A single victory will seldom completely make or break an entire sports season.
For the Cambrian Golden Shield men’s soccer team, it came pretty darn close.
Carrying an 0-5-2 record into their final regular season outing with the Sault Cougars last Saturday, the Shield more than doubled their 2019 offensive output to date, tripling the visitors 6-2 and booking their ticket to the playoffs in the process.
“That was our best game of the season, we knew that we had to win to get into the playoffs,” noted rookie Prince Akporugo, a Nigerian born attacker who netted his first goal of the year in the contest. “The fans really came out to watch and support us. That was really nice.”
“We were really nervous before the game, but the coach talked to us, told us to be strong, to be free.”
In fact, a mid-season coaching change on the heels of a year which signaled the end of the Giuseppe Politi era at Cambrian created anything but a stable environment for a squad that was already enduring plenty of turnover.
“To be honest, when I look at this team and other teams that we’ve had, we have a lot of rookies this year compared to the last couple of years,” noted third year striker and Class of 2020 graduate to be Masoud Mahmoud. “We just needed time to get caught up. We have a good team that can play, that can pass.”
And in a league where the likes of Humber, Algonquin and Sheridan dwarf the Sudbury entry both in terms of student population and also convenient access to post-secondary of soccer talent, there is a need to factor in an element of enjoyment for the Cambrian student athletes.
“The way that we played this year was different,” said Mahmoud. “Before, we would just boot the ball away, kick it to the striker and all that kind of stuff. This year, we were able to play more by passing around. I liked that a lot, to be honest, even if we haven’t been doing great. I like the way that we play, and we’re having a lot of fun.”
Saturday, in particular, was especially enjoyable, with Mahmoud finding the back of the net on three separate occasions, a performance that earned the Fitness Management major OCAA men’s soccer Athlete of the Week honours. “That game was special for myself,” he said.
“In other games, I was trying to correct some of the mistakes I had made before. I hadn’t really been able to score goals, even when I had chances, one on one, and my finishing wasn’t really good. This game, I decided that when I get the ball, I was going to come down and make my own decisions, not listen to everyone else.”
Come Saturday, the Golden Shield will face the Fanshawe Falcons (8-1-0), first place finishers in the OCAA West in their cross-over post-season battle, leading into the OCAA Championship weekend from October 23rd to the 26th in Peterborough.
Yes, the odds are stacked against them, but then again, this was not even an opportunity that the Cambrian lads were certain would even present itself. “I can’t wait to get there,” said Akporugo. “We really have to focus on the communication between the players, and to really be there for each other.”
“We’re going to come out strong.”
If nothing else, interim head coach Milton Lessis has instilled an appreciation for the moment with his new team. Optimism, at least for another day or two, reigns supreme. “The key for us in the upcoming game pretty much is that we need to be focused, to keep our heads in the game, and we’ve got to make sure that we don’t get scored on first,” said Mahmoud.
“As soon as we get scored on, we have a bad habit of putting our heads down. If we know what we want, going on this trip, and we play our best, I think we can do something. It’s a game of soccer and anything can happen.”
“For me, since it’s my last year, I want to do better, to leave something behind that people can talk about,” said Mahmoud. An upset win over Fanshawe would more than fit the bill.
The Cambrian women, for a change, will not be joining the men in the playoffs this fall. With a record of 1-6-2 (5 pts), the Golden Shield closed with a 1-1 tie against the Sault Cougars. A very tightly bunched bottom of the OCAA East Division standings would see the Cougars (2-6-1), and the Centennial Colts (2-7-0) qualify for the playoffs, while the Fleming Knights (2-7-0), the Loyalist Lancers (1-6-2) and Cambrian did not.