By Mario Russo
The Rams men’s soccer team defeated the University of Toronto Varsity Blues 1-0 on Saturday, Sept. 25 at Varsity Stadium.
It was a tightly contested affair with everything from ejections to goals. It’s been 699 days since the Rams played a competitive Ontario University Athletics (OUA) soccer match, but the team wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
“Tackles flying in, people getting cards—I love these games. They make the game that much better,” said Rams rookie Justin Santos.
Tempers flared and spirits were tested as rain thrashed down on the pitch at Varsity Stadium. Whistles were also one of the more consistent elements of the match, with both teams repetitively testing the limits of the referee.
An aggressive shove around the Rams bench saw Varsity Blues midfielder Anthony Sousa receive the blatant end of the ref’s conscience, a red card.
The Rams secret to maintaining their composure was dictated by team captain Abdallah El-Chanti, who set the example for his teammates.
“There’s gonna be people chirping you, you gotta keep your cool,” said El-Chanti. “Just play the game, that’s all that matters.”
The Rams continued to test the Varsity Blues, but as the first half dwindled down, were still eyeing donuts on the scoreboard. Both sides entered halftime dead, even at 0-0.
Emotions carried over into the second half of play as rain continued to drench Varsity Stadium. A slide tackle in the Varsity Blues’ box saw El-Chanti awarded a penalty shot and an opportunity to put his side up one.
The Rams’ 2019 leading scorer slowly approached the dot and gathered himself before burying his first tally of the season, beating the University of Toronto goaltender on the right side.
“[It was] one of my best goals so far,” said El-Chanti. “Although it was a penalty it felt like a lot more. It meant a lot to me, the team and the fans.”
Down a man and down one point, the time was now for the Varsity Blues to strike back. Despite their efforts, the Rams defence prevailed as they etched their name in the win column for the first time this season.
The Rams will make their first home appearance of the year next Saturday, once again taking on the Varsity Blues. The team is hoping to carry the momentum from this week’s contest into its home opener.
“[I] really hope the fans come out, see us play, get another three points and take three away from U of T,” said Santos.
The Rams are set to play a heavily condensed schedule, including 10 games in five weeks. Santos said the key to keeping it fresh in the locker room is about “trust in each other.”
Up Next: The Rams host University of Toronto in their home opener Oct. 2, at Downsview Park. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.