A very nice win for Zach Gallo and the boys
by Randy Pascal
As a rule of thumb, Zach Gallo has absolutely no trouble cranking up the intensity level as he takes to the pitch with the Laurentian
Voyageurs men's soccer team. Still, Sunday's matchup with the Nipissing Lakers meant just a little bit more.
The tradition that is the Riley Gallo Cup, the annual "on the side" competition between the two northern rivals, was established in honour of his
late twin brother, who passed away from cancer at the age of just five.
With Gallo providing a dominating presence of strength and stability in the middle of the Laurentian backline, and his teammates continuing their recent
surge of offensive prowess, the Voyageurs picked up a key 3-1 win over the Lakers at home.
"It's a great rivalry between us and Nipissing," said Gallo. "I'm not going to lie, I always start off by shedding a few tears. Seeing the boys fight for
my brother is a great thing to see."
Laurentian started quickly, as speedy Dean Pizolinas bolted down the left flank, sending a low cross that was redirected into the Nipissing net
by Lakers' midfielder Cody Vaillancourt, resulting in an own goal less than four minutes into the game.
The Voyageurs doubled their advantage in the 31st minute, just moments after Mathieu Simard sailed a shot over the crossbar on a glorious chance
for the visitors. North Bay native Evan Stronach did the bulk of the work, taking in a pretty through ball from Nico Correa and driving hard
to the net.
The ball stayed out, only momentarily, before Liam Ezzard swooped in to deposit it into the back of the net. The Lakers counted their only strike
when Andy Bago converted on a penalty kick, hitting the top right corner with a ball that just barely eluded the long stretch of L.U. keeper
Connor Vande Weghe.
The local product was clearly unshaken, coming up with an amazing diving save, just before the whistle was blown to end the half, redirecting a well
placed header wide of the net.
Despite losing starters Dean Pizolinas and Mackenzie Kropa in the opening 45 minutes of play, it was Laurentian that would control play early
in the second half, with both Ezzard and Zaf Kraja enjoying chances early.
Stifling the Nipissing attack, the homeside were eventually rewarded, as Kraja provided a little insurance, increasing the lead to 3-1 in the 81st
minute. It was just the kind of game that brings out the best in Zach Gallo, on so many levels.
"I like to play tough, and I love clearing the ball," he said. "That's what I felt I did this game. And having a big crowd like this really gets the
boys fired up." The win improved the Voyageurs record to 2-3-0, bouncing back nicely after week one back to back shutout losses to Ryerson and Toronto,
currently the top two teams in the East.
"We have eleven rookies this year, so it's basically just getting the chemistry back on the field," said Gallo. "I guess we needed a couple of games to
figure things out. Once we got organized, we just started putting them into the back of the net."
The irony of nine goals scored for his side over the course of the past three games is not lost on Laurentian head coach Carlo Castrechino, after
he and the coaching staff opted to revise their strategy to better limit goals against in 2016.
"Our system is still very much based on defense, with our formation," said the Sudbury native and Voyageur alumnus. "But when we get the ball, we want to
hit our wingers fast, hit our target men up top, and play off of them. It's something we've been working on, a quicker transition game."
Having watched his team drop key points over the past couple of years to very comparable opponents, Castrechino was pleased with the end result, as well
as some important in game improvements.
"Even though we scored the first two goals, I thought we weren't playing our best in the first half," he suggested. "In the second half, we really shored
up our passing. We were on the second ball, after 50/50 balls, much quicker in the second half."
The Voyageurs will face more of the same next weekend, welcoming teams with which they will battle for the final two to three playoff spots, as the
Trent Excalibur (1-3-1) make the trek north for a Saturday matchup, coming off a huge draw with the Queen's Gaels.
Twenty-four hours later, it will be the UOIT Ridgebacks (1-3-1) who provide the opposition, as Laurentian follows up this three game homestand
with five consecutive encounters on the road.