QUÉBEC CITY, QC – The Cape Breton Capers did what they wanted to do last season — get through the first round of the U SPORTS Women’s Soccer Championship.
While they couldn’t navigate the quarter-final round on their home turf 12 months ago, falling to the TWU Spartans, it wasn’t an issue up against the York Lions on Thursday, beating the OUA runner-ups 1-0 in a stingy match between two tactically sound sides.
In knockout matches, the slightest move or mistake can prove the difference. However, when elimination is in the cards, everything is fine lines. For York and goalkeeper Ava Jones, that couldn’t be truer, as a small bobble on a strong shot in the 60th minute put the Capers into a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“I thought we should have scored in the first half and made this a little bit easier on ourselves, we came out strong and looked strong, and that was our gameplan,” Capers head coach Ness Timmons told 49 Sports. “Second half, when we got the goal, things kind of fell apart at the backend, and we were very fortunate to come out of this with a 1-0 victory.”
Neither team established themselves with a much-attacking presence throughout the first half, as both fouled consistently through midfield, unable to find passes into the final third. While Aaliyah Rowe and Darcy Faichnie found some spaces, neither was able to expose opposition backlines.
After the break, however, the game opened wide up, with Nia Fleming-Thompson getting support from Maia Torelli on York’s side, while Rowe, Paige Allaby and Grace Hannaford linked up to apply pressure on York’s backline.
“We switched up our wingers; we tried to get more space on the wing and get the ball out earlier,” Timmons said. “Full credit to York, they had us in the last 15-20 minutes, and we survived.”
It took until the hour mark, however, for the AUS Champions to break the deadlock. Hannaford calmly maintained possession through midfield and found an outlet pass to Allaby on the left wing before Allaby fired a sharp angle shot on goal, which bobbled past York’s Jones and into the net.
Yet the goal woke York up, as they pushed players forward, bringing on Serena MacDonald as a supporting attacking presence for Fleming-Thompson, who toed the offside line through the final half hour.
Torelli fired a shot off the crossbar after beating three defenders in the 68th minute, and Haley Kerdas kept CBU’s lead intact with a diving stop on MacDonald. Despite the pressure and consistent chances, the Lions couldn’t find a way to put the ball behind Kardas or the post.
While York piled on chances from open play, the best opportunity came from Jotam Chouhan when the Lions won an 81st penalty kick, only for Kardas to come up with another astounding stop, sealing the victory for the Capers.
“[Haley Kardas] is a huge experienced goalkeeper, and we needed that today and that was by far the play of the game; she brings a lot of confidence to the team,” Timmons said.
Although the 1-0 result pleases defensive minds, it was the third of the day at TELUS-UL Stadium, further exemplifying how close each conference and program is at the top of U SPORTS soccer. Earlier in the day, the uOttawa Gee-Gees beat the TWU Spartans, and the Montreal Carabins beat the Calgary Dinos.
After seeing out the win and managing the late pressure, the Capers turn their attention from the quarter-finals to what is bound to be a difficult semifinal matchup against either the #1 ranked UBC Thunderbirds or host Laval Rouge et Or.
For a team that ended last season with immense disappointment, moving on to the next round and getting a chance to play for a medal means a little more.
“We’re certainly going to celebrate this one, we’re in the final four; now we sit back and relax and get ready for tomorrow,” Timmons said. “There are great teams that were knocked out today, we survived, and we’re very grateful to be able to play for a medal.”