On a cold and windy fall night, the Laurier men’s soccer team played their first playoff match at home against the Western Mustangs.
Heading into the game, everything was looking up for the Golden Hawks, having won three of their last four matches heading into the OUA playoffs and finishing the regular season as the fourth seed in the West.
As the match got underway, the two teams appeared to be feeling each other out. There was lots of midfield play and Western maintained a high press before the first shot came in the 8th minute. Western looked to be the stronger team early, with their press forcing Laurier to try to play longer passes over the Western defence.
The first chance of the match came off of a nifty move on the left wing from Western’s Parker Seymour as he beat his man but couldn’t quite send in a good enough cross.
Then, in the 45th minute, right before the halftime whistle, Laurier’s Luca Moco-Montanaro was played in by Niklas Bauer, but his shot went just wide left of the goal and the first half ended 0-0.
After the match, head coach Mario Halapir spoke about his team’s struggle to get after the opponent in the first half.
“I think we came out a little bit afraid of losing,” he said, “and I think the first half was a very tentative half. It didn’t even look like playoff soccer.”
The second half began with some drama as Western’s Chuka Ononye was yellow carded for a reckless challenge, breaking up a Laurier attack that got both benches up and shouting. After this, both teams settled in and the game began to pick up pace.
More chances went to waste before Western struck in the 74th minute, via striker Braeden Gee. The goal came on a long throw that confused the Laurier defenders, who weren’t able to clear the ball.
Laurier pressed on, but ultimately couldn’t capture the equalizer and with numbers committed forward, Western’s James O’Callaghan sealed the victory for the away side in the 88th minute.
Halapir wasn’t happy with the performance post-match.
“We did what has hurt us all year. If we don’t follow a game plan it’s very difficult for us to be successful. Two errors and you’re not capitalizing, I think that spells a loss.”
While this loss was a tough pill to swallow, the positive aspects the program can take out of this game is that young star Liam Chong Tai, who was subbed on for the second half, looked bright in his first game as a Golden Hawk.
“[Chong Tai] is going to be a talent. He hasn’t played all season; he broke his ankle six weeks ago so we haven’t had the luxury of having him here,” Halapir said of the first-year player.
“I think he’s got huge promise and I think he made a big impact alone on being able to at least complete a pass or two which we were lacking in the first half.”
Wednesday’s game marked a disappointing end to an otherwise successful season for the men’s soccer team.