By Charles Vanegas
The dream season ended for the Ryerson men’s soccer team on Thursday, as it lost its first-round match of the CIS national tournament with the Laval Rouge et Or 3-2. While the Rams will play either the New Brunswick Varsity Reds or the Saskatchewan Huskies on Friday, the best they can now finish is fifth.
“We came in expecting to win the tournament. It’s very disappointing to come out so slow to a big game like this,” said fourth-year midfielder Sebastian Novais. “It makes you sick to your stomach because all three goals we let in were awful. Awful. It sucks, because you’re done now.”
The Rams were outplayed and outworked throughout the entire first half – with poor defensive play resulting in two weak goals, while also failing to move the ball up to their two all-star strikers, Armin Tankovic and Alex Braletic.
“There was a rough 20 minute spell where [Laval] got their goals and we were playing catch-up,” said associate coach Filip Prostran. “They were winning every challenge, they were winning every 50-50 ball [and] they were winning every tackle. They were playing really well on the flanks and we just couldn’t adjust.”
Ryerson started the second half with a bang, with Braletic – recently-named CIS MVP – scoring in the first three seconds from a midfield kick that sailed over the keeper. However, Laval regained their hold of the game with Laval’s Patrice Dion scoring in the 69-minute mark.
Tankovic brought it back to a one-goal deficit four minutes later after scoring on a penalty kick, but the team struggled to get any solid chances afterwards, and were forced to watch Laval celebrate on the rain-drenched pitch.
“In the second half we made the adjustments and I thought we played really well. That’s the way it goes sometimes, you can’t win them all, I guess,” said Prostran.
The Rams only managed four shots on net, compared to the Rouge et Or’s 12. Ryerson’s goalkeeper Christian Maraldo was constantly challenged by Laval attackers, but demonstrated why he was named a first-team OUA all-star, making several difficult saves to keep the Rams within reach.
“He played amazing,” said Novais. “There’s nothing really that you could say he did wrong. He kept us in the game.”
Now in the consolation bracket, the Rams will now focus on making it to Saturday’s fifth-place match. But while the team will prepare the same as usual, the only thing on the line for the Rams now is pride.
“To be completely honest – I don’t want to say something I’ll regret, but consolation rounds and third-place games, they’re meaningless. They’re absolutely meaningless,” said Prostran. “We’ll prepare exactly the way we always do, but it’s meaningless.”
With no seventh-place game, a loss on Friday would spell the end of the university soccer careers of Braletic, Novais, Tankovic, Michael and Luke Jan, Viktor Anastasov and Jacob O’Connor
“You want to go out on a high. If this is my last year, I want to be able to go out on a winning note. We did make it to Nationals, it’s not like it’s 100 per cent negative,” said Novais. “We didn’t lose 4-0; we came back. For the most part I think we gave it our all. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. But we’d like to win tomorrow.”
“[The process of getting here] has been building for a few years, so obviously we’re emotional,” said Tankovic. “It’s the last game ever for a few of us – maybe six or seven of us. So we’re going to give it everything we have.”