By Andrew Wallace
A youth movement is afoot on the Ryerson men’s soccer team.
After a remarkable off-season when the program brought in 13 new recruits, the Rams are ready to play hard this year. Although they boast a small, but strong, contingent of veterans, more than half the squad played their first league game against University of Toronto last week.
But head coach Tony La Ferrara says that this year is not about rebuilding the team. In fact, he maintains this recruiting class could be the program’s best ever and a squad with the potential to produce instant results. Throw in the likes of returning all-stars Goran Vlaski and Kwame Amoateng with goalkeeper Anthony Volpe — and the Rams bench boss might just have a point.
“I want to concentrate on the present,” he emphasized, as he guided his squad through its early morning routine before Sunday’s tilt with Laurentian. “Somebody said to me that ‘the future looks good.’ But I said, ‘you know, the present looks even better!’ We’ve got these kids here now and I think we could do something nice with them.”
But as a group of first-year players learned at their game against Nipissing on Saturday, La Ferrara doesn’t always play nice. While standard protocol with club and high-school teams is to arrive about 45 minutes prior to a game, La Ferrera expects his charges to show up two hours before kickoff. When three rookies waltzed in only an hour early for warm-up, they were promptly dispatched to the bench.
“We tied that game and maybe with two of them in the line-up we would have won,” La Ferrera admitted. “But it was the right thing to do. With these young men you have to set the rules right — even at the expense of accomplishing some of the things you want to accomplish. But in the long run, I think it’s going to payoff.”
And if Sunday’s 3-0 victory against Laurentian University is any indication, La Ferrara’s recruits are well on their way to a promising season.
With eight first-years in the starting line-up, the Rams controlled play from the opening whistle, and within three minutes had netted their first score of the season.
Rookies Jeff Pereira, Nyema Chelijahn and Vince D’Elia combined to produce a dazzling tic-tac-toe passing sequence that culminated in a Robert Galati goal. Pereira started it off with a quality pass to D’Elia, who then moved into space on the right before rifling a pass across the pitch to Chelijahn. But Chelijahn allowed the ball to pass through his legs and onto Galati’s boot, as the second-year defender rushed up the left wing and fired a bullet into the Voyageurs gaping net. The young players were showing control and skill in only their third game of the season.
The rookie onslaught didn’t stop there. As D’Elia and fellow first-year Markus Molder grew increasingly dangerous through the midfield, Laurentian buckled and D’Elia tallied twice. In the 55th minute, he took a pretty pass from Molder before dribbling through the defence and slotting a shot inside the right post. Then, thirty minutes later, he struck again, using his size and quickness to push past his mark and go in one-on-one against the Voyageurs helpless keeper.
The Rams may have a powerful offence, but defence also played an important part. First-years Adrian Mancini and Daniel Hartmann also played an important role in creating strategy in the Rams attack, while Alan Lewis turned in a solid effort in the back before leaving with a leg injury.
In fact, all 12 of the Rams first-year positional players have seen the field in the first week of conference play, a rarity at the university level where senior players usually get the bulk of the minutes.
“The speed of the game is a lot faster,” La Ferrera said, explaining why it often takes time for rookies to adjust to the university style. “Players have to make quicker decisions and better decisions. The game’s more aggressive and faster paced.”
The team plays their next game on Saturday in Ottawa against Carleton University.