Hawks bounce back from rough loss
After a discouraging 2-0 loss to the Guelph Gryphons on Friday evening, the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks men’s soccer team sought to bring the start of their season back on track against the Western Mustangs on Sunday afternoon.
The last time these two teams played? Last year in the first round of the playoffs, where the Hawks stunned the Mustangs, who were ranked third in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA), 3-2 to advance to the quarter-finals.
However, head coach Mario Halapir was not fazed at all by last year’s upset win.
“Although we won last year, every game in this league is going to be a battle. It’s no different for this one. Go out there, play hard and hopefully come out with a win,” he said.
However, this one would finish with a scoreless draw.
As soon as Western went on the attack, the Hawks were already transitioning into their counter-attack, forcing opposing midfielders to run all over the place.
The Hawks also edged the Mustangs in ball possession early on, and had several chances to score in the first half by the team’s leading scorer, Adrian Bucksam, and forward Sandro Stojakovic.
Near the end of the first half, it was Laurier applying the pressure, and Western trying their best to hold off some of their offensive onslaughts. At one point, Bucksam absolutely undressed a defender, however rung the shot off the crossbar.
The second half was no different. Laurier had some very close chances, the most notable coming near the 90-minute mark. After a powerful kick by midfielder Niklas Bauer forced the Mustang keeper to make a diving save, the ball made its way to the feet of midfielder Jordan Kotsopoulos, who had an open net, but just couldn’t get the ball to go in.
The kick just missed the net, and four Hawk players could be seen crouching to the ground in disbelief.
“You can’t blame Jordan for that,” Halapir said.
“Most of our close calls came in situations where the ball was just very difficult to handle.”
To Halapir, the big positive from his squad’s performance was the massive change in effort compared to Friday’s loss to Guelph.
“I still can’t get that game out of my head,” he said.
“We went out there with no energy and suffered a bad loss because of it. I thought the guys played with a much better sense of urgency [against Western]. The passing was better, the communication was better, everything flowed at a better pace.”
Another bright spot was the impressive play of goalkeeper Evan Phillips, who had his first start of the season against the Mustangs. Phillips saved all nine shots that came his way and played with noticeable confidence.
“Every one of our keepers is competing for a spot, so as a coach, it’s a great position to be in,” Halapir said. “You know you’re going to get a solid performance from them every night. Personally I was really happy with the way Evan played.”
The future also looks bright for the team, who currently sit in fourth place behind the McMaster Marauders. They are also getting midfielder Donald Chmura back from his six-game suspension, and a handful of players are almost fully recovered from injury.
The men’s soccer team looks ahead to their next matchup at UOIT on Saturday and will then entertain the York Lions at home on Sunday. Game time is set for 3 p.m.