As the OUA soccer season nears the thrilling end, the organization has released its select all-star teams and season-ending award winners. Prior to kickoff of the final four weekends, both the men’s and women’s honours were announced with a substantial amount of Toronto area athletes finding their way into the awards.
If we are to take a glimpse at the men’s side of the game first, we won’t see many Torontonian athletes featuring major award winners. The majority of those awards were claimed by players of either the Carleton Ravens or the Guelph Gryphons, two teams who put together very good regular seasons. The only major award prize that is coming back to Toronto belongs to Youssef Helmy who won the OUA’s prize for community service.
Helmy has volunteered at numerous soccer organizations around the GTA in almost every position that you can imagine. Of course, he was applying his playing trade on the pitch for the Varsity Blues. When he wasn’t, he was acting as a mentor, coach or even referee within his community. His involvement in the Ontario soccer scene is second to none in the men’s game. Top that with his non-soccer related community work and it’s easy to see why he is deserving of the award.
The women’s side had a bit more GTA content with two members of the York Lions team receiving honours. On the field was Teni Odetoyinbo who earned the western conference’s player of the year with her stellar fourteen games at the heart of the Lions defence. The team captain was the example of what a coach looks for in defender and has been for the last three years. This was her first major honour, however, she has been named as an OUA first-team all-star twice before.
Odetoyinbo was not the only successful member of the Lions to be recognized. Her coach, Carmine Isacco, was named the league’s coach of the year, winning the award for her second time. With the awards being given to the figures at the top of the York Lions power structure, it is a good sign that they have very strong leadership within their team.
While the awards are important, there are not nearly enough to honour every player who is worthy of post-season recognition. That’s where end of the year all-star teams show their worth.
The OUA has always awarded a first and second all-star team for each conference and it was on these teams where the Toronto content showed its might.
The Toronto Varsity Blues led the pair of east division schools (Ryerson, Toronto) in the number of players on the women’s teams with Levanta Staggolis and Jenny Wolever being named first-team all-stars. They were joined with Maddie MacKay and Miranda Badovinac as second-teamers.
Ryerson did not get any of their women onto the first all-star team, but striker Brooke Pearson and defender Breanhna Webster found their way onto the second string.
In the west division, which houses the York Lions, the first all-star team was flush with Lionesses. Six of the 11 players who were named to the squad came from the suburban university. These players were the aforementioned Odetoyinbo as well as Jocelyn Gaglardi, Kalifornia Mitchell, Farkhunda Muhtaj, Vanessa Salvaggio and Kiyani Johnston. There were no York players on the second XI.
The York men’s players dominated the opposition with their team performance and with that came some individual accolades. Interestingly enough, of the 11 players on the western conference’s first all-star team, six were York Lions- the exact same number as their women’s side.
York has built one of the most prestigious soccer programs in all of U Sports. That is not only the case for the women but the men as well with both teams finishing near the top of their leagues. It is clear that this is a program that has its head in the right place and it would not surprise me the least of both teams were to come out with OUA championships, or at the very least a berth to the national championships in Montreal later this month.
With the Lions men’s team finishing as regular season kings, they are rewarded with the opportunity of playing the final-four on their home turf. Ryerson will be the only GTA school missing from the weekend’s festivities. Their GTA foes will fight head to head, battling it out for a berth in the finals and more importantly a berth the 2019 U Sports national soccer championship.
The female sides will venture north to the University of Ottawa where the Lions will attempt to cool down the on-fire Gee-Gee’s who dismantled the Ryerson Rams in the quarter-finals. Toronto will face Western University in a matchup that could tilt either way. If the Lions are able to get passed the Gee-Gee’s, an OUA championship will be very likely.
The OUA soccer scene has improved in recent years, but is still under viewed and under-reported. There is quality soccer which is many times on presentation for free. With the introduction of a new Canadian professional league alongside a U-Sports draft, the level of play has only been heightened. That draft will serve as extra motivation for the men this weekend as a national championship appearance will earn them a stage in front of the most important eyes in the Canadian game.