by Kirk Jessome
With a veteran squad suiting up for the 2019-20 season, the Tigers men’s soccer team was aiming to once again make an extended run in the AUS championship tournament.
AUS first team all-star Freddy Bekkers led the way for the Tigers in scoring this year, proving once again that he is one of the best attacking midfielders in the conference, finishing with five goals and two assists on the season. Third-year striker Enrico Rodriguez earned AUS second team all-star honours after adding four goals of his won, while senior Jacob Bolton added three goals and three assists in his final season.
A very strong back line complimented that offensive talent with AUS first team all-star keeper Ben Grondin and centre back Jeff Arkin providing leadership on and off the field alongside Emilio Roche and Alex Knesaurek.
Tigers head coach and AUS coach of the year, Pat Nearing attributed a lot of the Tigers success to the performance and leadership of Grondin.
“Ben has grown in his ability as a keeper, but more so as a leader on the team,” he says. “Ben’s ability on the field is exceptional and he keeps us in every game; but he also brings accountability to the field and helps other players become great teammates and better players.”
After going through the month of September with a 3-1-3 record, the Tigers were showing that defence could win games with a 2-1 win over UNB and a very tight 0-0 draw with the U SPORTS number one ranked Cape Breton.
Moving into October, the Tigers were also finding their offensive stride, averaging over two goals per game while collecting wins over Saint Mary’s, Mount Allison and Memorial en route to a very strong 6-2-4 record, good for fourth in the conference.
When asked to describe the relationship between offence and defence with his group, Nearing gave insight to his mindset in structuring the team.
“We have always been a defence-first team, and the players bought into it. We played a team defence that allowed us to get results, and brought in offensive talent that was able to express themselves within that system. It brought the goals we needed to win games and kept opponent scoring to a minimum.”
That scoring was done efficiently, as the Tigers finished fourth in the conference in goals on the third fewest shot attempts. Combined with allowing the third fewest goals in the AUS, they had a great recipe for success in a tough conference.
The Tigers moved onto the AUS quarter-final in a matchup with Saint Mary’s where they ran into a very hot keeper.
After the Tigers threw plenty of shots toward the Huskies keeper, Jacob Bolton finally managed to find the back of the net to give the Tigers a lead at half, but after the Huskies applied similar pressure in the second half, the match headed to overtime.
After a thrilling battle, the Huskies were able to find a goal late in the overtime period and took a 2-1 win to eliminate the Tigers.
Though the team will be playing under new leadership next season, Nearing believes that they will need to use the off-season to progress physically and mentally in order to be successful next year.
“The team needs to buy into the off-season training,” he says. “They need to be able to compete at a “mature” level and execute game plans. There are lots of good teams in the AUS, and the work rate in training can make the difference between finishing in first or sixth.”