By Armen Zargarian
The last time the Rams men’s soccer team played a game was nearly 700 days ago on Oct. 27, 2019 in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) quarter-final.
On Sept. 25, the team will make its return to the pitch at the Varsity Centre for a matchup against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues. The Rams will play their first home game one week later at Downsview Park, also against the Varsity Blues.
There’ll be new faces in familiar places for the program and a season full of challenges, like managing a tough schedule. However, as head coach Filip Prostran said, “Top teams don’t rebuild, they reload.”
OUA teams were permitted to practice throughout the summer, allowing the Rams to come together for eight weeks of training before the fall semester.
Preseason training for the Rams is led by Prostran, who’s a recent graduate of the master of business administration program at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management. He’s preparing for his sixth season with the team.
Change and unfamiliarity is inevitable this season. The oldest veteran on the roster, Andrew Barrett, also points to the lack of injury rehabilitation and fitness regiments that took place during last year.
“All the guys that needed help, now they’re having to catch up,” said Barrett, who is unlikely to play at the beginning of the season due to a knee injury.
Barrett expects the OUA and Ryerson to make the season feel as normal as possible and Prostran emphasized some normalcy has already returned during training camp.
“Top teams don’t rebuild, they reload”
“It’s almost an escape for staff and the players just to feel like how things used to be,” said Prostran.
Although the season is just around the corner and the team is together again, third-year midfielder Christopher Castillo is well aware of the changes the Rams are dealing with.
“It definitely feels different this time around, being in a new conference, having new opponents and a tighter schedule,” said Castillo.
New opponents for the Rams this year will include the Algoma University Thunderbirds and the McMaster University Marauders.
Unlike previous seasons, the Rams schedule is exclusively back-to-backs against the same teams. Eight out of their 10 regular season matches are also separated by three days or less.
Prostran pointed out that it’s a difficult feat to play the same team twice and potentially even three times if they meet again in the playoffs. “The first time you can catch them by surprise. By the second and third time, teams know each other so well it’s really difficult to tinker and get that edge.”
Beyond game planning for opponents, Prostran also believes it’s important to have a deep roster due to injuries and fatigue.
“With back-to-back games, to think you’re going to play the same 11 the next day, it just isn’t realistic.”
Depth will be a strong suit for the Rams and should help them combat the challenging schedule.
The team added five new recruits this year including goalkeepers Eduard Ambrus and Dante Ferraro, left-back and winger Justin Santos and defenders Thomas Maccarone and Alessandro Fargione.
“Do you stick with the system you have no matter what, or do you adapt to the players you have?”
Prostran is excited by what he’s seen from the new players. “In my interactions with them already they’re just great kids, hard workers [and] know what being part of a championship team is like,” he said.
Due to the cancellation of last season, the roster has undergone an approximately 50 per cent turnover this season, according to Prostran.
“It’s almost like a double class,” said Prostran. “Last year we recruited [and] didn’t have a season, those players stayed and then we recruited another class.”
The addition of new players means the inevitable departure of key contributors for the Rams including veterans and former all-stars such as Ali Ghazanfari, Andrew Dias, Nathaniel Tambakis and Alexander Meczarski.
All four of those players played in the back-five (defenders or goalkeepers), which Prostran stressed is the backbone of the team.
A condensed schedule coupled with last year’s cancelled season will cause unique circumstances for players and the Rams coaching staff.
“Some guys haven’t played 11v11 soccer in a whole year. First we have to be cognizant of the physical load,” said Prostran.
The coaching staff is focusing on recreating game environments. Prostran said it’s crucial to get the athletes’ bodies and minds adjusted to game speed.
In addition, the high turnover rate makes for tactical adjustments.
“This is always the philosophical part of coaching, do you stick with your system no matter what, or adapt to the players you have? There’s a bit of compromise on both ends,” said Prostran.
The challenges will be there, but Prostran, Barrett and Castillo all agree that Ryerson men’s soccer is where it should be—competing for a national championship.