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After dismal seasons, Voyageurs hope for better men's soccer results

Solid recruitment, strategy changes may help LU's cause
Voyageurs660
The Laurentian Voyageur's men's soccer team is hoping its 2016-2017 squad does better than last year's team (pictured). Supplied photo.

After surrendering 59 combined goals over the past two seasons, change was imminent for the Laurentian Voyageurs men's soccer team.

Some has come by way of a solid recruiting class, but the real test will lie in the implementation of an adjusted strategy on the part of coaches Carlo Castrechino and Tony Tagliafierro.

"We're playing a different defensive formation than last year, a 4-2-3-1, which means six guys on defense, most of the time," said Castrechino late last week, as the team readied for their home opener against a top-end Ryerson Rams crew.

"I found with our team that once we had a few goals scored on us, it deflates them. We want to keep it tight. All of the guys have responsibilities to get back and double team. It's going to take some time to get this formation going."

That said, he is confident this group is up to the task. Working out from the back end, the former OUA striker likes what he sees, as 2015 rookie revelation Connor Vande Weghe looks to build upon his Team MVP campaign of last fall.

A graduate of St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School, the sophomore keeper is well heeled, with veteran Duncan Jobson still in the mix as back-up. The Voyageurs will return a back four of Nick Franke and Zach Gallo on the inside, with captain Cole Giffin and Ayden Meilleur on the outside.

Gallo is back after missing much of 2015 due to injuries, and Castrechino is much more comfortable with his ability to fill in, with versatile rookie Chris Daoust out of Ottawa pressing for action either as a defender or midfielder.

The most pleasant surprise of training camp has come in the form of holding midfielder Nico Correa, one of four former members of the Corpus Christie Longhorns program in Burlington who made their way north this fall.

"Nico has probably been the most impressive player, not just recruit, in camp," said Castrechino. "Overall, the rookies, have really been stepping up. I can sense the vets know they are being pushed, which is what I want. I want no complacency."

Chris Atkinson is expected to join Correa as a defensive midfielder, while the likes of Evan Stronach, Aaron D'Souza and Zef Kraja will focus on controlling the interior of the pitch, and supporting 5th year striker Matt Wilkes.

Though LU will miss the all-star presence of Omar Allison, there is a balance across the 2016 lineup that is encouraging. 

"We don't have that one key player that we can rely on, so it has to be a team concept, for sure," said Castrechino.

"That's what we've been stressing, play for each other, fight for each other. It's a matter of getting back to old Laurentian soccer. We want to be a team that plays hard. I think we've gotten away from that the past few years."

And in the end, Castrechino sees no reason why a return to the post-season cannot be a realistic goal for a squad that was on the outside looking in following both the 2014 and 2015 regular seasons.

"I want top four," he said. "I'll be honest with you, U of T and Ryerson are probably going to be up there, and maybe Queen's. But after that, there is no reason we can't beat these teams that are right there with us."

"We dropped too many points to those teams last year, Trent, UOIT, Nipissing. I think we can be better than that."

Game one did not produce a Laurentian win, even though the result was encouraging. Facing the defending OUA champions, the Voyageurs could not overcome a goal in the 21st minute from Luka Lee, dropping a 1-0 decision to Ryerson.

The Laurentian men are back in action Sunday on the road, battling the University of Toronto Blues.