Toronto striker shift leads to first-round playoff win over TMU

TORONTO, ONT – A blustery, cold and rainy night for U SPORTS playoff soccer. In nearly every way, the start of the OUA women’s soccer playoffs brought to fall in Toronto, at least in 2022, when local temperatures often broke heat records. 

That season will continue for the Toronto Varsity Blues. They are heading to the quarter-finals of the OUA playoffs after defeating their rival TMU Bold 2-0 on Wednesday night with goals from Cassie Chan and Rena Nakajima. 

On Saturday, they’ll face the #2 seeded uOttawa Gee-Gees in the quarter-finals, while the Bold look towards next season. 

Chan scored the opening goal for the Varsity Blues in the 13th minute, as the technically sound home side scored in a way not conducive to their style, forcing a shot out of a bunched-up group at the top of the TMU box to beat TMU’s Abby Harrison. 

Although Chan’s eventual winning goal came early in the match, the Varsity Blues continued to push on in tactically astute fashion, with Karly Hellstrom and leading goalscorer Lindsay Bosveld linking up, while Amelia Thompson pushed through midfield, consistently winning tackles and creating space in transition. 

It wasn’t a lost-cause match for the Bold like their 4-0 and 5-2 losses to the Varsity Blues earlier in the season, though, as midfielder Vittoria Galivan often forced tackles or, at a minimum, pressured the Toronto midfielders. 

While Galivan covered the central areas, Enoyaa Acheampong made her presence known on the wing, setting up TMU’s best chance of the first half with a lobbed ball over Toronto’s defence for Ivymae Perez to run onto before sliding her shot just wide of the near post in the 31st minute. 

Perez continued to press throughout the night but was often left alone up top in TMU’s 4-5-1. While the former USF NCAA striker put in her best possible shift for TMU, the lack of support was evident throughout the night. 

Toronto added their second goal of the night in the 66th minute off a goal right from Cavalluzzo’s training pitch. Bosveld got the ball on the left wing and sent a fast cross along the ground to an unmarked Rena Nakajima in front of the goal for a tap-in. 

“Transition moments we always talk about when we play a cross if we can get the weakside wingback in the action there,” Toronto head coach Cavalluzzo said. “Rena, her first goal; I’m so happy for her. A fifth-year scoring in her final playoff match and final game at Varsity Stadium.

From Nakajima’s piercing run to the midfield to elude her defender and Bosveld’s awareness to look for a low-driven cross, it was the goal Toronto needed to put the game to bed. 

Stacked strikers benefits Varsity Blues

(Toroto Varsity Blues Athletics)

Throughout the match, however, Toronto’s attacking strengths lent to their defensive awareness, as Bosveld and Hellstrom played as a stacked striker pair, constantly shutting down TMU’s defensive midfielder or a cutting-in full-back. 

“Tonight, our main objective was to keep the clean sheet, and we’re confident we’re going to get goals every match,” Cavalluzzo said. “I  think [Bosveld]’s role with [Hellstrom], really we wanted the weak side to drop back and deal with the holding midfielder in the 4-2-3-1.”

The shift away from playing two flat strikers up top offered more solidity to the Varsity Blues, eventually seeing out their clean sheet. “It was a lot of hard work for them, but we wanted the clean sheet first because that’s how you succeed in the playoffs.”

Sam Naus (TMU Athletics/Josh Kim)

Although the match seemingly crawled to a finish through the final 10 minutes, TMU captain Sam Naus picked up a straight red card for a violent tackle, putting her team down a player in addition to their two-goal deficit. Yet, it proved inconsequential as TMU’s season fizzled to an end. 

The Varsity Blues now move on to their fourth straight OUA quarter-final, taking on the uOttawa Gee-Gees in the nation’s capital. While the #2 seed and the current FISU Americas champions may seem daunting for the Varsity Blues, it could very well be near perfect, as Toronto was the only OUA side to beat uOttawa through the regular season.

“It was going to be super difficult whether it was Queen’s or Ottawa, but our players have a bit more confidence in that we’ve beaten Ottawa before and have a plan of how to do that,” Cavalluzzo added. 

“It may be a little bit different than last time, it’s going to be super difficult, but we are excited about the challenge.”

As the top seeds that had a bye through the first round make their way into the bracket this weekend, the weather will only get colder as remaining programs continue to eye a berth at November’s U SPORTS National Tournament in Quebec City, QC. 

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