Previewing the OUA Central in Men’s Soccer

TORONTO, ON – OUA soccer is back, and the Central Division is raring to go with some of the top schools in U SPORTS and the OUA. 

While the Guelph Gryphons, Windsor Lancers, York Lions and Ontario Tech Ridgebacks got things started in the OUA West and East on Wednesday, the OUA Central has left it until Friday to kick off. Still, it will feature darby matches in just the first weekend, highlighted by Rams @ Toronto.

In our final preview of the OUA season, we look at the teams crying for Central Division glory. 

Toronto Varsity Blues

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(U of T Varsity Blues)

While the Varsity Blues might play at one of the nicest stadiums in U SPORTS right in the heart of Downtown Toronto, the 2021 season will likely be a difficult one. Like many teams in the OUA, the Varsity Blues will be young and inexperienced, with just three regular starters from 2019 returning in 2021. 

Led by Head Coach Ilya Orlov, the Varsity Blues have a determined style of play that has been successful in the past, something they will stick with and develop, despite having new faces in nearly every position. 

One of the integral players returning is fifth-year midfielder Nikola Stakic, who scored four goals and assist in 2019, the fourth-highest total on the Varsity Blues. “He’s the leader both on the field and off, and he leads by example,” said Orlov to Varsity Blues Athletics. 

 Dalhousie Tigers transfer Ben Grondin will take the reigns between the sticks as he enters his fourth year of eligibility. Through 25 games in three AUS seasons, the Calgary-born keeper made 147 saves while allowing 29 goals. 

Among the young additions are Shon Siegelwachs and Nino Nikolovksi. Siegelwaches, an Israeli midfielder, comes to Toronto after playing in the youth development ranks in Portugal after leaving the Toronto FC academy.

It won’t be an easy season for the Varsity Blues, but it should not take long to adjust with talented additions and an established playing style. 

Player to watch: Nikola Stakic 

Rams Soccer (Ryerson) 

Abdallah El-Chanti - 2020 - Soccer (M) - Ryerson University
(Ryerson Rams Athletics)

If a team from this division makes the U SPORTS National Tournament, it will most likely be the Rams. Ranked in the U SPORTS Top-10 ahead of the season, the Rams have one of the few experienced lineups in the OUA and bring elite-level talent from across Ontario. 

After finishing second in the OUA regular season in 2019, only behind eventual OUA champions Carleton, the Rams have high hopes for 2021. However, while regular-season success is expected, the Rams will have one eye on the post-season, looking to push past the quarterfinals for the first time since 2017. 

Head Coach Filip Prostran will rely on veteran goalscorer Abdallah El-Chanti, who scored six goals in 2019 and fourth-year goalkeeper Praveen Alihan. “These are guys who were some of the best in the country at their position,” he said to Ryerson Athletics. 

In the midfield, fourth-year Chris Castillo is poised to take a consistent starting role, helping guide Jacob Carlos, a talented midfielder who spent time with the Toronto FC U19s before spending time at various clubs in Sweden and Portugal. In total, the Rams have 13 new faces on the roster. 

Another intriguing addition is 2020 recruit, forward Zakaria Abdi, who has spent time with Canada Soccer’s U17s and is bound to score a bundle of goals as a second-year rookie.  

The Rams are the clear favourite to win the division in 2021, but their main concern has to be advancing to the OUA Final and U SPORTS National Tournament. 

Player to watch: Abdallah El-Chanti

Nipissing Lakers 

MSOC - Action File
(Nipissing Lakers Athletics)

Look no further than the Nipissing Lakers if you’re looking for a mixed team of seniors and freshmen. While they have 15 student-athletes listed as freshmen, there is also a large group of seven seniors. 

The veteran core guided the Lakers to a 5-8-1 record in 2019 and could harness their experience to push higher up the standings in 2021. While they won’t challenge the Rams and will have a tough time against U of T and McMaster, they are certainly in better shape than Laurentian and Algoma. 

Senior striker Jack Collins will likely determine the Laker’s fate, as he leads the offence after scoring six goals in 2019. The Ottawa-born striker will challenge many of the inexperienced defence cores in the OUA, making him and the Lakers a threat when in the attacking half. 

Player to watch: Jack Collins 

McMaster Marauders

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(McMaster Athletics)

The McMaster Maraduers last match was a loss to the York Lions on a cold November night in 2019. Although they fell to the hosts that day, the Hamilton school had qualified for the OUA final four, a place they will seek to get to again. 

Without the York Lions in their division, they could very likely get there, as they bring back a veteran core who found success in their last campaign. Captain Matthew Monteiro is back for his fourth season, bringing experience, skill and leadership to the McMaster midfield.

Adding instant quality to the midfield is Sigma FC product Jaiden Jacob, who transfers to McMaster after playing with Bryant University in the NCAA. While Jacob did not get ample time with the Brutant Bulldogs, he has trained with the Canadian Premier League’s Forge FC. With a good season, Jacob could find himself in CPL-U SPORTS Draft consideration. 

Player to watch: Jaiden Jacob

Laurentian Voyageurs 

MSOC | Ridgebacks Run All Over Voyageurs
(Laurentian Voyageurs Athletics)

The Laurentian Voyageurs are carrying the pride of their school on their shoulders. The university folded the men’s and women’s hockey and swimming programs, leaving the soccer teams as one of the final sports carrying the Voyageurs brand. 

Despite reaching just 13 points in 14 matches in 2019, the Voyageurs are one of the more experienced teams in the division and could take advantage of that in the first few weeks of the season. 

While they have lost veterans such as Nico Correa and Augustus Oku, Head Coach Carlo Castrechino will continue to rely on defender Mateus Forte, who played every game for the Voyageurs in 2019. 

Laurentian is a much better team than Algoma, and they are more experienced as well; however, it is doubtful that they can pose a threat to the likes of the Rams, Toronto or McMaster.

Player to watch: Keeghan Ezzard

Algoma Thunderbirds 

Thunderbird Men's Soccer Sunday Attack Sinks Mac
(Algoma Thunderbirds Athletics)

For the Algoma Thunderbirds, the year will be about player development and improving on past seasons. But, baring a miracle similar to Leicester City FC’s Premier League title, the Thunderbirds won’t be in the OUA championship conversation. 

However, the most interesting part of the season will be from the touchline, as Sam Medaglia makes his coaching debut after the Thundebrids appointed him in March 2021. With over 35 years of experience, he brings a veteran presence to a young Thunderbirds team that has only won three matches since 2017. 

Player to watch: Lucas Spirkoski

49 Sports Predictions

  1. Rams Soccer
  2. McMaster Marauders
  3. Toronto Varsity Blues
  4. Laurentian Voyageurs
  5. Nipissing Lakers
  6. Algoma Thunderbirds 

Pitchside Solutions Predictions

  1. Rams Soccer
  2. Toronto Varsity Blues
  3. McMaster Maraduers
  4. Nipissing Lakers
  5. Laurentian Voyageurs 
  6. Algoma Thunderbirds 

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