Ottawa, ON – The last time the Carleton Ravens stood on their home pitch for a playoff game, they got their hearts broken.
It was Nov. 21, 2021, and after a last-second, 120th-minute goal from Daniel Assaf to tie the U SPORTS Men’s Soccer Gold Medal game at 2-2, the Ravens watched as Guy-Frank Essomé Penda ultimate pounded a penalty kick past Kyle Potter to give the Montreal Carabins the 2021 National Championship.
A win in Wednesday night’s OUA first-round matchup against the Queen’s Gaels was never going to heal all the wounds from a year ago. Yet, after finishing off a dominant 2-0 win and booking a trip to Downsview Park in Toronto to take on the TMU Bold on Saturday, the Raven playoff machine seems ready to kick into high gear.
The Ravens entered their first-round matchup on an offensive firestorm, ending their year with back-to-back 6-0 and 5-0 wins over Trent and a resting TMU on Oct. 22-23. Yet despite all that, at first, the Ravens could not seem to find a way to solve Queen’s keeper Manuel Dirube.
“Queen’s came out and was very organized from the beginning; we knew that coming into the game,” Carleton head coach Kwesi Loney said.
“It took just a little bit of time to unlock them, but I thought we did a really good job keeping our composure.”
Despite dominating possession, the Ravens and Gaels went into halftime, tied 0-0. Barely a minute into the second half, though, Carleton finally broke through.
A free kick into the box found Mohamed Bouzidi, who pounded it through the outstretched arms of Dirube to give the Ravens the lead. Despite his team struggling to finish in the first half, the message didn’t change for Coach Loney; rather, it was re-emphasized.
“[The message] was to stay the course but when we get into the attacking third, to be a little bit more deliberate with our actions, be a little bit more deliberate with our intent,” Loney said.
Ten minutes later, Raphael Garcia got a cross-off that found Ravens veteran Scott Mazzotta who wired it in to make it 2-0 Carleton in the 58th minute.
“We work on getting on second balls a lot; I guess I was just in the right place, I knew I had to hit it well, and it came off right,” Mazzotta said.
Despite a few late chances for the Gaels, the Carleton defence held firm for the clean sheet, giving the Ravens a 2-0 win and a trip to Toronto on Saturday to play the TMU Bold.
The 2021 U SPORTS Nationals were a unique experience in that Ravens not only got to play against the best in the country but also in front of their home fans for the right to be named the top team in Canada. Heartbreakingly losing that final in the way they did very quickly could have cast a shadow over the expectations of this playoff run and this entire Ravens season.
And in part, it did, but it’s something the squad had to recognize and work through.
“There’s a lot more expectation, and I think we were dealing with those demons all season long, you know, just trying to understand that we’re not the same team as last year; the journey is not going to be the same,” Loney said.
“I think that took us some time to understand and understand that we want to play our brand of football, continue to grow, and I think you’re seeing that in the last three or four games we’ve played.”