OTTAWA, ON – The Montreal Carabins and the Guelph Gryphons, two provincial champions staring down a place in the U SPORTS Men’s Soccer Gold Medal Game, spent Saturday afternoon locked in a war of waiting, each side hoping for the other to blink first.
It may not have had the same emotional stakes that the nightcap game certainly will have, but the first semifinal of the 2021 U SPORTS Men’s Soccer Championship pitted a pair of Canada’s best teams in what became a 120-minute chess match.
The Gryphons entered the afternoon following a relatively confident victory on Thursday against the Saint Mary’s Huskies. Goals from Owen McKee and Alexander Zis provided an easy 2-0 cushion for the Gryphons to cruise into the semifinal relatively untested. For Montreal, things were a little shakier. The Carabins had to deal with the Canada West finalist Victoria Vikes for 120 minutes. It took an 80th-minute breakaway goal from Alexis Stevens to tie the game before winning in penalty kicks.
As the clouds rolled on the 1:30 pm start at the Ravens Perch at Carleton University, it was clear from kick-off that neither team was interested in taking too many chances.
“The way I look at it is two heavy-weight boxers going punch to punch,” Gryphons head coach Keith Mason said.
“At the end of the day, you’re looking for that knockout punch; I just felt the little breaks didn’t go our way today.”
Despite a tight back and forth, the game remained scoreless at half-time, thanks primarily to Guelph keeper Svyatoslav Artemenko. The first-year goalie who led the OUA with eight clean sheets in 2021 was easily the star of the game for Guelph, making many stops, especially late.
“Artemenko, in my opinion, is the best goalie in U SPORTS,” Mason said.
Despite a few scary moments (including a great save from Carabins keeper Félix Goulet), by 90 minutes through, nothing was solved, so for the second straight game for the Carabins, extra time was necessary. At the 100th minute mark after Guelph defender Ian Vidovich slipped on the chase, Guy-Frank Essomé-Penda managed to get a shot off and bury his rebound to break the deadlock finally.
“Guy was hungry, so we needed to feed him the ball a little bit; we satisfied his appetite by putting it in the back of the net,” Carabins head coach Pat Raimondo said.
It was the first goal of the tournament during play for Essomé-Penda. Still, especially after scoring the penalty kick that sent his team to the semifinal, the forward was not lacking in confidence.
“To be honest, I always think I’m going to score, but I just don’t know when,” Essomé-Penda said.
That single goal proved to be the difference-maker, and the Montreal Carabins advanced to the 2021 U SPORTS Men’s Soccer Championship game on Sunday afternoon.
The Guelph Gryphons season wraps up in the bronze medal game on Sunday morning against either Carleton or Cape Breton. For the Gryphons, it has to be mixed feelings; it represents the program’s first chance at a national medal since winning the bronze at home in 2016, but after an OUA title and a – previously – undefeated season, to miss the big game will sting.
For the Carabins, the win marks their fourth consecutive appearance in the U SPORTS Gold Medal game. 2017 and 2019 silvers and a 2018 gold decorate their trophy case, but for Essomé-Penda in his fourth year, it’s the journey that has stood out.
“I think it’s just the progression on what we started back in 2017; hopefully, it ends better than last time around.”
The Montreal Carabins were able to win the chess match today; they have a game left to crown themselves kings one more time.
COVER: Carabins Athletics