Five wins from five games, 27 goals scored and zero conceded – these statistics put the Thunder men’s soccer team at the top of the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association league table.
In an interview with the Times before the start of this season, head coach Mike Gagliano shared his plan for success. The team’s results so far satisfy his intent.
“I always see us going to nationals and winning a national championship,” he said. “That’s always my drive and my goal.”
The back-to-back 8-0 wins remain Algonquin’s biggest so far this season. The first came in the home opener against the Sault Cougars, the second against Cambrian Golden Shield.
Algonquin striker Malek Belhaj scored ten goals in the five games the team has played this season. Already having four goals to his name after the season opener against Fleming, he opened his home goal scoring tally in the game against Sault.
Latching on to a lofted pass down the left channel, he found himself in behind the defence to slot past the sprawling Cougar’s keeper.
That goal was Thunder’s first on home turf this season.
Belhaj went to miss a penalty later that game. “It’s a miss, but it won’t stop me from scoring next time,” he said after the game.
The striker did not get the opportunity to take Thunder’s next penalty, however. That responsibility was taken over by Algonquin defender Justin Gibson. He stepped up for a second penalty against Sault and scored, following up with another goal from the penalty spot against Cambrian.
“I’ve been on a bit of a roll, so I thought I would step up and take it again today,” said Gibson after the game against Cambrian.
Golden Shield’s goalkeeper, Marcelo Vasquez, picked up an injury during the first half of that game and needed to be taken off.
They suffered another blow when their second-choice goalkeeper, Kiel Cress, was sent off in the 54th minute after an incident with Thunder forward Malek Belhaj. Cress fouled Belhaj in the box during a corner kick scramble, sending him falling to the ground and grasping his ankle.
Not having another goalkeeper at their disposal, the visitors needed to substitute an outfield player in goal. They gave away a penalty in the process, having already been 1-0 down. “I don’t think the change in keeper really had a difference for us,” said Colin Gibson, Thunder’s goalkeeper.
As for Algonquin’s defensive performances this season, the Thunder goalkeeper said it comes from a collective effort.
“We’ve always had a solid backline,” said Colin Gibson after the Cambrian game. “I haven’t had a save this whole year.”