MONTREAL, QC – No other school in Canada supports soccer like the University of Montreal.
On Friday night, blue and white smoke wafted down to the pitch, engulfing the players, all before the supporters raced down from the stands to celebrate the men’s RSEQ Championship with the Montreal Carabins.
“It’s crazy, I never expected this at all, and especially in university soccer, you expect a good ambiance, but this is just next level; the fans are amazing, and we are so grateful to have them,” said Carabins rookie midfielder Luca Ricci with a gold medal around his neck.
The Montreal Carabins men’s and women’s soccer teams had both been ranked #1 in Canada at points this season, and both made their way to the RSEQ Final on Friday night, hosting their rival, Laval Rouge et Or.
Hours before kickoff, there is a buzz of blue around CEPSUM. Students and fans don their Carabins colours awaiting the RSEQ Championship kickoff. On a chilly November day, four students stand smoking outside the stadium, laughing, before heading into the concrete brick known as CEPSUM.
At 5:42 pm, that group and many more make their way into the stands, armed with flags, drums and blue smoke for the perfect opportunity. They are all set to watch the Montreal women’s team take on Laval in a match featuring RSEQ leading goalscorer Joelle Mercier of the Rouge et Or.
An Extra-Time Thriller
With the wind blowing across the stadium, the official blew her whistle to kick off the RSEQ Final, and it wouldn’t end until over two hours later. Montreal got early chances from Laurie Thibault but could not find the better of Laval’s Myriam Labrecque in the match’s early stages.
The Carabins continued to push, throwing everything they had at the visiting Rouge et Or; meanwhile, the fans began their vocal battle in the stands. 90 minutes later, neither Montreal or Laval had a goal to their name, sending the game to extra-time.
With the fans in full voice, the two sides battled through extra time. Montreal forced the play initially, but Laval’s Labrecque made a last-ditch stop on the goal line in the 101st minute, keeping her side in the match, leading up to the final minute of first-half extra time.
Minute 115. Laval’s Mathilde Rousseau heads in a corner kick, giving the Rouge et Or a leg up, and eventually, the RSEQ title and a spot at the U SPORTS tournament.
“We were confident at 0-0, they [Carabins] had not faced a lot of adversity this year, so I think they were panicking more than us,” said Laval assistant coach Rachel Collard. “We know that when we come here, it is always hard to play in front of the fans. It is always hostile, which is not always easy for the visiting team like us.”
The men’s teams, whose game had been pushed back due to extra time, made their way out onto the field with ten minutes to go in the second extra time. Montreal’s goalkeeper left her net, slotting in as a centre forward to push for a goal. A goal that never came.
“Mentally, you have to work so hard because you don’t have much energy left in the extra time,” said Laval’s Eve Malo, who stood in the stands with her parents celebrating. “We just wanted to score and get the game over, and we have wanted to beat them for so long, so today is perfect.”
When the RSEQ officials awarded the silver medals to the Carabins, every player took it off in disgust, not wanting to celebrate in the despair of defeat. That motion, so small and swift, is seldom seen across U SPORTS but speaks to the level of excellence the Carabins hold themselves to.
“It’s obvious that the result is very disappointing, but I’m very proud of the work our team put in throughout the season, said Carabins Head coach Kevin McConnell on his Montreal side, missing the U SPORTS Championships for the first time since 2016.
A Celebration to Remember
While the women’s match nearly crawled its way to penalty kicks, the Carabins men had no interest in such a script with their match kicking off at 9:30 pm.
Experienced forwards Alexis Stevens and Guy-Frank Essome Penda began their work early, helping the home side to a 3-0 lead within 25 minutes. Stevens chipped the Laval goalkeeper and followed it up by dribbling around him just five minutes later. Essome Penda picked up an assist on all three goals.
Carabins Head Coach Pat Raimondo sat in a plastic chair on the sidelines, blue smoke billowing onto the field, and baseball cap drooped over his forehead, all. At the same time, the Carabins waited for the referee to make it official, and once he did, they were five team RSEQ defending champions.
For a team about to win a championship, the bench was shockingly calm, just waiting for the result to become official. However, the Carabins exploded as one would expect when it did, storming the field and celebrating amongst the teammates while supporters chanted from the crowd.
After getting their medals and taking a team picture, the student-athletes welcomed their fans down to the field, and one by one, a hundred or so students made their way onto the pitch, celebrating under the dark November sky.
“We had a game plan all week long, and it worked exactly as we wanted it, scored early and then shut things down,” said Ricci. “We’re happy right now, obviously, but we are focused on next week to win the national championship.”
While Friday night was not the perfect double-banner night that the Carabins fans hoped for, it was a banner night nonetheless for Canadian university soccer, as a packed stadium of home and away supporters stood chanting for two matches. There are over 50 U SPORTS soccer programs, but none parallel the Montreal Carabins in the stands.