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Soccer: Vert et Or sneak by Martlets in season opener

The McGill Martlets (1-1-0) fell to Sherbrooke Vert et Or (2-0-0) 4-3 Friday night in a thrilling match that was ultimately decided by a goal on a counterattack in the 73rd minute that put the visitors ahead for good.

It was the second consecutive high-scoring affair for the Martlets as they entered the game following a demolition of the Curry College Colonels 7-0 in their final pre-season match.

McGill started confidently following a rain delay that transformed Molson Stadium into a muggy arena. For the first 16 minutes, the Martlets had the better of the contest as they moved the ball forward effectively from the backfield to the midfield, though failing repeatedly to convert their chances in the opponents’ box.

However, in the 17th minute, a Martlet miscommunication in the midfield opened up space for the visitors down the flanks that led to a quick goal for the Vert et Or. Sherbrooke duly took advantage and did not relinquish their lead–they didn’t trail once during the contest.

All four of Sherbrooke’s goals were excellent, though somewhat aided by McGill’s defensive errors. The first and third goals were scored on fine crosses, and the second came on a stunning strike from just outside of the box. In all cases, McGill appeared somewhat unsettled on defence when closing down the opposition. Despite this, junior defender Zoe Fasoulakis played solidly and controlled the central defence, isolating Sherbrooke’s forwards and snuffing out their continuous attacks.

Going forward, McGill kept its offensive shape admirably throughout the first half, bouncing back from defensive lapses with sustained attacks on the opposition. Their consistency was rewarded with two goals in the first half. Third-year Physiology student Rebecca Green responded to Sherbrooke’s first goal in the 20th minute, and freshman forward Audrey-Ann Coughlan found the back of the net in the 40th minute.

Down 3-2 in the second half, the Martlets began moving the ball more fluidly and using the width of the pitch to greater effect. Green was a constant threat, exploiting the space behind the defenders. She assisted Daphnee Morency-Roussin–a junior from Boulder, Colorado, who came on for the injured Ann-Coughlan in the 60th minute–on a goal that drew McGill level.

The excitement did not subside as Martlet goalkeeper Cassandra Fafalios saved a penalty awarded for a handball in the 67th minute. Despite the loss, Coach Jose-Luis Valdes, who led McGill to the RSEQ semifinals last season, saw promise in his squad.

“In the first half I think we were nervous to play our way […] and were a bit too direct, which is not us,” Valdes explained. “In the second half, [there was] more movement of the ball, and we got in front and behind the defence, and they didn’t know how to react to it.”

If the Martlets are to prevail in close games in the future, they’ll have to significantly tighten up on defence.

“Last year we gave up eight goals in an entire season, and we gave up four today,” Valdes said. “We are playing a team that is extremely offensive [….]  Anytime they got a chance to shoot, they got it in.”

Valdes is very confident moving forwards, noting that his young squad will not fall prey to nerves again.

“Feeling-wise we will be fine, and scoring three goals is positive,” Valdes said. “We only need to reduce [the goals scored against us] and make some defensive adjustments.”

Valdes’ statement was validated with the Martlets defeat of the Concordia Stingers 2-0 (1-1–0) on Sunday, bouncing back from the loss. McGill will next face UQÀM  (0-0-2) on Thursday, Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. at Molson Stadium.

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