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Volume 91, Issue 42
Wednesday, November 12, 1997
Soccer team denied crown
IF ONLY GOALS CAME A DIME A DOZEN. Striker Matt Gallo and the rest of the Mustang soccer team weren't able to get the ball to sit for them at last weekend's CIAU championship, as they couldn't muster any offence versus UBC and Dalhousie.
By Alex Chiang
When the Western men's soccer team traveled to Halifax last week, the Mustangs knew a national soccer title was a realistic goal. But despite not playing all that poorly, the team found out championships are often determined by the luck of the draw.
In the end, the Mustangs failed to match last year's national finals appearance, as they were eliminated by round robin losses to the University of British Columbia 1-0 on Thursday and 4-0 to Dalhousie on Friday.
Entering the championships, Western had beaten both Laurier, for the Ontario West title and York in the Ontario final in nail-biting games that ended in penalty kicks. Playing in a Maritime province, however, proved much more difficult. From the outset, the team was at a disadvantage by being placed in an extremely tough and talented division with the likes of the No. 1 ranked UBC Thunderbirds and the host team, sixth-ranked Dalhousie Tigers.
Aside from McGill, the eventual tourney winner, there was a clear disparity between the talent levels of the two divisions, Mustang head coach Rock Basacco said.
"This was the first year we had rankings on a weekly basis, but they're always subjective since you don't play teams out of your conference, so it would probably never happen," Basacco said when asked about the prospects of using a revised division format based on the national rankings, as opposed to a predetermined one.
"We also had a tough schedule since we had to play UBC on Thursday and then Dalhousie on Friday, so they got to rest up. Plus, Dalhousie's played on astro-turf all season and we've only played on it once at Laurier."
Nevertheless, Basacco was happy with the way the Mustangs played against the Thunderbirds, who entered the tournament as the favourite. In a close, defensive struggle, UBC's Troy Wood scored in the 77th minute of play with his back facing the net and what Basacco and several Western players called a fluke goal.
"You don't get very many chances in these types of games," Mustang sweeper Ugo DiCandido said. "They got a lucky goal. Everyone knew we had the most talented team there, but we didn't get the breaks."
Unfortunately for Western, the team failed to convert on their few offensive opportunities, as the next day they were shut-out again by Dalhousie. In total, the Mustangs managed to score only one goal in their last four playoff games, including four overtime halves.
"It's playoff soccer," Mustang midfielder Jim Tsaparailis said. "We didn't expect this much of a drought since we averaged three goals a game during the season and offence had come pretty easily for us. There wasn't anything missing, it just didn't happen for us."
From a coaching perspective, Basacco could only hope the team was going to come through offensively and he wasn't prepared to make any radical changes.
"Our system worked for us all year and you don't change it going into a championship," he said. "We hoped Luca [Mancuso] and Ree [San] could ignite the team on the attack, but the marking was really tight, which is to be expected at that level of play."
For several of Western's players, like Tsaparailis, Tom Perks and Luca Mancuso, this was likely their final shot at the elusive CIAU title, although their career accomplishments were by no means less impressive. All three were OUA all-stars this season, along with Mike Potts and DiCandido. In addition, Perks was named the OUA West player of the year and was named a first-team all-Canadian while DiCandido was a second-team member.
"The core of the team is leaving, but we've set a standard especially since Rock's taken over as head coach," Tsaparailis said. "This was our big year, but it didn't happen. The team will be just as competitive next year with all the younger guys and Rock coming back."
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