Previewing the OUA West Men’s Soccer Landscape

VANCOUVER, BC – A relatively quiet offseason in OUA men’s soccer has brought about a pretty significant change. The central division from last season has been dissolved, with the teams amalgamated with the East and West along with some other realignment. This season, the West will be wilder than ever, with more teams jockeying for playoff spots to fight for a place at the national finals.

So with the season kicking off tonight, here’s our preview of how the West Division will shape up.

Algoma Thunderbirds

The T-Birds had themselves a rough go at things during the 2021 campaign. 0-10 on the season while conceding an OUA-high 59 goals. While the young roster is a year more experienced, it’s still going to be a very uphill battle if they’re going to make any noise this season.

The highest profile recruit they have coming through the doors is goalkeeper Joshua Bondoc. The first year will have big shoes to fill with the departure of 5th-year keeper Emmanuel Aigbukor to graduation. He’ll have to take command of a pretty young backline, one that got shelled in their first year together.

Otherwise, it’s a very similar roster to the season prior. Not many players were lost to graduation after fielding a team full of first years. It probably explains some of their performances, but Algoma remains a big unknown heading into the season. They’ll probably be better than last season, but a win might still be too much to expect.

Brock Badgers

(Brock Badgers)

Brock went through some tough growing pains last season. After starting off with a respectable 2-2-1 record through their first five matches, the Badgers plummeted down the standings with five consecutive losses to wrap up the season. However, it’s not all doom and gloom as the 2022 campaign is right around the corner.

For one, the emergence of Michael Solomon should prove to be a boon for the Badgers. The now second-year striker was named a conference all-star in 2021 after scoring 5 goals in 10 appearances. This year, Solomon should become the focal point of the Brock offense thanks to his finishing ability in the box.

It’ll also be interesting to see how Brock copes with the loss of Andrew Baldin. Though the former captain of the Badgers might not have shown up on the game logs much, his character and leadership off the pitch were a key rock for this squad. Baldin suffered multiple leg injuries since November of 2018, with a titanium rod inserted into his leg. Perhaps 3rd-year centreback Nolan Bosetti can fill that void, having worn the armband in most OUA competitions.

The Badgers sport an interesting roster full of young pieces that were able to develop together. There’s a lot of talent on this team that didn’t necessarily reflect the record it achieved last season. In a tough West division, it’s hard to really peg them as a lock for a playoff spot. However, if this Brock team can get hot at the right time, then there’s no telling how far they can go.

Guelph Gryphons

(Laurier Golden Hawks)

What else is there to say about the Guelph Gryphons? From top to bottom, they rolled through the OUA, finishing comfortably first in the West and storming to their third OUA title. The Gryphons followed that up with a 4th place finish at nationals, narrowly missing out on a medal. This year, they have their sights set for a better finish than the ending they got.

Much of this squad is running it back, including forward Owen McKee. His clutch goalscoring came in handy during the OUA playoffs where he tallied two game-winners. Defensive stalwarts Jack Pensom and Harvey Marchant are back for another go around, providing experience and hard-nosed work on the back end for this Guelph side. The middle of the park is also shored up by veterans Parm Johal, Gray Yates, and Jack Sears, all who offer plenty of creativity and versatility.

There are a couple of losses, however. Guelph bid farewell to 2021 OUA MVP Lucas Doros after a stellar U SPORTS career. His presence in the midfield is going to be hard to replace, though the Gryphons have more than enough talent to find a solution. As well, the old number one keeper Svyatoslav Artemenko has also graduated, meaning that the starting keeper spot is still very much in the air. Carter Robart is currently penciled in to start the opening match, but keep an eye out on Carter Osborne and Leighton Jull who may just steal the show.

With another strong recruiting class to supplement an established powerhouse, expectations are high for the Gryphons in the 2022 season. Don’t be surprised to see them soaring to the very top of this division, though it will be a tougher battle than years past.

McMaster Marauders

(McMaster Men’s Soccer)

McMaster is the second of the former Central division schools to be discussed in the West. After posting a 6-2-2 record and falling in the OUA quarterfinals, the Marauders find themselves in tough to repeat the same feat in the 2022 season.

It’s not just the move to a tougher division – last year’s McMaster team featured a tremendous number of 3rd and 4th years. While they still haven’t updated their 2022 roster yet, the expectation is that a number of their seniors have departed. The veteran poise of the Marauders helped them tremendously, and it’ll be unknown if that can be replaced through sheer youth this season.

That isn’t to say McMaster is inexperienced. Tucked away on the bench were a number of first and second-year recruits, ones that had a chance to get used to the U SPORTS game and learn from the best. They’ll be best equipped to step into new head coach Chris Markou’s system, another change for this Marauders team after Dino Perri ended his 14-year tenure.

The expectations surrounding McMaster should be a little more tempered this season. They’ll be good, but might not be amongst the contenders for the OUA title as they usually are. It’s a tough spot to be in, but one the Marauders can use to spur themselves onto greater things in the future. Look for them to battle it out for a playoff spot late into the fall.

Waterloo Warriors

(Waterloo Warriors)

The Warriors mirror the Marauders very similarly heading into the 2022 season. After finishing as the second-best team in the West before coming up short in the quarterfinals against TMU, Waterloo finds themselves hard-pressed to match that result going into a new year.

Waterloo fielded a very experienced team in 2021 and will see some key pieces depart, particularly in their back line. Being a team that only conceded 8 goals all of last season, the point stands that the Warriors could see a regression with a newer unit than years past.

However, Waterloo has a much deeper crop of second and third years, meaning that in all likelihood, there are some players with the potential to establish themselves as OUA calibre starters. The Warriors should be able to find at least similar level replacements to the player that they lost, though the relative lack of experience might hurt them a bit going into 2022.

This team should be among the top of the West division. However, Waterloo might not see the same success as they did last year. It’s a casualty that comes with the division realignment, with similar teams being brought in that will prove to be a tougher battle. Perhaps the Warriors could exceed expectations, and really challenge for the West division crown.

Western Mustangs

(Western Mustangs)

It was a heartbreaking end for the Western Mustangs 2021 season. They did everything right, winning their last three matches with the two wildcard spots within reach. However, the Mustangs just missed the postseason based on goal differential. This year, they’ll want to comfortably make it through, and there are definitely the tools to do so.

For one, Western’s young roster was able to achieve all that success together and remain largely intact going into 2022. The returnees include Samuel Spoelstra and Aidan Bauer Marr, both of who were recognized as OUA all-stars. It’s a youthful core that promises plenty of success in the future, especially as they look to build on the strong finish to the season.

The Mustangs will be losing a couple of key figures to graduation, including all-star midfielder Patrick Melo. However, besides Melo, there won’t be any key squad contributors departing London, meaning that this team will still have the majority of its offensive weapons.

As this team continues to gel and grow, it makes sense for them to be challengers in the West division. Young, hungry, and full of potential and promise, there’s no reason not to suspect that they’ll continue the upward trajectory. Western will make an already jam-packed playoff battle even more interesting with their presence.

Wilfred Laurier Golden Hawks

(Laurier Golden Hawks)

The 2021 season was a year full of experimentation for the Golden Hawks. 30 different players featured for the side as they tested the waters of the OUA West division. It reflected in their record, a 1-7-2 campaign left them solidly on the outside looking in. This year, the expectations are a bit higher with the team much more experienced than before.

What Laurier appears to be building is a team that will contend for next season and the year after. Right now, they’re led by sophomore sensations Andra Neptune and Sebastian Lach. Neptune earned team MVP honours after establishing himself as a rock on the back end, while Lach led the Golden Hawks in scoring. Both should be able to reprise those roles, if not improve on already a strong start to their OUA careers.

There also doesn’t appear to be any key losses between the sticks or anywhere else on the pitch either. With such a young group used last season, it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the Golden Hawks are very well set up with a massive pool of young talent to take advantage of.

While it might be too soon to peg them as playoff challengers, there’s a good chance this Laurier team becomes a dark horse that throws a wrench in everyone’s prediction. Look for the Golden Hawks to throw a spanner in the works of many OUA teams, with a couple of upset results potentially in the books.

Windsor Lancers

(Windsor Lancers)

The Lancers were a distant fourth in the OUA West last season, finishing with a record of 2-6-2. But Windsor took the definition of new season, new start quite literally, with an overhauled roster that possesses youthful experience and incredible talents. With the recruits that they were to bring in as well, Windsor looks poised to be a force in the future.

The biggest signing the Lancers got comes in the form of centre-back Gianfranco Facchineri. The Vancouver Whitecaps FC product returns to his hometown, having captained the Canadian U-17 team in the FIFA U-17 World Cup. His leadership and talent are undeniable even at the tender age of 20 and should prove a force to be reckoned with in OUA competition. As well, joining the Lancers up front is attacking talent Devin Dillion-Hernandez, who spent time with Vardar MLS NEXT Academy.

Windsor should see a boost not only from their recruiting class but also from their own roster. They have only lost one player to graduation, with a sea of sophomores easing the transition to a very good crop of fourth-year seniors. It’s a young group with many new pieces, along with experienced faces where it counts. There should be no surprise that the expectations are higher this year, even in a tougher division.

The Lancers add another potential team that could battle it out for an OUA playoff spot. It’s a tight race with five teams realistically within a shot of snagging a wildcard position. But Windsor seems to be the team that could have the biggest improvement in 2022, poised with talented youngsters and an offseason of development.

York Lions

(York Lions)

Alright, who decided to put the powerhouses of the East in the West? Thanks to realignment, the York Lions find themselves in the same division as the team they lost to in the 2021 OUA finals. They’ll be hungry for revenge and to reclaim their crown as the best team in Ontario.

While the Lions won’t be able to turn to veteran striker Dieu Merci Yuma this season, they have an extremely taleted roster, headlined by midfielder ad York United draft pick Soji Olatoye, who played a critical role last season. Head coach Carmine Isacco always holds his group to a high-standard, and expect nothing less from him and the Lions this season

The OUA season gets underway today, with Brock kicking off against Algoma at 1:15. Then, Wilfred Laurier takes on Waterloo at 6:15, while York squares off against Windsor at 8:15.

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