KINGSTON, ON – In households across Canada, families put turkeys in ovens, boilers and broilers, cooking them for Thanksgiving dinner. Someone must have made a mistake in their process because the OUA soccer season got heated too.
As the OUA schedule reached the midway point, things have not become any clearer. But, despite starting weeks after the other conferences, the parity that has been seen across the country has found its way to the OUA, making 2021 one of the best seasons in recent history.
Few favourites have emerged for both men’s and women’s seasons, with underdogs fairing well early on. Nevertheless, we’ve learned a few things with Week 3 in the books, so let’s get into it.
MSOC: The schedule will be fun
As the OUA soccer schedule reaches its halfway point, the next few weeks look all the more tantalizing. For most programs, three weekends remain in the regular season, with doubleheaders against two or three different teams.
In every division, nothing has been wrapped up, making these next few games incredibly important. After Week 3, teams are already jockeying for playoff positioning, and with two teams advancing per division and two wildcards, the playoff races spread across more schools than in previous years.
In the OUA East, the Queen’s Gaels, York Lions and Trent Excalibur are in the mix for the second playoff spot, and despite their rough start, the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks could climb back up. Carleton has likely sealed up the top spot.
Trent had Week 3 off. York picked up six points, outscoring RMC 15-2 over two matches; meanwhile, Queen’s picked up two points in two draws with Ontario Tech.
The Gaels and Lions meet up in the final week of the season, two matches that could decide who gets into the postseason or not.
For Queen’s Head coach Chris Hoefler, the potential of do-or-die matches against York is a perfect scenario. “They’re always very prepared, they’re always an attacking threat, and they are organized defensively,” he said to 49 Sports. “I’ve been here for seven years, and I’ve wanted to play York the whole time that I’ve been here, so the expectation on my end is that as soon as we’re on the field together, we’ll have ideas on how we can beat them.”
The schedule makers knew what they were doing when they set things up ahead of the 2021 season, and as the season enters its second half, it is bound to get even more thrilling.
MSOC: McMaster is off to a roaring start, but how are they that much better?
49 Sports and several OUA coaches predicted the McMaster Maraduers to make a splash in the OUA this season. Still, after their first half of the season, they’ve smashed through every expectation, sitting atop the OUA Central Division after six games.
Forward Dusan Kovacevic scored once twice against U of T in two games, once in a 2-2 draw in Hamilton and at the reverse fixture at Varsity Stadium. The most single-season OUA goals since 2014 came in in 2016 when Guelph’s Jace Kostopolus scored 17 times in 16 matches. Although Kovacevic’s tallies came against the lowly Algoma Thunderbirds, Laurentian Voyageurs, and Varsity Blues, his confidence and current form could push him to six more to match that total.
While Kovacevic’s goals have driven the Marauders to first in the conference and pushed them to a four-point week vs Toronto, McMaster’s level may not be as great as the stats make it to be. Comparing the side to Toronto, the strength of the schedule has to be considered.
The Maraduers have twice taken down an Algoma side, the weakest in the conference, debatably the country. They’ve also only claimed half the points in two games against Laurentian. Toronto split points through two games against the Top 10 ranked Rams and fell to another Top 10 ranked team in McMaster.
The schedule flips over the next few weeks as McMaster takes on challenging sides in Nipissing and the nationally-ranked Rams, while Toronto gets to take their shot at Algoma and Laurentian.
“We’ll take our full strongest team into both of those games; we’re not taking any chances,” said Toronto Head Coach Ilya Orlov. “We have to respect every opponent and lay properly to win first, and then we will worry about goal differential because you can see what happens in the OUA if you don’t respect your opponent.”
While the Maraduers have gotten off to an exciting start, the flipped schedule will test whether they are genuinely worthy of being so far ahead in the division or if they are right in the tight mix of the Rams, Toronto and Nipissing.
WSOC: The Nipissing Lakers look like contenders
The Nipissing Lakers missed out on the national tournament in 2019; however, they avenged their OUA playoff loss this past weekend, defeating the Rams twice and pushing their record up to a perfect 5-0.
With two shutout victories of 1-0 and 5-0, the Lakers are showing they are right in the mix for OUA title contention this season. They are tied with uOttawa for the conference lead in goals scored with 20 and are yet to concede in five matches.
Even though their win streak began against lower-ranked sides in Laurentian and Algoma, the Lakers played the Rams off the pitch, showing they could take on a top level of competition. The next four matches against McMaster and U of T will define their season, but at this point, they have every chance at giving themselves a good shot at an OUA title.
WSOC: The Gaels’ attack is thriving but will get tested
Coming off a six-point week with two wins over Ontario Tech, the Queen’s Gaels are on fire offensively, with a quartet of forwards, including the OUA’s shot leader Christie Gray leading the way. Along with Gray, Cecilia Way, Jenna Matsukubo, and Raya Athwal have tormented defences through the season so far.
Queen’s got started quickly against the Ridgebacks on Saturday, with defender Jenna Leslie scoring a goal the day before her birthday off a corner kick. At 3-0, the Gaels added a pair of insurance markers in second-half stoppage time from Way and Maddy Moran.
For Gaels Head Coach Dave McDowell, the early success has been about adapting to a new system. “We can come at you from a bunch of different areas; he told 49 Sports. “In the past, we’ve been more predominantly a team that likes to play out wide, but I think we’ve started to become more comfortable looking at things from a central area.”
Way has been the perfect example of a player that can sneak in behind defensive lines, and the Gaels’ midfield can thread the ball through to her. While Matsukubo and Gray still threaten up the wing, adding the central threat to Way’s game has morphed the Gaels into one of the OUA’s top attacking teams.
With a perfect, division-leading 5-0 record, the Gaels are in a peculiar position, having the confidence and swagger that comes with a winning streak while also knowing that their schedule has not featured the toughest teams such as York or uOttawa.
“We’ve got some tough games. It will be nice for us to get pushed a little bit more,” said McDowell. “To play uOttawa and York, who we expect to be 2 of the top teams in Ontario, it will be nice to get that much more of a test.”
The Gaels take face local rivals RMC on Oct. 17, before coming up against the 2019 FISU World Cup champion uOttawa Gee-Gees on Oct. 21.