of the season as joint top goalscorer Justin Anderson-Louch suffered a knee injury that will most likely sideline him for the rest of the season.
This year’s recruiting class, however, was one of the many positives that the Cougars are bringing to the pitch this season, along with an introduction to a ‘team first’ philosophy that will look to be showcased on the field.
“You can have the best tactics in the world, if no one works for each other you can throw them out the window,” he says.
The Cougars only have three fifth-year seniors and a handful of veteran players to guide such a raw team.
“Hat off to them, they have been the best part of our pre-season. It makes our job as a coaching staff easier when the remaining senior guys do the motivating for us and allow us to just coach the team.”
“Some of the recruits we have are very exciting. Some of the more technically refined players we’ve signed and that’s nice. One thing we are focusing on is more on the team than the players with potential,” he says.
The new recruits such as David Schaefer and Moe El-Gandour, had a debut weekend to remember in their first two games, wearing the MRU logo on their chest.
“It was an honour to sport the logo and perform in front of a full crowd,” El-Gandour says after his first career USPORT game against the ‘Horns where he had two assists and a goal taken back from an offside.
MRU’s newest dynamic duo on campus served as a deadly one-two punch as Schaefer, a transfer from the German fourth-tier league inked his name on the scoresheet twice with a goal and an assist against Lethbridge. Meanwhile homegrown El-Gandour, scorched the back-fours with his dynamic speed and brilliant vision to guide four assists to his teammates on the weekend.
“Wouldn’t say surprised,” Gyaki says about the strong opening match for his raw recruits.
“It was just a pleasant reaction from everybody, the guys were excited… a great atmosphere and a calmness that we’ve never had before within the group. It wasn’t a big day for the team, it was just a game.” Gyaki says, post the 3-0 win against Lethbridge.
The rookie continued to contribute in the Aug. 26 match against Sask., with freshmen such as defencemen William Libbey and Zach Rowland—who held their own on defence against Canada West powerhouse Saskatchewan while on offence. El-Gandour added two more helpers, one of which resulted in rookie Tysen Chatani’s first career USPORT goal.
Vibes are positive for the Cougars who are sitting pretty at 2-0-0 and have a week off as they prepare for a trip to Edmonton to play guests to MacEwen and the prominent Alberta Golden Bears on Sep. 8-9.