TORONTO, ON – The day has finally arrived. After 18 months of fields longing for university soccer, the Windsor Lancers and Guelph Gryphons reignite the OUA’s passion for the game when they kick off the 2021 season on Wednesday.
When the Carleton Ravens defeated the York Lions to win the 2019 OIUA title in November 2019, more than 690 days ago, no one would have thought that the next game would take place over two years later.
Yet, here we are, with an adjusted OUA schedule and Ontario university soccer returning in 2021.
49 Sports has previewed several of the U SPORTS divisions across Canada and continues with the OUA West.
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 Brock Badgers are back, but are they better than ever? For a team that has never one an OUA title, 2021 presents a unique opportunity to start on a similar level to everyone else, in a season that will be decided by who develops the quickest.
After finishing in the Top-3 of the West Division in 2019, the Badgers will be looking to take another step, with a young group missing many of the veterans who led them for several seasons.
Graduated forward, Jared Agyemang leaves a gaping hole in Brock’s attack, as his 13 goals in 14 games stepped away from the St. Catherines campus when he received his degree. While forward Michael Solomon finally gets his chance to lead the line for the Badgers, his inexperience at the OUA level could leave him a step behind, despite redshirting in 2019.
The Niagara Falls native played exceptionally well in his first preseason game against the McMaster Marauders, hitting the woodwork twice, as the Badgers came away with a 0-0 exhibition draw.
Ajax’s Alex May will line up between the sticks, bringing experience from 2019, a year in which he struggled as a rookie.
The Brock Badgers have a mix of veterans and youngsters, and with a bit of luck, could make a push towards an OUA title run.
Player to watch: Michael Solomon
The Guelph Gryphons will have the honour of being the first visiting team since 2019, when they head south to take on the Windsor Lancers on Sept. 22. Coming off a second-place finish in the OUA West in 2019, they are poised to build on their success in 2020.
Head Coach Keith Mason enters his 22nd year with the Gryphons, a group that begins their season already ranked in the U SPORTS Top-10, despite having not played a match.
Star midfielder Alex Zis returns to Guelph for his senior season, and there is no question that he will be one of the best players in the OUA, while also being a game-changer for the Gryphons. Zis scored eight goals and 16 assists in 14 games in 2019 and is coming into a season against fresh-faced defence cores. The Canadian Premier League’s Forge FC also selected Zis 8th overall in the 2020 U SPORTS-CPL Draft.
Also in the midfield is English-born Human Kinetics student-athlete Harvey Marchant, who comes to the Gryphons from Woking FC, who play in the 14th division of the English football pyramid.
The Gryphons defeated the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks 5-0 in the preseason, with Zis leading the way with a hat-trick, while Evan Dick and Lucas Deros added insurance markers.
With one of the best players in the nation pulling the strings in their midfield, the Gryphons are a real boom or bust team. If Zis is healthy and rolling, they will be championship contenders. Without him, they face an uphill battle.
Player to watch: Alex Zis
The Waterloo Warriors have one of the largest listed rosters ahead of the OUA season, and of the 30+ players on the team website, 20 of them are listed as rookies. Without much experience, it will be a year of transition for the Warriors after finishing as one of the lowest-ranked teams in the OUA in 2019 with just two wins.
Although the lack of experience can be concerning, Mark Worton’s Warriors program has an opportunity to build a winning culture with some success in 2021. However, one of their experienced players is fourth-year left-back Luka Frankovic, who made history as the first-ever Warrior to opt into the CPL Draft. Despite the league’s eight teams not selecting the civil engineering student, he will bring valuable wisdom to the Warriors’ defence.
Freshman attacking midfielder Kevin Espiro could be a name to watch for the Warriors, as Woodbridge Strikers U21 player pulls on the black and gold. A 2018 Ontario Summer Games Gold Meddlaist with ample experience in the Team Ontario set-up, the Mississauga native is bound to excel at the OUA level.
Player to watch: Kevin Espiro
The Western Mustangs Canadian football team is ranked #1 in the country at time of writing; meanwhile, their football (soccer) team will try to crack the top-10 at some point this season.
After finishing with a 6-6-2 record in 2019, the Mustangs will be working to have a record higher than .500 for the first time since 2018. If they are going to do it, they’ll have to forge their way through the season without 2019 leading goalscorer Nimi Adeyemo, who has graduated.
While the Mustangs are introducing 16 new faces to their roster this season, four from the London Vancouver Whitecaps FC Academy, they have two of the most intriguing athletes in the OUA with Luca Reich and Daniel Oshana.
Reich, a midfielder from the British Virgin Islands, comes to the OUA with FIFA World Cup Qualifying experience and four international caps with the BVI Men’s National Team. The creative midfielder has a wide range of passing ability and is coming off a World Cup Qualifying stint where his BVI side fell to Guatemala, Curacao, Cuba and St-Vincent and the Grenadines.
Daniel Oshana does not have senior international caps like Reich but has represented Canada Soccer at the U15 level. Known for his left foot distribution, the midfielder is a product of the Whitecaps FC London Academy, which benefits the Mustangs more than any other program.
The Mustangs are a young team, like many programs in 2021, but with a bevy of talent, expect Head Coach Martin Painter’s team to turn some heads in London.
Player to watch: Luca Reich
Laurier Golden Hawks
Hawks tend to soar in the wild, but in the 2019 OUA men’s soccer season, the Laurier Golden Hawks did the exact opposite, winning just three matches and finish third last in the OUA West, ahead of Windsor and Algoma. In 2021, they are looking to improve.
Striker Glorius Okpali is the leading man for Laurier in 2021 but will need to convert his chances if the Golden Hawks want to fly up the standings. The fourth-year forward took the fourth-most shots in the OUA’s 2019 season but only converted five of his 36 attempts into goals.
Veteran oalkeeper Jefferey Omoregie-Sa will be the final stop in Laurier’s end as he looks to harness his experience to improve the Golden Hawks dismal defensive record of 33 goals against in 2019, which landed them as the third-worst defensive team in the OUA.
It is difficult to gauge where the Golden Hawks are at heading into 2021. Still, after the performance in 2019, small wins are significant for this season.
Player to watch: Jefferey Omoregie-Sa
The Windsor Lancers will host a historic matchup on Wednesday, Sept. 22, when they welcome the Guelph Gryphons to the border town to launch the first OUA soccer season since the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Led by Head Coach Ryan Mendonca, the Lancers are desperately looking to improve on a .464 record from 2019, which ended with a 4-3 OT loss to the Brock Badgers in the first round of the OUA playoffs.
Speaking to Windsor Athletics, Mendonca praised veteran defenders Kyle Burren and Nathan Clemmings as two players to watch, with the pair bringing experience and solidity to a fresh-faced Lancers lineup. The two helped the Lancers to the sixth-best defensive record in the OUA in 2019, which should only improve in 2021.
With the team built from the backline experience, the 12 new faces should slide in without too much trouble; however, the 2021 season will be challenging for the Lancers, as they pair the past with the program’s future.
Player to watch: Tanner Page
- Guelph Gryphons
- Western Mustangs
- Brock Badgers
- Windsor Lancers
- Waterloo Warriors
- Laurier Golden Hawks