QUÉBEC CITY, QC – Blue smoke rained down from the travelling supporters, and Megane Sauvé sprinted back to the centre circle while her Montreal Carabins teammates embraced in the ecstasy of celebration.
Sauvé, who had struggled to find space and opportunity through the U SPORTS Championship FinaL against Laval on Sunday, grabbed the ball in the midfield and set up teammate Justine Lalande for a deft finish, beating Laval’s Myriam Labrecque and pushing the Carabins up 1-0 in front on the Rouge et Or.
The Carabins, who had beaten Laval 10 days earlier in the RSEQ Final, went on to win the U SPORTS National Championship in front of over 1,000 Rouge et Or supporters on the back of Laland’s 75th-minute strike, capturing their first national title since 2017.
“[Sauvé] showed great composure in a very stressful moment,” Carabins head coach Kevin McConnel told 49 Sports. “Then Justine [Lalande] comes on and is in her first game of the [national] championships and has a great finish; you can’t ask for a better script.”
Throughout her career and the 2022 season, Sauvé has been a fixture in the Carabins’ lineup, dictating the game throughout the RSEQ and putting the Carabins on her back throughout the national championship.
Yet, as her teammates celebrated the eventual winning goal, Sauve, the captain, sprinted back to the centre circle all alone.
“First, I had no more energy to celebrate, so I just wanted to go back and defend my life for the final 15 minutes,” she chuckled. “I also wanted to put myself back in a mental state that I could defend because I was mad and getting frustrated in the game.”
“It’s hard; it’s a final, I just wanted to defend for the 15 minutes, and I can celebrate after.”
On Laval’s side, Lea-Jeanne Fortier returned to the lineup after picking up a knock against UBC in the quarter-final, and she ran the show in the early stages. Although it took some time for both teams to settle in, Fortier got the first chance of the day in the 19th minute.
The Laval midfielder won a fierce tackle in midfield before rushing the ball through attacking pockets to find her sister Catherine Fortier on the left wing. While C. Fortier’s cross didn’t pay off, she jumped on a rebound to barrel the ball into the goal but was called back for offside.
Montreal had brief attacking spells after the chance but never truly tested Labrecque’s goal before the Rouge et Or took back control of the game for the remainder of the first half. Throughout the night, however, the two sides exchanged chances, showing their near-equal qualities.
As the crowd’s noise elevated through each possession, the Rouge et Or won tackle after tackle, as L-J Fortier and Virginie Deschenes continued to dominate the midfield. The duo put Laval’s forwards in exceptional scoring opportunities, where none could finish, with the first half ending scoreless.
After Lalonde scored on Montreal’s only second-half chance, the Rouge et Or fans elevated and pushed on the home side as they attacked in waves of possession and chances. But, despite holding most of the ball for the final 10 minutes, the Rouge et Or couldn’t solve Montreal goalkeeper Catherine Langelllier and had to settle for the silver medal.
“I like to think of it as a legacy, not only because of the result but because of all the hard work we put in over six years since the last championship,” Sauvé said with her second U SPORTS championship medal around her neck, having been a part of the 2017 championship squad in her rookie season.
“We’ve seen great soccer here this week, and I am grateful that I have been able to play in a league that has this level of soccer and that after all we’ve been through, with COVID and the rest, we could have an event in Quebec, with everyone here to celebrate.”
A domestic dead end for one of U SPORTS’ best
McConnel’s face lights up when he talks about the career of Sauvé. “She’s done it all since her first year, and every game, she believed in herself more and her potential,” he said.
Now, as one of the best players in U SPORTS and a driving factor in the championship moves on from being a student-athlete, the noticeable gap in Canadian women’s soccer comes through.
On Sunday, Sauvé won a national title in front of over 1,000 raucous supporters. Still, without a professional women’s league in Canada, there’s no next step with an elevated level of play or support.
While actively looking for an overseas opportunity, she knows the void in Canadian soccer.
“I think it would be important, and I think in the future, we’re going to fall too far behind if we don’t get a league here because the European countries are all getting a lot of leagues,” she said. “We have the quality here; we’ve shown it this week.”
For many top U SPORTS players who don’t have the chance to test themselves overseas, the National Championship presents a final competitive opportunity before leaving the game forever. Yet, there’s potential in Canadian women’s soccer, and even just the U SPORTS National Championships, bound for Kingston’s Queen’s University in 2023.
“Watch women’s soccer; there’s a lot of talent,” Sauve said. “We need to be watched to be seen so these events can happen and get bigger.”