OTTAWA, ON – As the curtain rose on the biggest soccer stage in the country on Thursday morning, the Saint Mary’s Huskies and the Guelph Gryphons provided an opening act worthy of the largest show for university soccer in Canada.
With rain drizzling down over the Ravens Perch at Carleton University, the 2021 U SPORTS Men’s National Soccer Championship kicked off with AUS Finalists, the Saint Mary’s Huskies taking on the OUA champions the Guelph Gryphons in the first quarterfinal matchup.
The Huskies entered the morning as true underdogs, the fourth-place team in the 2021 AUS Season they upset #1, St. FX X-Men, to meet the Cape Breton Capers in the AUS Final. The Huskies fell 4-0 to Cape Breton, missing a chance at their first AUS title since 2011 but entered their quarterfinal hoping to ride their run to their first U SPORTS Gold after decorating their trophy case with five national silvers – the latest in that 2011 season -. The Guelph Gryphons comparatively entered the morning on a high. Despite some cagey moments to get there, the Gryphons took down the York Lions in the OUA championship for their first OUA title since 2016.
Kicking off the game, Guelph took control early, with Saint Mary’s keeper Ryan Davis forced to make a couple of big saves. A couple of chances, including a 21st minute shot from Alex Zis that whistled by the post, made it known, Guelph was not here to mess around. Davis’ play drew praise from Guelph Head Coach Kieth Mason, “I thought their goalie was outstanding; he made a lot of key saves.”
The three-time OUA champions continued to mount an attack. In the 36th minute, Owen McKee came through for the Gryphons in the OUA semifinal and the OUA final with a goal that ended up slotting a deflection past Davis to give the Gryphons the 1-0 lead.
“Right place, right time,” McKee said. “You’ve gotta be good to be lucky and lucky to be good, I guess.”
The Gryphons went into halftime with the lead and momentum, and when the second-half kicked off and the rain started to pickup, it became a downpour of offence centred on the Huskies net.
In the 67th minute, the pressure got to be too much for Huskies mid-fielder Kwaku Korankye. Korankye certainly looked like he didn’t mean to foul, but a foul gave him a second yellow card and sent him off, putting the Huskies at ten men. Already down 1-0, it forced the Huskies to adapt. “We were down a player so we needed to push as many players forward as possible,” Head Coach Mesut Mert said.
The open space on the field allowed Alex Zis to slip through who made no mistake in the 77th minute, putting the game to rest.
The Huskies have been forced to reflect on their decision-making offensively after a 4-0 defeat to Cape Breton in the AUS Finals even before Thursday’s loss. “Moving forward, we have to make sure we continue to recognize the spaces we can attack and be more decisive,” Mert said.
For now, the Gryphons and the Huskies will each wait for the result of the Victoria Vikes and the Montreal Carabins. The Huskies will play the loser in the Consolation semi-final on Friday, and the Gryphons will play the winner in the Championship semi-final on Saturday. For Guelph, the full 90 minutes may not have been perfect, but according to coach Mason,
“Our goal was staying alive as the BeeGees would say and still being there to play on Sunday.”
With the results going in their favour on Thursday, that chance is still alive.
COVER PHOTO: Guelph Gryphons