OTTAWA, ON – The Universite de Montreal Carabins defeated the University of Victoria Vikes in a 1-1 quarterfinal thriller that needed 30 minutes of extra time and a 5-4 penalty shootout that saw the Carabins come out victorious.
Montreal got off to a strong start at Raven’s perch, creating three goal-scoring chances ten minutes into the match. But the Vikes kept the Carabins on their toes with two dangerous corners and a vigorous strike that tested the Universite de Montreal keeper, Felix Goulet.
The Carabins looked to feed their clinical strike force, Guy-Frank Essomé-Penda and Alexis Stevens, with through balls in behind the Vikes backline but they came up empty-handed on multiple occasions. The Vikes’ strong and assertive spine forced the Carabins to create chances from out-wide.
“We’re a team that doesn’t give away a ton of goals,” Vikes Captain Evan Libke, said. “We have guys that love to put their body on the line and win every ball we can.”
Playing in a 4-4-2 system, the Carabins used the traditional football formation in a modern way. Wide-Midfielders, Quentin Paumier, and Mohamadou Sylla played most of the first-half roaming the attacking third. The pair often swapped flanks and made inverted runs into the midfield. This allowed the Carabins full-backs to join the attack and deliver dangerous crosses.
Outmatched technically the Vikes had to compete physically using their striker Ian Whibley as the up-front target man. Whibley created many problems in a physical battle for the Carabins backline that proved beneficial for the Vikes as it led to the opening goal of the match.
In the 55th minute, the game took an unexpected turn when the Vikes went up 1-0 with a goal from Isaac Koch. Prestigious ball movement and precise passing had the Carabins on the back foot. The ball was distributed out-wide and then crossed into Whibley who challenged for a header that landed at the back-post to the feet of Koch. Koch then put it past Goulet to claim the opening goal of the match.
“It felt great, to be honest; it felt deserved,” Victoria Captain Evan Libke said. “We stuck to our game plan…tried to be compact defensively, but it was great to get that goal.”
Before the goal Montreal looked a bit more aggressively, taking more risks going forward with a bicycle kick from Essomé-Penda that was blocked by Victoria defender in the 48th minute. But the goal from the Vikes swung the momentum of the game.
Libke said that he thought the Vikes s were just as good as the Carabins the entire time. “We were hard to break down; it says a lot of positives moving forward.”
No longer on the back-foot, Victoria started to take control of the game by creating multiple chances that once again saw Felix Goulet keep the Carabins in the match and the Montreal bench in shock and silence.
The Carabins weren’t kept quiet for long as the game’s momentum shifted back to its original nature with the Carabins searching for an equalizing goal. The Vikes became more defensive, relying on their counterattack to get another goal and seal the game shut. However, the Carabins became more offensive, searching for a goal to keep them in the tournament.
Victoria’s approach proved to be costly as the 80th minute saw the Carabins strike back. Essomé-Penda sent a beautiful ball to Alexis Stevens who slipped in behind the Vikes’ defence and slotted his shot into the bottom right corner and leveled the score.
“[The University of Victoria] are a good team, but on the day my boys deserved the win,” the Carabins head coach Pat Raimondo, said. “The spirit of the boys, their belief in each other, and their trust in each other was really good.”
Two First Team All Canadian athletes in Essomé-Penda and Evan Libke, proved to be crucial elements for their side. Essomé-Penda was a vital part of the Carabins offence on Thursday afternoon. His burst of energy and agility made it difficult for the Vikes backline to defend but the University of Victoria’s captain, Evan Libke, showcased his leadership on multiple occasions with forceful tackles and game-saving clearances.
Although the game was tied, Montreal didn’t adjust their tactics. 2-minutes after Stevens’ miss, Essomé-Penda had a game-winning opportunity that was saved by the Vikes keeper, Harjot Nijjar who sent the game into extra time.
The 93rd minute saw The Carabins wide-midfielder, Thierry Côté breakthrough the Vikes defence and 1-on-1 with Nijjar. Unfortunately for Côté, his shot hit the post and bounced back into the hands of Nijjar.
Shortly after Côté’s miss, Essomé-Penda saw his header go wide of the post on a Carbin corner. Extra time was controlled by the Carabins who created many opportunities, but none better than the chance they had in the 120th minute.
In a dying hope of avoiding penalties, the Carabins launched the ball forward into the Vikes’s 18-yard box in the last minute of play. The ball fell to Carbins’ attacker, Lohan Lefevre who hit the post. As the ball ricocheted off the post and went out of play, the ref blew the whistle and the game went into a nerve-wracking penalty shootout.
The Penalty Shoot-Out
The Penalty shoot-out had all of Raven’s Perch off their seats. It started with the Vikes co-captain and goal scorer Isaac Koch placing the ball on the penalty spot. He made no mistake and smashed the ball into the back of the net while Goulet dived the wrong direction. Montreal’s Quentin Paumier had missed their opening penalty, putting the Vikes up 1-0 after the first round.
The following three rounds saw three clinical penalties for the Carabins but a miss and two goals from the Vikes leaving this game tied 3-3 in penalties going into the fifth round.
In the fifth round of penalties, the Vikes substitute Matteo Ventura had his team’s fate resting on his shoulders. Ventura saw his penalty saved by the Montreal keeper, Goulet.
With the deciding penalty centre stage, up stepped U SPORTS men’s soccer Player of the Year, Guy-Frank Essomé-Penda who proved that he is worthy of his award with a confident bottom-corner penalty that sent the Carabins through to the next round.
The RSEQ Champions Universite de Montreal Carabins will play the OUA Champions Guelph Gryphons on Saturday, in a U SPORTS Semi-Final clash of giants.