An X-Factor that could be the reason each of the eight teams headed to Kamloops come away with gold
When it comes to the U SPORTS nationals season, the beauty of the national championship is that every team comes in with their own motivations and storylines. Whether they are the defending conference (or nationwide) champions bullying their way through their conference or the plucky underdog’s no-one expected to be there.
What makes this so beautiful is that the reality of an eight-team, three-day tournament is that every team has a chance to win. A team could win their conference and go undefeated, but if they have an off-day on quarterfinal Thursday, their medal chase would be over. It provides excitement and intrigue and gives any team a chance to make history.
Eight teams head to Kamloops on Thursday for the 2022 U SPORTS Men’s Soccer Championship; here’s one reason each group might be the side to take home gold on Sunday.
#1 – Cape Breton Capers
Vibes: Perhaps the best reason to say why the Cape Breton Capers could win the national title at Hillside Stadium in Kamloops is that they have literally done it before. In 2017, Cape Breton took down the Montreal Carabins 3-2 in PKs in Kamloops for their first and only U SPORTS Gold Medal.
If you want to put that aside, the Capers steamrolled through the AUS in 2022. A 10-0-2 record put them nine points clear of St.FX, and they paced the conference on both sides of the ball with the league’s most goals for and least goals allowed. The defence hit an all-time high allowing just seven goals in twelve regular season games. All-told Cape Breton didn’t lose a game all season, only missed out on three points twice and enter nationals rightfully with the top seed.
There are many reasons they could take home gold, but perhaps the best is still the fact that it would be extra fitting for them to win their second gold in the stadium where they won their first gold.
#2 – Montreal Carabins
Recent History: At minimum, death, taxes and the Montreal Carabins making the 2022 U SPORTS Men’s Soccer Gold Medal Game. That’s just what the Carabins have done for the better part of the last half-decade, with gold medals in 2018 and 2021 and silvers in 2017 and 2019.
That might mean that Montreal is destined for a silver medal this year, but if any team could have a foreseeable shot at being the first repeat champion since the UBC Thunderbirds in 2012 and 2013, it’s the Montreal Carabins.
The Carabins – outside of a surprising defeat at the hands of UQAM in September – cruised through the RSEQ in 2022 with the conference lead in goals and the least goals allowed. Following their one loss, Montreal cruised with eight straight wins to close the regular season on the way to their fifth consecutive RSEQ title.
Quite simply this is a side that has shown in the last five years they know how to win, so they rightfully get the benefit of the doubt of being a favourite this year.
#3 – UBC Thunderbirds
Offense: What the UBC Thunderbirds showed in 2022 is that the more you can put the ball in the back of your opponents net, the better you’ll do. The 2022 Canada West Champions finished with 44 goals on the year, paced by Victory Shumbosho with 16. At the same time they showed an impeccable level of scoring by committee as five players ended up in the top twenty in Canada West goal-scoring when no other program held more than two spots.
If Cape Breton has the vibes history, and Montreal has the recent history then the Thunderbirds have history with the most Men’s Soccer Championships at 13. Stacking their history with their all-around offensive attack the reason the UBC Thunderbirds might win the gold is simple, they’ll score their way to the top.
#4 – McMaster Marauders
Momentum: If the three teams above them are riding different degrees of history into the 2022 Men’s Soccer Championship, then the McMaster Marauders need to ride momentum. The Marauders don’t have the typical profile of a championship team. They tied for eighth in goals for and tenth in goals allowed. By all statistical accounts the Marauders look like a team that would have lost in the middle of the OUA playoffs.
That’s the thing though, they didn’t. McMaster took down the Guelph Gryphons 2-1 thanks to a pair from Amir Shirazi. They got some help when Nipssing upset York and then took down Nipssing 3-0 to advance to the OUA Final. Finally in the championship against TMU they, perhpas in the most storybook of endings, only put one shot on target but scored as Amir Shirazi got the winner in 79th minute for McMaster to take it 1-0.
So that’s the secret for McMaster, momentum. The Marauders might not look like necessarily a team that should be in Nationals but if you watch any sports movie you would know that momentum can do unique things.
#5 – Thompson Rivers Wolfpack
Goalkeeping: The Thompson Rivers Wolfpack had one of the most underrated goalies in 2022, Jackson Gardner. The fourth year finished in second in Canada West with a 0.75 GAA and seven shutouts, including allowing just two goals in five October regular season games.
If Gardner heats up, it provides the opportunity for a weak TRU offence (10th in scoring in Canada West) more time to find their opportunities. It’s a heavy ask, but if TRU wants a shot at a medal this weekend, Gardner will likely need to be their MVP.
#6 – Toronto Metropolitan Bold
Being the underdog: For some, it might look like that for the TMU Bold, simply getting to Kamloops might be a cause for celebration.
It’s been nine long years since the lone appearance of the program in the national championship, where they finished seventh in 2013. 2022 though, saw the Bold finish 9-3 and second in the OUA East on their way to an OUA Silver Medal. It’s almost fitting that in making just their second nationals appearance, the TMU Bold square off against the 13-time champion UBC Thunderbirds in the quarterfinal. The longtime champion vs the plucky newcomer, it’s what Hollywood was made for.
What gives TMU a chance, though, is a balanced lineup on both sides of the ball. Justin Santos was the offensive lynchpin for the Bold, picking up seven goals in nine games in the regular season before grabbing three in the OUA postseason. On the other side, Ali Ghanzafari, who has been in the Bold program since 2015, had his best season, allowing just six goals in eight games and picking up five clean sheets.
#7 – StFX X-Men
Logan Rieck: The pretty simple X-Factor (in every sense of that pun) for the X-Men is Logan Rieck. The StFX offence began and ended with the sophomore in 2022, who finished tied for the top spot in the AUS with nine goals. Rieck truly heated up down the stretch with goals in four straight games to close the regular season and an assist on the winning goal in StFX’s 2-0 win over UNB to book their trip to Kamloops.
StFX has probably the hardest quarterfinal facing the defending national champions in the Montreal Carabins, but if Rieck can get going the opportunity could be there.
#8 – UQTR Patriotes
Heating Up At the Right Time: The theme continues in the bottom of the bracket that these teams need to light up at the right time to survive.
Let’s face it, the eighth seed in nationals is not an ideal place to be. The UQTR Patriotes, though, could be a unique team to be a potential underdog. The Patriotes’ offence was the epitome of feast or famine in 2022. In regular season games where they scored two or more goals, they were 7-0-1, but in the games they scored less, they were 0-3-1, including their 1-0 loss to Montreal in the RSEQ Final.
It’s a very heavy ask, especially with a quarterfinal matchup against the best defensive team in the AUS in Cape Breton, but if UQTR can get a few through, they might be able to surprise.