The St. Cloud Apollo boys soccer team was whooping and hollering late Thursday evening at Husky Stadium, celebrating its come-from-behind 4-2 win over St. Cloud Tech.
It was an intense, fun, well-played game on both sides and puts Apollo in the driver’s seat in the Central Lakes Conference race. The conference is the Eagles’ to win with three games to go after beating the second-place Tigers, whose two CLC losses are to Apollo.
Apollo head coach Ganard Orionzi wanted some quiet to make a point, telling everyone to quiet down. The mood turned somber.
He was unhappy with the Eagles’ impromptu dance celebration after their last goal, saying he was embarrassed, disappointed and expected to discipline the team for the incident. He also wanted players to apologize to the fans and Tech.
Welcome to another episode of one of the most challenging coaching jobs in St. Cloud.
“It was a great game,” said Apollo senior Hamse Abdule, who quickly added: “We’d also like to apologize for the last celebration.We didn’t want to be disrespectful to the other team and to the fans.”
“We were excited,” senior Said Gure added. “We didn’t know what we were doing.”
Apollo is 9-0-1 in the conference, 11-1-1 overall and exciting to watch. The Eagles are talented and playing together under Orionzi, the one-time girls coach who took over the boys’ program last season.
Both the Tech-Apollo games have been entertaining, intensely played and memorable.
Tech took a 2-1 lead Thursday, getting an incredible, scissor-kick goal from Irvin Rivera. Rivera did a back flip and booted the ball in the net while in mid-air. It’s a move attributed to Pele, the famous Brazilian star from the 1960s and ’70s and considered the Babe Ruth of soccer.
“I enjoyed that scissor-kick immensely,” Orionzi said. “It was one of the most memorable goals I have seen.”
The Apollo job remains challenging because of the many different cultures Orionzi deals with. Players and coaches come from all over the place, and not just Stearns County. The Eagles are a slice of the United Nations.
Orionzi, who is director of environmental health and safety at the College of St. Benedict, is from Uganda. Many of the players are from Somalia, but there are also coaches and players from East Asia and Europe.
Getting everyone to and from practice and working around work schedules has been a challenge, Orionzi said. Many of the players work because they have to, the income required for necessities in their families. He has met with players’ supervisors in order to allow them to play and practice.
Many issues have popped up in recent years that most area coaches simply don’t have to deal with. Because their occasionally is a language barrier, some players will relay what has been said in English to others in their native language.
“Some find not speaking English disrespectful,” Orionzi said.
He also said coaching is a constant balancing act of trying not to play favorites and making sure everyone is treated fairly.
It’s working this season. The Eagles are one of the favorites in Section 8A. Of course, St. Cloud Cathedral (9-0-2) will have something to say about that. The Crusaders have handled Apollo its lone loss, 2-0 on Aug. 23 in the opener.
And, Sartell (7-5-1) is in the picture. The Sabres tied Apollo 3-3 in double overtime. The rest of the south subsection includes St. John’s Prep (8-5), Sauk Rapids (4-5-3), Alexandria (5-5-1) and Little Falls (5-5-1).
In the north subsection, Bemidji (10-1-1) and Hillcrest Academy/Pelican Rapids (7-1-1) are having the best seasons.
But first, Apollo wants to win the conference.
“That was a goal we have had since we came to Apollo as freshmen,” Hamse said. “(Beating Tech) was a dream come true for us tonight.”
Tech (6-2, 9-3) also has an excellent team. Like Apollo, the Eagles are ethnically diverse. The Tigers play in Section 8-2A and are contending for a top-four seed there.
Tech coach Nantha Viswanathan and Orionzi are friends. They played on an adult soccer team together when Orionzi first came to the area in the mid-1990s. They know each other’s coaching styles well and Orionzi said he has great respect for what Viswanathan does.
That’s why he was upset with the after-goal celebration from his team. It’s not how he wants his program to be known. The players have taken his queue.
“We say to stop one thing and then they come up with another,” Orionzi said, agreeing that it was a teaching moment for his program.
The players say the celebration of beating Tech ended shortly after Thursday’s win.
“We come back to practice (Friday) and work even harder,” Gure said.