TORONTO, ON – Go back in the history books and find a more competitive OUA Soccer season than 2021. After a year off, the OUA has returned with a vengeance, as new faces from across the conference ensured parity in a league once ruled by a select number of programs.
Although the 2021 OUA Men’s and Women’s Soccer seasons were cut short, the playoff races in restructured divisions have proven to make some of the most competitive soccer ever seen in OUA history. Any team can win against any opponent in 2021, making the playoff picture as clear as mud.
With revised divisions for both genders, the Top 2 teams in each of the three divisions get automatic playoff spots, with the Top 2 third-place finishers completing the playoff bracket.
The penultimate weekend offered great goals and set the stage for a brilliant closing week of action. Let’s get kicking.
MSOC: Carleton has a knack for the spectacular but has yet to clinch
The Carleton Ravens are in a peculiar situation this season. Hosting the U SPORTS National Tournament, they could have finished last in the OUA and still have a shot at the National Title. However, that’s not how host-teams approach their season, and it is certainly not the mindset of the Ravens and Head Coach Kwesi Loney.
After losing to the York Lions earlier in the week, the Ravens faced three critical points on Sunday. If the Ravens had claimed all the points at York Lions Stadium, they would have jumped past York for first place in the OUA East, likely securing their spot in the playoffs.
The Ravens settled for a hard-fought 1-1 draw with the Lions, which kept them one point behind the Lions in the table heading into the final weekend. However, Loney was pleased with his team despite the two dropped points, looking at the larger picture.
“It’s always a great battle with York; both teams were defensively sound, counter attacks; I think it’s a great game for U SPORTS and the OUA to see the quality of soccer that the two teams played today,” Loney said post-match.
While the point doesn’t clinch playoffs just yet for the Ravens, it secured thousands of social media engagements and a good boost to their ticket sales campaign for the U SPORTS tournament. In first-half stoppage time, striker Matteo de Brienne scored a goal that rivals some of the world’s finest, striking the ball off a volley from long range.
With the point, the Ravens are likely into the OUA postseason, but it depends on what happens in two matches between Queen’s and York and Carleton’s games against Trent. With Trent being a far weaker, already eliminated side, it would take an upset of unimaginable proportions not to have the Ravens in the playoffs.
MSOC: Varsity Blues facing a final week challenge, despite crushing Algoma
The Toronto Varsity Blues had one of the most peculiar setups in OUA soccer. The Downtown Toronto school began playing some of the West division’s top teams in Ryerson and McMaster while their divisional foes racked up points against weaker sides.
With the weaker sides on the backend of the season, the Varsity Blues have done what they’ve needed to do, outsourcing Algoma and Laurentian by a combined score of 20-1 through four games.
“I think we’ve had the most difficult start in the OUA of all the 18 teams; I still then we are on pace for a playoff spot,” said Head Coach Ilya Orlov on October 10, when his side had four points in four matches.
In the OUA’s final weekend, the Varsity Blues will likely have to win both matches against the Nipissing Lakers to secure a playoff spot; however, without six points, they’ll need some luck from the Rams and Marauders, who play each other.
Four different players have scored at least two goals in the last 180 minutes of play for the Varsity Blues, led by Kinglsey Belele, who potted a hat trick against Algoma. With goals flowing, Toronto has confidence heading into the final weekend.
WSOC: Emma Lefebvre is taking OUA by storm.
Yes, she helped the uOttawa Gee-Gees to a FISU World Cup title back in 2019, but in OUA action, Emma Lefebvre has made immense strides this season, outperforming every previous level that she had set throughout her Gee-Gees career.
The Kingston, Ontario native leads the league with 12 goals in 9 matches, already a career-high with two games to go, and they have not been simple finishes. Playing against a rebuilding York Lions side, Lefebvre shifted wider from her central attacking position, pulling York defenders out of her way and giving her time and space to execute with her skill.
While the 2019-20 OUA Champions are a very skilled team, Lefebvre’s improvement is unparalleled this season. She has gone from a valuable player to a likely contender for OUA MVP, as she leads the conference in goals and points.
The Gee-Gees have put together an impeccable season as well, only dropping points once in a draw with the Carleton Ravens, a significant upset, but not one that will faze the Gee-Gees. With one game to go, against the last place RMC Paladins, the Gee-Gees will have an opportunity to rest Lefebvre, among others, making sure they are as close to 100% healthy for playoffs.
WSOC: Penultimate weekend sets up dramatic final matches
It is no secret that the 2021 soccer season across all of U SPORTS has been one of the most compelling and well-contested campaigns in history, something that is no different when taking a look at the playoff scenarios ahead of the final week of OUA action.
While there are eight playoff spots to claim, only the uOttawa Gee-Gees, Nipissing Lakers and Queen’s Gaels have clinched playoff spots; for everyone else, it comes down to this weekend. For a season that could have easily swayed toward the stronger recruiting classes, the 2021 campaign is going down as one of the closest races in OUA history.
The McMaster Maraduers and Ryerson Rams kick-off against each other, with McMaster, at 15 points, having a slight advantage in the Central Division. However, if McMaster wants to finish in one of the top two automatic playoff spots, they will have to match Toronto’s results against Nipissing.
In the East Division, the second-place Queen’s Gaels will have to pick up at least one point in two games against the third-place York Lions to clinch a playoff spot. Ottawa locks up top spot with a win against RMC.
While the Central and East Divisions are tight, there is no tiger conference in U SPORTS women’s soccer than the OUA West. All three of Western, Laurier and Guelph sit at 14 points and will battle it out on a final weekend, effectively giving fans an extra week of elimination soccer. The Windsor Lancers are within reach as well at 11 points.
Although the West looks close, the Western Mustangs hold a slight advantage, having an easier opponent in two matches vs Windsor, meanwhile Guelph and Laurier battle each other. If I were to fathom a guess, first place goes to Western, second to Laurier, and three wil be no wildcard from the division.
It’s a hectic time in U SPORTS soccer, and the playoff races in OUA Women’s Soccer are some of the most intriguing.