Despite being a co-captain for men’s soccer last year, Dimitri Karopoulos was benched for a majority of the season. This year he’s the team’s only captain. Victor Ferreira reports
When the men’s soccer team was making its historic run through the playoffs last season, the players were all smiles knowing they had reached the pinnacle of their university soccer careers.
That is, everyone but Dimitri Karopoulos.
The then fringe player had lost his once undisputed place in the starting eleven, and was forced to watch his teammates make Ryerson soccer history from the bench.
“Honestly, that was one of my lowest moments, watching my teammates kill themselves on the field and not being able to be a part of it,” said Karopoulos, who was co-captain at the time. “It hurt. I felt ashamed to be a captain.”
Karopoulos began playing soccer at nine years old, following in the footsteps of his father who played professionally in Greece before moving to Canada. From a young age, the centre-back moved quickly through the youth ranks, eventually earning a spot with Ontario Indoor Soccer League club team Olympic Flame. Shortly after, Karopoulos was recruited to play for the Ryerson Rams, turning down offers from Syracuse University and the University of Milwaukee in the process.
During his first season with the Rams, Karopoulos cemented his spot in the starting lineup and earned a team MVP award. He was named co-captain in his second season and became one of the Rams’ cornerstones for the next two years. However, it was last year that the fifth-year centre-back began to lose his influence in the team.
Although he had a strong start to the 2010 season, Karopoulos’ play began to dip near the middle of the season, a time when players are expected to hit their stride.
“He was being exposed as a centre-back and then as a right-back,” said Kevin Souter, the team’s soccer co-ordinator “When you get to your fourth year and you’re not playing regularly you’ve got to give that time to younger players. We had a conversation earlier in the season and told him he was out of shape and that we were looking to fill his position with recruits.”
Majoring in architectural science, Karopoulos says that he began to feel the strain from the combination of his program and playing soccer.
“School drained me,” said Karopoulos. “I began to be switched out of my natural position to right-back and was subbed off during a lot of games. Before you know it, [I was] on the bench. “
Karopoulos did not see the pitch for a majority of last year’s playoff run, and would not have been eligible to take part in the OUA championship game if the Rams had made it there.
“The one thing I let slip was my fitness so I knew I had to get in shape,” said Karopoulos. “I committed myself to a strict diet and I trained twice a day my whole summer to get in the optimal physical shape that I knew I should be in.”
Not only did Karopoulos show up in shape, but he reminded the coaching staff that he was one of the most skilled players on the team.
“Right away you could tell by how he looked and how he conducted himself that he was different,” said Souter. “His attitude was different; he was faster, fitter, and stronger and that translated onto the field.”
For his hard work, determination and continued leadership, Karopoulos was named as the team’s only captain, and now wears the captain’s armband proudly.
“It’s a duty that comes with being a captain,” said Karopoulos. “It needs to be done if I want my team to play at its best. Most captains are defenders and generals of the team.”
Jacob O’Connor, the team’s centre defenseman, is glad to have his captain back.
“Dmitri commands respect from his players and leads by example,” said O’Connor. “He has an overall great effect on the team and everyone can learn a little bit from him.”
Having started in every Rams game this season, Karopoulos is once again content with his performance as a captain.
“I let my team down, and now I’m paying justice to the [captain’s] armband by leading them,” said Karopoulos.