Playoff Preview: OUA men’s teams strive for one U SPORTS spot

TORONTO, ON – There might not be a single-site Final Four this year in the OUA, but the playoffs will bring even more excitement than other years. The OUA postseason kicks off with the four quarterfinal matches on Wednesday evening, as teams strive towards the U SPORTS National Tournament. 

With the divisions realigned and the season shortened in 2021, each quarterfinal presents a matchup yet to be played, as familiar programs meet for the first time with refreshed rosters.

In one game playoffs, anything can happen, making Wednesday night a soccer fan’s dream. 

Ontario Tech (8) vs Guelph (1)

Ian Vidovich
(Laurel Jarvis)

On paper, this game should be a walk in the park for the Guelph Gryphons. Still, in reality, it might be a little bit tougher than that. 

The Ontario Tech Ridgebacks, who come into this match as the eighth seed, did not have an easy division this season, having to take on top teams such as York and Carleton while also battling with Queen’s for third place in the division. 

Led from the midfield by U SPORTS-CPL Draft Pick Chris Campoli, the Ridgebacks pushed through tough competition, including a massive upset win on opening night against York. Campoli became the third-highest scoring Ridgeback of all-time this season and will look to catch lightning in a bottle against Guelph. 

For Guelph, they approach this game like they have all season: with a team effort. 

Once led by star midfielder Alex Zis, the Gryphons have adjusted this season to focus on winning by committee, a strategy that brought them to the OUA’s top-seed. Mitch Lefebvre is fifth in the OUA in shots, yet no Gryphons are in the Top 10 for OUA goalscoring. Even without a star, Guelph scored 17 goals in 10 matches while only allowing three. 

If Campoli can control the match from the start and Ontario Tech can grab an early lead, the complexion of this match changes. However, with Guelph’s stingy backline, they will likely be able to shut down a player of Campoli’s skillset, leading them to a semi-finals berth. 

The winner of this match will play the winner of Carleton vs McMaster. 

Prediction: Guelph Gryphons 3-1 Ontario Tech Ridgebacks

McMaster (5) vs Carleton (4)

(Valerie Wutti)

If the Carleton Ravens do not win this match, there will be many calls to change the qualifying paths to the U SPORTS Championship. As hosts, the Ravens have an automatic spot in the national tournament, meaning they take one of the two allotted OUA spots, usually given to the two conference finalists. If Carleton doesn’t make the final, that’s a problem. 

The McMaster Marauders will not be an easy foe for Carleton, who let first place slip out of their reach with a loss and draw against York. The Ravens will have to find a way to shut down co-OUA leading goalscorer Dusan Kovacevic in the one-game showdown, a feat few teams have done this season. Despite many of Kovacevic’s goals coming against sides outside of the playoffs, he is an offensive threat in any game. 

To contain Kovacevic, the Ravens will draw on Tareq Hamad, Mitch O’Brien, and Raphael Garcia to shut down the Marauder’s potent attack. However, if they succeed, the Ravens have their own offensive weapons to win the match. 

Expect plenty of goals in this match with the two highest-scoring teams in the OUA and a Carleton side that features experienced attackers and CPL familiar names Ricky Comba, Gabe Bitar and Matteo de Brienne. 

While both forward groups stack up evenly, the Ravens will be able to play free, knowing that they will have a shot at a national championship regardless of the result, while McMaster faces the challenge of winning the OUA. 

Most OUA teams travel on game day, which often proves to be a disadvantage; however, sources tell 49 Sports that the Marauders made the trip from Hamilton to Ottawa on Tuesday. 

The winner of this match will play the winner of Guelph vs Ontario Tech.

Prediction: Carleton 4-3 McMaster 

Waterloo (6) vs Ryerson (3)

(Josh Kim)

When the Ryerson Rams welcome the Waterloo Warriors to Downsview Park on Wednesday evening, they do so cautiously, knowing that their opponent is a lot better than expected.

Emerging from a tightly-contested playoff race in the OUA West, the Waterloo Warriors approach the playoffs in top form and hold a favourable road record, picking up three wins in five matches away from home. Mark Warton’s side also comes into the match riding a two-game win streak, having beaten Brock twice in the final week to secure their postseason berth.

For the Rams, 2021 is about getting over the playoff hump. While the quarterfinals have not tripped them up in recent seasons, Filip Prostran’s side has never won the OUA title, despite consistent Top-10 rankings. However, rookie forward Zakaria Abdi has round into form at the right time with eight goals this season, and his strike partner, senior Abdallah El-Chanti, has scored the same amount. With two capable forwards, goals should come for the Rams. 

Although the two sides offer attacking talent, expect this match to be nip-and-tuck all the way through. Both teams only conceded eight goals through a 10 match regular season, tied for fourth-best in the OUA. Even with talented forwards, goals will be at a premium for either side. 

The Rams are the favourites, and playing in front of a passionate crowd that often makes its way out to Downsview will likely help push them over the line, where the York Lions or Toronto Varsity Blues will await them in the semis. 

Prediction: Ryerson 2-1 Waterloo

Toronto (7) vs York (2)

Soji Olatoye (Ben Chandler/49 Sports)

In the first century BCE, Roman poet Sextus Propertius said, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

York and Toronto certainly don’t love each other, quite the opposite, but their absence has brought them back together at the earliest possible point. 

When the OUA published the realigned divisions for 2021, it was surprising to see York separated from Ryerson and Toronto, its YYZ cousins. Yet, even without regular-season matches against each other, the rivalry between  York and U of T writes its newest chapter in a one-match playoff. 

The York Lions come into the match as the heavy favourites, having picked up four of a possible six points against Carleton and boasting an experienced team of former professionals, including OUA goal-scoring leader Dieu Merci Yuma. 

Merci Yuma will lead York’s offensive push, but the midfield battle will be one to watch. Experienced midfielders Soji Olatoye and Emmanuel Zambasiss have impressed the Lions this season, thriving against tough opposition like Carleton. However, Toronto’s mix of experience and youth provides a tough challenge, with veterans Nikola Stakic and Anthony Sousa able to transition the play and find pockets in the midfield. 

Despite only allowing six goals this season, York’s backline will have to watch Toronto rookie Kingsley Belele, who is in form at the right time, netting four goals in his last three appearances. 

The showdown between the sticks will also be noteworthy, with Dalhousie transfer Ben Grondin likely starting for Toronto and the physically imposing George Tzimas for York. Both have been of immense value to their teams in 2021, and the game could come down to their performances. 

Familiarity often breeds rivalry, but these two sides despise each other even without playing each other all year. It is a near guarantee that this match will be the most passionate of the opening round. 

Prediction: Toronto 2-1 York (After Extra Time)

Fans can stream the Carleton and York matches for free on OUA TV.

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