Hamilton, ON- The night before their home game against the Laurier Golden Hawks, McMaster Marauders defender Damiani Refosco was already thinking about penalty kicks. “Where am I going,” Refosco thought to himself.
Refosco was named the designated penalty taker for McMaster’s men’s soccer game on Sept. 24 after forward Amir Shirazi was suspended. The team practised penalty kicks the previous night. Refosco went four for four, going a different way each time.
“Just completely engaged and locked in,” Marauders head coach Tristan Joyce said. “That’s what you want because then you practice how you play.”
The next day, the opportunity arose. The Marauders came in on a three-game winning run. However, against Laurier, they were in a deadlock. They were fouling and defending in their own end.
Then, McMaster drew a penalty just before the 80th minute. Refosco stepped up and took a deep breath. Closed his eyes. Looked at the goalkeeper, looked down and then scored. “I know all the guys had faith in me and I just had to have faith in myself and just executed,” he noted.
After scoring, he ran to the corner flag to celebrate with his teammates. After over 10 minutes of defending, McMaster had won another game.
Refosco talked about how they started slowly in the first half before adjusting at halftime. “At the end of the day, our coaches said it’s not about tactics, it’s about your heart and using your head and focusing up on getting the job done,” he noted.
The defender feeds off the energy and passion from the coaches and his teammates. He tries to replicate that.
McMaster defended against several Laurier free kicks – having to clear the ball away. “Obviously set pieces are a bit scary,” defender Jameel Durhan said. However, they relied on what they worked on in practice, which helped them feel comfortable.
Joyce said they defended them beautifully. However, he also called the fouls that led to those set pieces “really lazy and undisciplined.”
“It’s very uncharacteristic because for this season because for this season, we’ve been one of the best teams at not conceding goals,” he added. “For that today, you saw how many chances they had.”
Overall, Joyce called it the result undeserved given that Laurier played a better game – with how they created chances and pressed McMaster, not allowing them to play from the back. “Sometimes, the game rewards you in certain ways,” he said.
The Golden Hawks adjusted after losing 1-0 to McMaster on Sept. 22. Joyce pointed out how they brought their back line up the field.
The Marauders will be practising how to work out of a high press the following week, according to Joyce. They’ll also work on the mental element in training sessions as well.
“In terms of staying engaged and locked in, we can work on a little bit more,” he noted. “Raising the stakes in training sessions, keeping them engaged, holding them accountable.”
Joyce also understands how difficult it can be with the players workload with school as well. How their mental capacity can be almost full coming into evening training sessions.
“It’s just making them understand, it’s okay to make mistakes,” he added. “But when you come on, these are strict things you should focus on…simplifying what they need to concentrate on.”
With the result and with the York Lions loss to the Western Mustangs, the Marauders now sit atop the OUA West division with a 5-2 record. Their win streak is extended to four games. They were ranked eighth in this week’s U SPORTS Top 10. “Our destiny is now with us,” Joyce noted.
What’s fueled that win streak? Hard work and perseverance, according to Durhan. “We just constantly bounce back,” he added. “Every time before a game, we get hyped. We pull each other up.”
Refosco credited their tightness as a group as well as their confidence and preparation. Joyce called the results a strong correlation to how they’ve been training overall. He hopes they understand what they need to work on a bit more coming off the Laurier game.
The Marauders take on the Lions in a home-and-home on Sept. 29 and Oct. 1. Refosco called it another tough game. “We just have to keep that same intensity and continue the win streak,” he said.
It’s a chance to further solidify their spot atop the division. Only five points separate first place and fifth place in the OUA West. Joyce said the division race will be fight. “Anyone in this league can win at any moment so it’s going to be a really interesting, really important week,” he noted.
Featured Image: Naziha Ali/McMaster Athletics