Alumni Showcase Wisdom, Skills to Young Varsity Squad
The end of April marks an exciting time of the year for both alumni and current players from the St. Lawrence University men's soccer program. It's hard to believe that Canton, New York sees anything but subzero temperatures and snow, but in the latter part of April this year, the snow had melted and the sun was beaming on Sandy MacAllaster Field in preparation for what is commonly referred to as ‘D' Day by both current and former Saints soccer standouts, as the afternoon brought together players of yesteryear and today for a 90 minute matchup, one where the alums hoped to reckon with today's young squad and avenge the last year's loss.
This rather unique and special gathering is viewed by alums as a time for rekindling friendships and team camaraderie, as well as sharing their many memories of the past and contemporary time. The day was perfect: the unseasonably warm, but very much welcomed, weather, and the pitch, which was well manicured and in phenomenal shape, awaited the grand entries of the young players and their ‘wise elders'. Spectators were sitting anxiously, anticipating the referee's whistle to sound, which would undoubtedly initiate the Gladiator-style contest.
The SAINTS alumni squad was well balanced and represented a wide range of players from various graduating classes, spanning over four decades. The team was comprised of the following members: Mike "Twig" McGlynn, Chris Rose, Colin Lennon, Franco Bari, Eric Bunyan, Garret Huntley, Evan Schutt, Charlie Bour, and Gil Scharper. This strong core of alumni was complemented by the most recent alumni group that includes: Axel Galeano, Sean Charles, Chris Harrison, David Osorno and James Merrill. Assistant Coach Nick ‘The General' Hillary suited up with the squad as well.
Coming off what we would classify as a substandard season for the Saints Men's Soccer program, with a 9-3-6 record and not receiving a bid to the NCAA tournament, Bob Durocher's young combatants were anxious to prove that the previous year's victory was no fluke win. The Founding Father, Bob Goodwin, was on the bench of the varsity team as well, looking forward to a great competition between the two SLU squads, in light of Coach Hillary's short-term absence.
Coach Hillary had this to say prior to kick off: "The young lads are firing on all cylinders. They are ambitious, in shape, and will play us tough, especially within the first 20-25 minutes of the match. We need to play smart, we need to exert a great deal of patience, but most importantly, we need to enjoy this beautiful summer-like day."
The head official sounded his whistle from deep within the berms of Sandy MacAllaster Field and the game was on its way. The alumni began their one and two touch clinical passing right from the start, trying to get as many of the old timers to touch the ball before the pace of the game reached its high point. The ‘General' wasted no time to become vocal from his sweeper position; he was the director of operations for the day, guiding the alums with his booming voice. He was willing to provide that vocal edge, which the alumni squad took full advantage of during the game. On the Hillary's commands, the alumni squad would move the soccer ball, swinging it from side to side as if the ball was truly attached to a string-- a magnificent sight to see.
After sustaining and withstanding several attacks from the young varsity squad, the alumni went on a possession rampage of their own, painting the 120 yards by 80 yards well manicured soccer pitch with passes. Stringing passes up the flanks and through the middle, attacking, and creating numerous problems for the young fighters. Eventually, the alumni squad was rewarded for its stylish play in the 37th minute of the competition. Goalkeeper Colin Lennon punted the ball just inside the varsity half of the field, giving Chris Rose the chance to work for the ball and start the attack from his position.
Chris then quickly held his head up to find an open teammate to support him in going forward. He immediately heard, "To your outside left! Look to your left!"It was the voice of the General directing as usual.
Axel Galeano was now anticipating the pass from Chris and had begun positioning himself to receive the ball. Subsequently, Chris played Axel a well weighted lead pass, roughly eight to ten yards ahead of Axel. Axel quickly lashed onto the pass from Chris and worked his way past the outside right back, then delivered a nicely half cut back cross on the ground to a trailing Rose. Chris received the ball right between the top of the six yard box and the penalty spot. He was able to calmly finish the scoring opportunity into the side netting, past a fully outstretched Phil Jones in goal for the game opening goal. As a result, the varsity players were somewhat shocked and a little enraged to realize the yesteryear squad had taken the lead.
On the ensuing kick-off, Coach Durocher's young fighters kept on pushing forward, with all intention of leveling the score before the first half came to an end. Nevertheless, the old timers kept the pressure on the young squad by strategically moving and possessing the ball all over the soccer pitch. Clearly, this was an attempt to spread the youngsters apart to create gaps in their defensive formation. Consequently, the alumni ended up winning a corner kick in the 41st minute of play. The squad chose to run a corner kick from Coach Durocher's playbook, and surely enough, ran it flawlessly. Franco Bari played a perfectly driven ball to the top of the six yard from the right corner kick spot. Sean Charles came forward from the stopper position to take part in the restart and was able to find the back of the varsity's net with a magnificent header; by simply redirecting the ball on goal pass goalkeeper Phil Jones and one of his defenders on the goal line. Having created a two goal deficit for the varsity team with less than three minutes remaining in the half, the alumni team decided to possess the ball by keeping it away from the youngsters while awaiting the referee's whistle that would conclude the first half of play.
"We have a sizeable two goal lead to begin the second half of play," said Garrett Huntley during the half-time break. "Now, we must remain with the game plan used in the first half," Uttered Gil Scharper, supporting Huntley's word. Eric Bunyan chimed in, "We need to remain focused and continue to play smart."
The general consensus from the alumni bench during half time was that the varsity squad would begin the second half on an extremely high note, with strong hopes of cutting the goal deficit in half.
"We need to expect and anticipate them coming out playing hard from the get go," a voice from the pack uttered. And just before taking the field to begin the second half of play, Elliot Savitz, Gil Scharper, and Charlie Bour were all reminded by Hillary that their roles as midfielders in the second half were to maintain their position and provide as much support to the back line, especially during the first 10- 15 minutes of play. The team wholeheartedly agreed to the suggestion as well as others suggestions made earlier.
The second half of play got under way and brought great excitement to the SAINTS soccer pitch; the many fans were treated to a fine display of end-to-end possession, St. Lawrence style of attacking soccer. While the yesteryear squad remained steadfast and focused, the young fighters led by Paul LaMarca, Ryan Moore and Emmanuel Mbong continuously stormed the alumni fort as anticipated. The old boys did well to control the pace early in the half, but the surging varsity squad created several great scoring opportunities. It was at this junction in the competition when the youngsters found themselves playing a man down due to an unfortunate minor injury.
Momentum clearly shifted to the youngsters, and the alumni squad held on during that time frame of nonstop attacking play by the varsity. However, the alumni team surged forward, creating a few more scoring opportunities. Finally, in the 53rd minute, the alumni squad was rewarded for its beautiful display of how to move the soccer ball in the attacking third; Savitz, after receiving a pass from Evan Schutt who had overlapped for his outside left back position, went on a penetrating dribble down the left side just outside the 18 yard box. He then served a lovely cross into the box that found Chris Rose in a similar position as with his game opener, for his second tally of the match.
With more than thirty minutes of game time remaining, the youngsters, down a three-goal deficit, knew that time was of utmost importance and they needed to get on the score board. Again the momentum shifted, and the old timers were now beginning to run on fumes, at least so it seemed. Roughly fifteen minutes later the varsity squad was able to find the back of the net. It was in the 68th minute of play when Emmanuel Mbong made a hard penetrating dribble down the left side of the field, going by ‘Twig' in the right back position and pulling the General out of the central position. He then played the ball to Ryan Moore who subsequently slipped a pass into the penalty box right into the path of Jeremy Smith. Jeremy then quickly slapped it past the alumni goalkeeper Colin Lennon for the varsity squad's first and only goal of the competition.
Finally, that pleasant sound of the official's whistle echoed throughout the field and Canton as destiny had been re-aligned. That which was inevitable, ultimately was made reality. The sun, still shining, beamed down on the two squads as they congratulated each other as each player acknowledged another successful matchup between the teams. The true success of the graduates was displayed in their ability to demonstrate the sturdiness and effectiveness of the system of play developed at St. Lawrence over the years and especially under the tutelage of Bob Durocher.
"Understand those old timers played their hearts out," Durocher said to his younger squad. "They truly deserve it. I'd love to have some of those boys back in the program for another four years."
The alumni players may have been older, and a step or two slower, but their sharpness of play and cohesion as a unit, all without recent practice, modeled the core values of the SAINTS soccer tradition. With any luck, the youngsters were taking note.
While it was another successful year, something was indeed lacking-the many alumni who could not attend. Next year, we will plan further ahead, so that we can bring back more of our alums who have played an enormous role in creating the traditions instilled in Saints Men's Soccer and making this program what it is today.