Kotsopoulos nets a pair as Gryphons take opener

Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal

GUELPH – Jace Kotsopoulos inched closer to the Guelph Gryphons’ all-time scoring record, helping the Gryphons win their OUA men’s soccer league season opener in the process.

Kotsopoulos scored both goals for the Gryphons – one on a penalty shot and the other on a free kick – as the hosts blanked the Windsor Lancers 2-0 Friday at the Gryphon Soccer Complex.

The two goals give Kotsopoulos 40 for his Gryphon career and leave him eight away from tying Robbie Murphy for the all-time team mark.

“I’m not sure what his total is, but I know it’s very high,” Kotsopoulos said. “I haven’t focused on that. Each year I tell myself what my goal is – to beat, hopefully, the year before. Last year I struggled from injuries so I wasn’t able to achieve that, but this year I hope to beat my second-year record, however many that was.”

It was 17.

Murphy played five seasons and a total of 67 games in a Gryphon uniform starting with the 2009 season. Before he came along, only Tony Zanini had scored more than 20 goals for the Gryphons and he did it from 1992 to 1996.

While there was much ballyhoo when Murphy was destroying the team record, Kotsopoulos has quietly become one of the most prolific scorers in Gryphon history. Friday’s game was his 42nd for the Gryphons, putting him just a little under a goal-a-game guy.

“He goes quietly about his business,” Gryphon coach Keith Mason said. “When Robbie came in, he was something different, something we hadn’t had as a dynamic finisher like that. Jace is very much an all-around player, he’s not the top guy like Robbie in terms of position. He also drops back a little bit so that shows you how lethal he is by the fact that he’s dropping back, getting the ball and still getting up forward to score those goals. He’s quite a phenomenal player.”

Had it not been for an injury that cost him six games last season, Kotsopoulos would likely be a lot closer to Murphy’s mark.

“I tore my meniscus midway through the season,” he said. “I got surgery literally five days after our last game and it took six weeks to recover. I’ve been getting ready for this season ever since.”

The injury was with his left knee and everything’s OK now.

“Honestly, my left knee now feels 10 times better than my right knee,” he said. “It’s like having a new knee.”

When Kotsopoulos looks at the Gryphon schedule when it’s first released, he probably takes a glance to see when the Gryphs play the Lancers as he’s had a lot of success against them. His two goals Friday give him eight against the Lancers in seven games in his four seasons in Guelph.

The Gryphons and Lancers were knotted in a scoreless tie at halftime before the Gryphs upped their game in the second half.

“It’s a good start,” Mason said of the win. “Three points is always what we’re looking for on that first day. I think we controlled the game from beginning to end. A little poor finishing in the first half let us down a little bit, but we just asked the guys to pick up the tempo and move the ball a little bit at halftime. Second half, that made the difference. First half we kept good possession, but it was a little bit slow and a little bit lethargic. Second half we added a bit more purpose to that possession and we zipped it around a little bit and that created some good chances.”

“Defensively, they didn’t have a lot of chances,” Kotsopoulos said. “We kept the ball well from the back and positionally, we all played very well. Possession wise, our whole team, we were calm, focused and consistent and up top, everybody had lots of good movement and freed everybody up.”

Kotsopoulos connected on a hard free kick that Windsor goalkeeper Shawn Hunter got his hands on, but couldn’t stop, in the 48th minute and Kotsopoulos added the penalty-shot goal in the 70th minute.

“Both goals were set pieces, which is great, but I’m disappointed we didn’t score in open play when we dominated the game so much,” Mason said. “But the three points is what we wanted and is a good start.”

Erik Hermanns had the clean sheet in the Gryphon net.

The Gryphons outshot the Lancers 11-6 and took seven of the game’s nine corner kicks.

“It shows we’ve got a lot of work to do still,” Mason said. “We’re far from a finished article. The boys have just come back from Quebec and we haven’t really had a good chance to work with the final squad as it’s been picked. The next five days are a little hectic and after that we can start working on our shape and working on the things we want to do in terms of dominating games and controlling game.”

“I think what we need to work on most right now is finding key passes,” Kotsopoulos said. “I think what our team does is that we’re very sharp at what a lot of other teams can do in the league and that is play the ball quickly, good movement and defend properly. Every team in this league is able to do that, but I think what sets the best teams apart from the other teams is who can find the key passes the fastest. A little sharpening up with our team and we’ll get there eventually.”

The season opener for the Gryphons followed three preseason games (three wins, one tie), all on the road with three of them in Montreal, and they’re to keep up their busy stretch with four more games before getting into a weekend-only game schedule.

“It’s been busy, but our team has performed well so I’m happy,” Kotsopoulos said.

The Gryphons are to host the Western Mustangs (0-0-1) Sunday at 3:15 p.m. before playing the York Lions (0-0-1) Wednesday at York. They’re also to host the Sheridan Bruins in an exhibition game Thursday at 4 p.m. and the Laurier Golden Hawks (0-1-0) in league play Sept. 2 at 3:15 p.m.