By Deryek Sandhu
Watching a live sports game is always invigorating, but the history of the Riley Gallo Cup made this weekend’s soccer home opener particularly special. As the fans in the bleachers this past Sunday, September 11 were well aware, the Cup is held yearly between northern rivals, the Laurentian Voyageurs and the Nipissing Lakers, in honour of Riley Gallo, who died of cancer years ago.
The Gallo family is prominent in the Laurentian soccer circuit; Coach Rob Gallo, Megan Gallo, and Riley’s twin brother, Zach Gallo, are integral parts of the women’s and men’s teams, respectively.
The Voyageur women started their game off strong, attempting a cheeky chip within the first three minutes of play. The Lakers were quick to respond, forcing a save out of Laurentian keeper Dina Mandolesi. This would set the tone for the rest of the game. Coach Gallo described it perfectly: “For us, it was a tale of minutes and quarters: it seems every 15 minutes one team had control, and then the other would take over in the next 15.”
The Voyageurs secured the first goal of the game when Captain Amanda Kwan found forward Sarah Sanford inside the box, who then landed the shot. The Lakers retaliated with a burst of good chances that really tested Mandolesi, but she kept a calm head and made some fantastic saves. The first half came to a close with the Voyageurs deserving their 1-0 lead.
The Voyageurs kept up the pressure in the second half. Michelle Walsh danced past her markers and crossed straight to Catherine Rocca who found the back post easily. Down 2-0, the Lakers caught their second wind and tried to stage a comeback. They coerced a challenge from Rocca, which resulted in a yellow card. The Voyageurs missed a few chances, but Kwan made the most of a wonderful ball by Mia De Gasperis and scored the third goal.
Though the Lakers scored on a penalty shot because of a hand ball in the Voyageurs’ box , the Voyageurs managed to slow any mounting momentum from their opposition and see the game out.
Amanda Kwan was visibly excited by the result but fair in her analysis of the game. “I think we were trying to sort ourselves out a little in the beginning but came into our own.” She was also pleased with her goal, the third of the game as it helped “cap off the game and secure the win”.
Keeper Dina Mandelosi who, according to Coach Gallo, was the player of the match, talked about the stellar defensive performance. “We’ve been doing a great job this year keeping our shape in the back, but we do have a vet line back there, so [that] helps a lot,” she laughed.
Coach Gallo really emphasized the significance of this game. “For me, it’s an important day, as it’s in memory of my son. Like I always say, Nipissing is always 100% behind the cause of children with cancer, and we work together in this cause.”
The men’s game took off quickly as Dean Pizolinas sped up the left flank of the field and sent in a cross that caused a scramble, followed by an own goal by the Nipissing Lakers. Voyageur Mackenzy Kropa fell injured in the tenth minute and had to be subbed off for Matthew Wilkes. Soon after, the game dissolved into a scrappy, hard-fought tussle with Aaron D’Souza putting in a crunching tackle and Evan Stronach receiving a yellow card.
The Voyageurs eventually broke into another fast attack first stopped by a reflex save from the Lakers’ Keeper, but rebounded by Liam Ezzard, who secured the second goal of the game. He ran across to the bleachers, holding a Riley Gallo memorial shirt to celebrate with the home crowd.
Then, in almost a mirror image of the first game, the Lakers were awarded a penalty shot due to a hand ball by the Voyageurs and converted it. Back on track, they forced a great save from LU keeper Connor Vande Weghe not long after. The intensity claimed a second victim as Pizolinas went down, injured. Zef Kraja replaced him just as half time rolled around with a score of 2-1.
The second half started with a free kick and yellow card for the Lakers. A few plays later, it looked like the Voyageurs had scored again when a fantastic cross was touched in, but the referee declared it offside, much to the crowd’s dismay. Laurentian kept attacking and substitute Kraja, after some deft touches, scored off the post. There were a few nervy minutes towards the end with Wilkes going down in the box but ultimately, like the women, the men were able to wrap up a 3-1 game.
Coach Carlo addressed the importance of this win. “We battled hard and I’m glad we got those three points. Any win is a good win so I hope this is the turning point of the season. We’ve played some tough teams, but we’ve got to keep moving forward.”
Much like his father, Zach Gallo epitomized what the game was really about. “I’m not going to lie, I always start off by shedding a few tears as [the Cup] always brings back the memories, but seeing the boys fight for my brother is a great thing to see.”
He also addressed the poor start the men’s team has had this season, losing three out of their first four games. “We have eleven rookies this year, so it’s [about] getting the chemistry back on the field. I guess we just needed a couple of games to get things figured out and then once we got organized, we started putting them in the back of the net.”
Goal scorer Liam Ezzard highlighted how every player feels about the Riley Cup, saying, “It was great to do it for Zach, the Gallo family and also great for the standings.” On his goal, and celebration: “It was amazing. As soon as it went in, I knew what I was doing, just grabbed the shirt and ran towards the fans.”
The second leg of the Gallo cup will be held in Nipissing, on October 1. The Voyageur Men and Women’s teams play at home again this Saturday, September 17, against the Trent Excalibur.