SOCCER PREVIEW: Reinventing the Redmen

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Sports are a transcendent element in today’s turbulent society. To use a cliché, any team can win on any given day. It is not always the supremely skilled squads that capture championships; rather, spirited, passionate and hard-working often trump the talented. It is to this philosophy that the 2006 McGill Redmen soccer team subscribes to, as they are self-avowedly not one of the more impressive teams in CIS soccer.

Second-year Head Coach Philippe Eullaffroy has taken on the mission of cultivating a new spirit and work ethic in Redmen camp. The McGill pitch will not be graced by an extraordinarily skilful team this season; however, if Eullaffroy is successful in his program, there will be a fresh dedication to soccer both within his dressing room and throughout campus.

“I played against the Redmen about 12 years ago,” Eullaffroy said, referring to his time at l’Université de Quebec à Montréal. “When we played McGill, it was a very tough game because the Redmen had spirit that no one else had. Five or six years ago, they lost that spirit and became a common team. I don’t want that. We may not be the best team in the nation, but when others come to play McGill, I want them to say ‘Wow, this will be tough.'”

While passion may be the objective for the Redmen, on the field they still appear to be a fairly average squad. Last season, McGill finished a disappointing fifth in the Quebec University Soccer League with a mediocre 7-6-1 record, missing the playoffs. As a result, the Red ‘n’ White have set themselves very realistic goals. Beginning this year, the team will engage in a step-by-step program to eventually reach the national championship.

“The first goal this year will be to make the playoffs and hopefully win a playoff game,” Eullaffroy said. “The next step would obviously be to win the provincials and then go to nationals, but we have to be realistic. We have the skill level to be national champions, but I’m not going to go out and tell our guys that we’re one of the best teams in the country.”

Young but well-rounded

McGill will look to field a well-balanced, albeit inexperienced squad on the pitch in 2006. Although Coach Eullaffroy has attempted to impart an offensive philosophy on his men-playing with a more offensively inclined 4-4-2 formation-the defence remains the strongest pillar of the team, coming off a season in which they conceded only 14 goals. The midfield-anchored by leading scorer Alec Milne, captain Jean-Philippe Drouin-Bouffard and Quebec all-star James Scolefield-will be a flexible unit that will have to alternate quickly between deep slicing attacks and helping out on the defensive end. The strikers will play an even more crucial role this season as the offensive-minded attitude becomes more ingrained in the team’s style of play.

“There is much more intensity this year,” Drouin-Bouffard said. “The team looks good in preseason, the rookies are ready to perform and bring something to the team and we’re a much stronger team. We’re going to be much harder to beat this year.”

The lack of experience is still a significant weakness for the Redmen however. Last season, 60 per cent of the team were rookies. This year, although that number is down, the squad lost six veterans and is still an overwhelmingly youthful side. In university sport, youth is not a contending team’s ally.

“We lost six players from last season,” Eullafroy said. “Anytime you lose veterans, it’s not good for the team. But the seven rookies we brought in are better than the rookies from last year so we should have some more balance.”

Playoffs within reach

One of the pluses for the season is that McGill finds itself competing in a fairly wide open QUSL where anything can happen over the course of a season.

“The two stronger teams are Montréal and UQAM for sure, and maybe Laval,” Eullaffroy said. “So we should end up around either third or fourth and make the playoffs.”

The McGill Redmen soccer team isn’t the best squad in CIS or the QUSL; however, if the coaching staff has its way, they will be an exciting and passionate team. And sometimes, spirit trumps skill.