TORONTO, ON- 690 days, or nearly two years. However you look at that daunting number, it does not shrink. Nov. 2, 2019, was the last time a student-athlete kicked a soccer ball in OUA regular-season action.
When the Windsor Lancers host the Guelph Gryphons on Wednesday evening, they will snap that streak, kickstarting the first OUA soccer season since 2019.
A lot has changed since those games in 2019. Two classes have graduated, some seniors have stayed, and there is a double-cohort of new freshmen vying for spots on their respective teams.
Ahead of the Canada West seasons, 49 Sports previewed and predicted each division in mens’ and women’s soccer, the same thing we are doing with the OUA today, beginning with the East Division.
Who qualifies for the playoffs?
The top three playoff seeds will be awarded to the division winners, respectively, with the divisions’ runners-up being seeded four through six. The two wildcards will round out the playoff participants as the seventh and eighth seeds.
The defending OUA champions from 2019 have a good chance of repeating in 2021. Head coach Kwesi Loni has not approached the last two years of recruiting lightly, and per the program website, the team still has six seniors who will guide them through this season.
While prolific forward Stefan Karajovanovic has moved on to the Canadian Premier League with the HFX Wanderers, the Ravens still have a bevy of talent to draw upon, including another Karajovanovic in freshman, Maxime Karajovanovic.
Midfielder Ricky Comba and forward Gabriel Bitar return as veteran presences in the attack and will need to step up as the Ravens try to replace Karajovanovic’s eight goals. Yet, they will be complemented by attacking fullback Raphael Garcia, coming to the Ravens off a stint with the CPL’s Valour FC.
In 17 matches with Valour, the Ottawa Fury Academy defender scored two assists and showed his attacking qualities while also playing alongside U SPORTS grad Brett Levis (Saskatchewan Huskies).
With 13 players on the roster having OUA experience, the Ravens are not a fresh-faced team like many of their divisional does, allowing them to build off their title in 2019 and potentially strive towards a U SPORTS National Championship on home turf.
Player to watch: Raphael Garcia
Ontario Tech Ridgebacks
Even without an OUA season in 2020, the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks still had something to celebrate, as the CPL’s York United Chris Campoli and Danial Raffisami in the 2021 U SPORTS-CPL Draft. However, neither penned pro deals with the club and will be back in Oshawa for OUA action in 2021.
Despite showing promise with a 7-5-2 record in 2019, the preseason has not been easy for the Ridgebacks, who lost 2-1 to the Rams and were thwarted 5-0 Guelph Gryphons, two Top-10 sides in Canada. Their only preseason win came in the Campus Cup against Oshawa rivals Durham College, who play on the Canadian collegiate circuit.
Although the two CPL draft picks will orchestrate the midfield, Head Coach Ramin Mohammadi’s side should be concerned about goalscoring depth. Fadi Salback and Jean-Paul Ajala-Alex played nearly every minute in 2019, and as they leave U SPORTS, so do their combined 25 goals.
Left midfielder Jeremy Halicki-Porter could prove to be a valuable player for the Ridgebacks, joining the side with top-level academy experience under his belt. Before kicking off his first season of OUA soccer, the Vaughan, Ontario native spent time with Torino FC, Estoril, and the highly-regarded Sigma FC program.
While the Ridgebacks may have difficulty against the top teams in the East Division, they will be able to grind out wins against similar-level teams, likely putting them in the thick of a playoff battle.
Player to watch: Christopher Campoli
The Queen’s Gaels have not won an OUA title since 1995, and that streak will continue unless a miracle happens on Kingston’s shores. After finishing 2019 in the middle of the pack, most Gaels players have graduated, leaving them with a young, inexperienced group of 12 first years.
Goalkeeper Zachary Toupin, who finished with the third-most saves in the OUA in 2019, has moved on, while former Connor Adams, formerly of the Whitecaps FC Academy, comes in to fill his place between the sticks. Although Adams will split time with veterans Alex Dimock and Manuel Dirube, don’t be surprised to see the Whitecaps keeper get some time.
A player to watch in the attack is first-year Andrea Gortana, who found success in 2019 as his team qualified for the CSL Provincial final, won the CSL Cup and became Montverge FC MAST Champions, where he scored two goals and added five assists.
In an ultra-competitive division with the Carleton Ravens, York Lions and stingy Ontario Tech Ridgebacks, this year will be challenging Head Coach Christian Hoefler and the Gaels.
Player to watch: Andrea Gortana
Heading into 2021, the RMC Paladins have to have small goals. Although, realistically, an OUA championship, even a playoff berth, is out of the question. In the last four seasons, the Paladins have just two wins, both in 2018.
Liam Chambers and Bradly Rlyski have moved on from the OUA and so have the goalscorers of all three goals from RMC’s 2019 season. The Paladins also saw all three of their 2019 goalkeepers move on from the team.
Kingston’s own Dylan Hoare has had limited minutes throughout his career with the Paladins but could be relied upon to manage the RMC midfield. Even with him, however, the intriguing battle will be among the trio of goalkeepers, as Myles Kim and Max Gaw try to steal the position from senior Hunter Adams, who has not had many minutes himself.
Player to watch: Hunter Adams
Similar to the aforementioned RMC Paladins, the 2021 season is likely to be challenging for Trent, who come into the year following a one-win season in 2019. Led by Head Coach Grant Purdy, the Excalibur will develop their young student-athletes this season before looking at bigger goals down the line.
After allowing 29 goals in 14 games in 2020, Trent will look to shore up their defensive systems, potentially putting a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of rookie Anthony D’Souza.
“I had the opportunity to watch Anthony play at the Trent Showcase, as well as the Umbro Showcase and Robbie Invitational, and he impressed every time I saw him play,” said Purdy to Trent Athletics. “He showed so much calmness and poise playing as Centre Back.”
In a division with a clear top and bottom, the Trent Excalibur will likely battle for consolation placing alongside RMC.
Player to watch: Anthony D’Souza
As one of the most decorated programs in U SPORTS and the OUA, the Carmine Isacco led York Lions always have a national banner on their minds. After coming within a game of the title in 2019, the Lions will have many new fresh faces in their lineup, with at least 17 players set to take on their first OUA campaign.
While the squad will be one of the younger ones, the players brought in fit the style that Isaaco likes to play, and all come to York knowing the quality of a program that has won four national banners since 2008.
Defender Jadon Vilfort, 21, has not played much soccer in the last year, but after training under contract with the now-defunct Ottawa Fury in the USL Championship, he is poised to succeed at the U SPORTS level.
As Vilfort brings pro experience to the York campus, forward Marcus Simmons brings U SPORTS wisdom, having scored a single goal in his time with the MacEwan Griffins of Canada West.
The likes of Simmons, Vilfort and second-year students, yet rookies such Pedro Aparicio will lead a young Lions team through a developmental year that could also feature a shot at a championship.
Player to watch: Jadon Vilfort
- Carleton Ravens
- York Lions
- Queen’s Gaels
- Ontario Tech Ridgebacks
- RMC Paladins
- Trent Excalibur