Dual Powers: Previewing the Mustangs Soccer Seasons
Western Mustangs SoccerGreg Bowman
The Western Mustangs soccer programs had a breakthrough season in 2018. Both teams captured OUA medals, with the women’s team making it to their second straight U Sports National Championship.
It was the first year that Head Coach, Martin Painter, had the role for both the men’s and women’s team. He was already the Head Coach of the women’s team, but was given the job as the men’s coach after Rock Basacco’s two-decade tenure came to an end.
“It was definitely a learning experience. I think we were happy with the performance of both teams but there were also areas we could improve,” said Painter on his first year in the dual-role. “I think we’ve tried to address some of those areas. We brought in some new coaches… We have better staff, better support in place. Recruiting has gone well, we’ve added some new pieces.”
On the men’s side, they have hired an associate coach, Parker Seymour, who spent some time with the FC London semi-pro team. He will run day-to-day operations with the men’s team while Painter can focus on the women’s team.
FC London’s influence on the Western Mustangs soccer team is evident. Jonathan Hodge, Jeremy Arnold, Belal Halbouni and Patrick Melo all spent time playing in League 1 Ontario.
The extra high-calibre reps will be nothing but an asset for Painter’s team this year: “I helps with the adaptation. I mean, the schedule is pretty intense. The physical load is pretty intense. Players who have been playing at a high level certainly have an advantage in addition to their tactical awareness,” Painter says.
Western will also have goalkeeper, Kody Thomson, for his fifth and final season. Anthony Chrysanthou will be entering his second year with the Purple and White, notching five goals as a rookie in 2018.
Painter has a lot of coaching pedigree at many different levels of soccer. The adjustment into the OUA men’s scene was a tougher one than anticipated: “I think the level of competition in the OUA - I don’t think it was a huge surprise but it was probably better than I expected,” he explains. “I think a lot of programs have improved and made big strides and it’s very difficult; there’s no easy games”
Painter also feels like the level of competition will only improve: “I think now with the Canadian Premiere League that has started and they have a relationship with U Sports so some of those players have been playing pro all summer and now they’re coming back to play,” he said.
“I helps with the adaptation. I mean, the schedule is pretty intense. The physical load is pretty intense. Players who have been playing at a high level certainly have an advantage in addition to their tactical awareness.”
The women’s team has become one of the top teams in the province in recent years. They are coming off their third OUA medal in as many years, and their second straight trip to the U Sports Nationals. Last year’s success also came when the team was ravaged with injuries to various key contributors.
The game of the season last year was in the OUA semifinals where they hosted the Queen’s Gaels. The game went to extra time tied 1-1, where the Gaels took the lead early in the extra session. The Mustangs scored two goals to steal the game from Queen’s, guaranteeing them a trip to Nationals.
Intense games against the Gaels, and subsequently against the Ottawa Gee Gees in the finals, are important for the women’s team: “I think it’s important to build that and have players who have that experience and I think it brings confidence when they’re in that situation in future years,” said Painter on the women’s team. “We’ve been fortunate qualifying for the OUA Final Four for the past three years in a row; Nationals the last two years in a row. Getting to play those big games and getting the opportunity to rise to the occasion gives you an extra edge moving forward.”
The women’s roster will be fairly unchanged from last year. They will have their starting goalkeeper, Megan Girardi back for her senior season. Anna Larkin will be an anchor on the back line, along with Angelica Galluzzo, Lauren O’Donnell and Rachel Drouillard. New recruits that Painter has brought in are showing some promise as dynamic offensive players as well.
Painter has already built up a respectable women’s team who are among the elite in the province. Now, he has built a men’s team who also hopes that they will be a force to be reckoned with for the next few years.
The immediate success for Painter hasn’t got him feeling any more heat: “I don’t think there’s any added pressure. I mean, since I’ve started we always feel pressure, we always feel pressure to try and win our next game and try to do as best as we can,” said Painter. “I don’t feel any added pressure but we feel pressure all the time - it’s a results business and we go on the field expecting to win every game.”
Both Mustangs teams will officially kick off their seasons in Sault Ste. Marie on August 31st with matches against the Algoma Thunderbirds. They will play a doubleheader on Saturday and Sunday. They will have their home opener on Friday, September 6th when they host the Laurier Golden Hawks at Mustang Field.
The women’s game will be at 6pm, with the men following at 8pm.