By William Brown
Alex Braletic was one minute away from the end of his Ryerson career.
With the men’s soccer team trailing 2-1 in an elimination playoff game, an aura of tension filled Birchmount Stadium. The Rams’ undefeated season and a potentially crushing ending to several players’ Ryerson careers were in jeopardy. All three coaches shouted at their players on the pitch, trying to materialize a plan to save the game against the Toronto Varsity Blues in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) quarter-final.
Ryerson’s attackers pressed hard for an equalizer, with a mad scramble ensuing in front of Varsity Blues goal- keeper Rab Bruce-Lockhart’s net. The ball ricocheted and fell to the feet of the fifth-year veteran and co-captain Braletic.
In a moment of pure euphoria, everyone realized what was going to happen, as Braletic — the OUA and Canadian Interuniversity Sport’s (CIS) leading scorer — did what he was doing all season long.
With a deft flick of his foot, Braletic kicked the ball between the legs of the Varsity Blues keeper and into the centre of the net.
The crowd exploded. The coaches went nuts. And the Ryerson players, egged on by their emotional leader, roared and hollered with victorious ecstasy, surrounding Braletic.
The goal was Braletic’s fourteenth of the year and his first of the playoffs after scoring 13 goals in 12 games this season. Those 13 regualr season goals were more than all of his goals from each of his three previous sea- sons combined and propelled him to to be named the OUA East’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) for the 2013 season according to Ivan Joseph, Ry- erson’s director of athletics and the head coach of the men’s soccer team.
By winning the award, Braletic be- comes the second player in Ryerson history to win two MVP awards — he won the honour for the 2009 season — and is the only player in Ryerson’s men’s soccer history to win it. By win- ning the award, Braletic also became the thrid player in OUA men’s soccer history to win the prestigious award twice.
However, winning the award was not his main priority coming into the season.
“Believe me when I say that [the MVP award] means nothing to me,” said Braletic, who’s focused on helping his team to reach Nationals. “I can win every award you can think of, and I don’t care.”
Throughout the season, Ryerson’s coaching staff have been playing Braletic as an attacking midfielder rather
than the traditional midfield role he has played over the past three seasons.
“It’s no magic coaching, you put your most offensive player closest to the goal,” said associate head coach Filip Prostran.
Braletic, 26, also says that he’s been playing with some extra motivation, entering his final year of OUA eligi- bility.
“I’ve changed my attitude this sea- son,” said Braletic. “My skill level was never really in question. But in talking to Ivan, I’ve kind of re-invented myself. I take pride in the things I do off the field, like being a good role-model to the younger guys. I’ve become more of an engaged leader.”
Braletic displayed a calm but encouraging attitude that led to his team coming away with a 1-0 win against the Royal Military College on Sept. 22, thanks to a goal he scored in the 89 minute mark. Facing a scoreless draw, he exhibited strong leadership, verbally motivating his team.
“He just keeps everyone calm,” said fourth-year defender Sebastian Novais. “When we need pumping up, he pumps everyone up. He gives you speeches at half time and on the field.”
Braletic’s role as a leader is a new facet to his game. According to Pros- tran, it took three years of “beating him into it” before his leadership qualities truly matured, but Prostran said he could not be happier.
But it’s been a long road to get there. Braletic suffered a concussion toward the end of the 2012 season. The year before that, he did not play the entire season because he was put on academic probation.
“Soccer was my number one prior- ity in the past. Now, school is number one and soccer is a close second,” said Braletic.
He also spent two weeks away from the team this season in order to focus on his electrical engineering studies for the first time since he be- gan playing OUA soccer in 2006 at York University.
“Alex is the fire that the team gathers around,” said Prostran. “He’s extremely influential. If you went to a bridge tonight with 20 of the guys, they’d all jump with him. He’s that influential.”
But after the year is done, Braletic won’t just graduate and move on. He says he wants to remain with the team and be involved as much as possible.
“I’m around for life, and I will do everything in my power that I can to help this team,” said Braletic.