Hamilton, ON- The victory looked like it had eluded them. For much of Sunday afternoon on Sept. 25, the McMaster Marauders and the Waterloo Warriors men’s soccer teams went at it. The teams traded chances. The Warriors had more shots in the first half (9-5) while the Marauders had more in the second (8-5).
For much of the second half, the Marauders held a 1-0 lead thanks to a goal by forward Amir Shirazi – his fourth goal in two games. Shirazi finished off a pass from first-year forward Andrew Kadhe.
“It felt like it was coming,” Shirazi said. “We had a few chances. Obviously when Andrew slotted it over to me, started to get a little bit excited. Had to calm myself and finish it away.”
With the clock ticking towards full time, the Warriors struck back. Nikolas Antonic scored an 89th minute equalizer. It seemed as if the visitors had taken a point.
Then, in stoppage time, the Marauders booted the ball up to forward Miles Green, who took it, dribbled and kicked it into the net. The crowd at Ron Joyce stadium roared to its feet while the McMaster players and coaches jumped up in ecstasy and celebrated. Minutes later, they were celebrating a 2-1 victory.
“Unbelievable,” Shirazi recalled. The team was absorbing pressure, according to him. Then, they responded with the game-winner. “That just shows you what we’re all about,” Shirazi added. “That’s the type of thing you need to win championships.”
Shirazi praised Green’s performance. The fifth-year senior and co-captain has scored four goals in seven games.
“He comes up when we need him most,” he noted. “So, you know, if there’s anyone I trust to go and get the winner, it’d be him.”
Trust. It’s something the team has gotten better at as the season has gone along, according to Shirazi.
“To start the year, we were playing a little bit more as individual players and not trusting each other as much,” Shirazi noted. “Now we’re trying to get everyone involved and you know, we’re just as happy our teammates score as much as yourself scores.”
He pointed to the team’s trust in Kadhe and goalie Ethan Cagalj – two players in their first season of U Sports soccer. Their trust has been rewarded. Kadhe scored two goals on the road against Windsor and set up Shirazi’s goal against Waterloo.
Cagalj made 13 saves, including a diving stop on a penalty kick in the second half. “A really confident kid,” Shirazi said. “A lot of rookies come to the change room and kind of keep their head down and don’t socialize. When he’s come in, like he belonged and it showed.”
Depth is another key development. The Marauders have five players who have scored this season so far. Twenty-six players have played so far.
“We’ve always said that we don’t want to become a one-dimensional attacking team,” head coach Chris Markou noted. Markou said the things they worked on in training worked as they scored nine goals in two games against the Windsor Lancers.
Shirazi and Green lead the team with four goals each. Ed Bryan Florent has three while Spencer Chapple has one. Shirazi said the forwards have started to get sharper as earlier in the season, players were coming off injuries. Markou credited Shirazi’s play.
“It’s just the confidence we’ve given him to play the game he wants to play,” Markou noted. “He’s playing much more free. We’re giving him much more responsibility on the field and he’s delivering.”
The game against Waterloo provided some adversity for the Marauders. McMaster has already gone up against defending OUA champion Guelph earlier this season. Now they’ve made a late comeback against the Warriors.
“We could show a little bit more maturity and keep the ball a bit more,” Shirazi noted. “We went up one-nothing and I felt like we came back into our shell and was absorbing pressure. That could hurt us down going down the line in the season. I think we have to learn to get in front and stay in front a little bit better.”
Shirazi said the team’s gotten better defensively throughout the season.
Markou said he’s always told his team to play until the end. The previous week, the Marauders responded after giving up a tying goal at home to Windsor as Chapple scored a late game-winner. Against Waterloo, they did so again.
“We took it right down to the wire,” he added. “Sometimes there are unexplainable moments that happen in football.”
Shirazi talked about the team’s goals to win a OUA championship and reach nationals. The Marauders sit fourth in the OUA West and are on a three-game winning streak.
Beyond the victory, the experience against the Warriors is a moment for growth as well.
“There’s a real togetherness right now and nothing builds togetherness more than some adversity,” Markou said. “Today was a really really tough game and the boys probably had to go to a place they haven’t been to in a while in terms of physically performing. And they did that and they came out on the other end much better.”
Featured Image: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics