OTTAWA, ON – “Opportunities are like sunrises, if you wait too long you’ll miss them” – William Arthur Ward (1921-1994)
It was over, and then it wasn’t, and then by the end of it all, the team that probably should have won did, but not without having to work a lot harder than they might have expected for it in a quarterfinal matchup to remember.
The Cape Breton Capers have been here before. The program that is the pride of Sydney, Nova Scotia, with five straight AUS titles to their name, has been a fixture of the U SPORTS Men’s Soccer National Championship, with a 2017 Gold Medal, 2012 and 2018 Silver medals and a 2019 Bronze to show for it. After toppling the Ravens at CEPSUM in Montreal in 2019, the Cape Breton Capers travelled to The Ravens Perch in Ottawa. Still, before they could consider a shot at potentially facing the Ravens, they would need to take down the Laval Rouge et Or.
For Laval, a team that has seen ongoing success on the gridiron with their football program, their men’s soccer program has seen less success. Falling to the Montreal Carabins in the 2021 RSEQ final kept Laval from winning their first RSEQ title since 2013 but sent them to the U SPORTS National championships for the first time since 2013.
The stage was set by the time the ball kicked off at 4:30 pm on a wet Thursday afternoon in Ottawa. The veteran team looking for another set of hardware, and the underdog team looking to shock the U SPORTS soccer hierarchy.
They might have started the game as underdogs, but Laval began their quarterfinal matchup with their tail between their legs. Five minutes into the game, extended pressure in front of Horace Patient Sobze Zemo led to a penalty call.
Charlie Waters stepped up and buried a shot in the top right corner to give Cape Breton the early lead.
The early minutes ticked by at the Ravens Perch, the Rouge et Or looked like a team playing over their heads. A potent cross into the Laval box at the 15-minute mark had to be punched away by Sobze Zemo to keep out the early pressure. By halftime, Laval slowly started to find their legs but was still stuck 1-0 against a seemingly confident Capers team.
In the 55th minute, Charlie Waters once again found the ball at his foot. This time the 2021 AUS MVP floated a shot up and over the outstretched arm of Sobze Zemo into the top left corner to push the Capers lead to two goals.
That is how it looked like it would end.
For 74 minutes, the Cape Breton Capers looked in control until a cross into the top of the box was headed on the run by Baptiste Toussaint into the Capers goal. Suddenly the Caper armour had a crack in it. According to Euan Bauld, it wasn’t surprising, “We kind of just stopped playing, when we got that second goal we went in a shell a little bit.”
Almost as if among the pouring rain of the Ottawa evening, a lightning bolt struck suddenly; it was as if the last 70 minutes had never happened. An 86th-minute chip into the Capers box slipped behind the keeper, only to be cleared out at the last second. Barely sixty seconds later, another chance by the Rouge et Or whistled a bullet of a shot right by the right post.
To the Rouge et Or’s credit, they never really doubted themselves all game, “I thought during the whole game we were the better team, “Jonathan Valée said. ” When you are two-nil down, obviously the second goal was a big blow for us; once you are two-nil down, you really have nothing to lose.”
Laval kept pushing, and it took to the fifth minute of stoppage time, but Jean-Phillppe Levesque found a hole and buried the tying goal for the Laval Rouge et Or, sending their travelling fan support into hysterics.
When the stoppage time whistle blew just seconds after the goal, the dark Ottawa evening could do nothing to hide the look of absolute dejection plastered across the faces of every Cape Breton Caper.
When extra-time began, the Capers looked better; in Coach Deano Morley’s words, “It was a chance for us to reset.”
The seemingly best chance for Cape Breton in extra-time came in the 117th minute when Charlie Waters tucked a shot just wide left searching for the hat trick. Seconds later, though, Kairo Coore got the ball in the same spot, making no mistake.
For the Rouge et Or, knowing they have a Friday midday meeting with the loser of the Carleton and UBC, finding the energy to finish the rest of the weekend strong will not be something they get tonight. “I think tomorrow morning the objective for the rest of the week will be clear, but for now, it’s just a big disappointment,” Valée said.
As for the Capers, they head into a Saturday semifinal date with either the Ravens or the Thunderbirds. Their struggles against Laval have left the Nova Scotia side with some reflection to do, “That first 25 minutes the game should have done, and it wasn’t so to me that’s an issue,” Morley said.
William Arthur Ward said how an opportunity is like a sunrise in that if you keep waiting for it to come, you’ll miss it. The Cape Breton Capers came into the weekend in Ottawa knowing the opportunity was there for the second national title in school history. The performance in their quarterfinal matchup, though, showed a team that was doing more waiting than working and will need to give more if they want to take a gold medal back to the Highland.
COVER: Laval Rouge et Or Athletics