What we learned from the U SPORTS women’s soccer season

TORONTO, ONT – To end the U SPORTS women’s soccer season, the Montreal Carabins lifted the Gladys Bean Memorial Trophy in the air on a cold night in Laval, Quebec. The Carabins beat their rivals, the Laval Rouge et Or, 1:0 in a highly contested and competitive match in front of a raucous crowd at Stade Telus. Despite the heartbreaking loss in the final, Laval was an excellent host to the nation’s best domestic collegiate athletes. 

The margins between the qualified teams are thin. Only one game was decided by more than one goal, and two games went to penalty kicks, including Montreal’s thrilling semi-final win over Ottawa and Laval’s Quarterfinal upset against UBC. Overall, it was a successful weekend of women’s footy with tons of talent on display. Here are the three takeaways from the 2022 U SPORTS Women’s Soccer Championship and what they tell us more generally about Canadian women’s soccer trends.

Quebec Reigns Supreme in Player Development and Footy Culture

It’s no coincidence that 100% of women’s soccer national championships held in Canada this year were all-Quebec finals. First, AS Blainville beat out AS Laval in the inaugural League 1 Canada Inter-provincial Championship. Then, Aigles Ahuntsic defeated the Saint-Lambert Cavaliers in the CCAA final. We’ve already told you about the U SPORTS final in Laval. It’s coming up all Quebec these days, and that shouldn’t be surprising given some of the trends we’re seeing in Quebec in terms of player development and the creation of more opportunities and pathways.

You’re seeing this on the national team and professional level as well, with players like Carle, St Georges, Viens, Proulx, and Levasseur, regularly appearing in senior national team camps. While these players lead the way, they clearly benefitted from the coaching and infrastructure in the province of Quebec, more specifically in leagues like PLSQ (semi-pro provincial summer league), and the National Development Centre, as well as strong connections to top schools across the continent. This generation of Quebecois is more empowered than ever to go pro, especially as the road from Quebec to the first or second french division becomes more travelled. 

Strong Veteran Class faces Domestic Dead End

This year more than others, the championships and final were dominated by a very strong senior class competing in their final U SPORTS matches. Whether it’s the extra motivation of playing their last ever game or simply the veteran leadership mindset, the vets brought it this year. Montreal’s 5th-year midfielder Megane Sauve was crowned MVP of the tournament thanks to 2 goals and 2 assists, including the assist on the Gold medal-winning goal. Another clutch player for Montreal was 26-year-old Midfielder Maude Leclerc, the captain of the Carabins who was named to the All-Championship team. Also among the All-Stars; are Laval’s veteran Virginie Deschenes and Ottawa’s Kayla Kyle and Katerine Delev, both Bronze medallists in their final match with Ottawa.

These talented players may be entering their peak performing years as they enter their mid to late twenties. Unfortunately, they’re also hitting the dreaded domestic dead end all talented Canadian women’s soccer players face at some point in their careers. They have to choose whether they want to continue their sport abroad to reach a higher level, or whether they stay at home and slowly retire. The lack of professional opportunities for women in Canada is well documented, but away of all the headlines, the widening opportunity gap affects dozens of real people each year, especially during turning points like the transition out of collegiate programs. Having recently gone through this myself, I can confirm it’s a hard decision and not one you want to be forced to make. The truth is, only about 10-15 Canadian players turn pro each year, and most simply don’t have the means or passport to enable a career abroad.

Asked about the importance of pro opportunities at home by 49 SPORTS, MVP Megane Sauve responded,

“It would be important. We have the quality here, I think we’ve shown it this week. We need a league.”

It’s high time those in positions of power in Canadian sport started to see and understand the value we could create if we properly invested in women’s soccer, in women like Megane Sauve or Danielle Steere, because if their names were Marcel Sauve and Daniel Steere, they’d be going number one and two in the U SPORTS – CPL draft. 

Over 1k Fans attend the Final, 41k tune in to CBC Broadcast

If you tuned into the English or French-language stream throughout the final, you undoubtedly heard the large and energetic crowd in attendance that day. All in, over one thousand fans were on site to cheer on their respective teams. All types of chants and cheers were roaring from minute one to minute ninety, contributing to an electric atmosphere at Stade Telus. With tons of Laval fans in attendance on their home turf, you could see the energy transfer from the fans to the field as the Rouge-et-Or attempted a comeback. It’s not the first time a crowd in Quebec has impressed. This summer, similar scenes played out at the League 1 Canada final in Laval, demonstrating that Quebec may turn into Canada’s women’s footy culture hub.

In addition to the in-person attendance, the U SPORTS  Championship once again drew tens of thousands of viewers online through the CBC partnership. The additional visibility and accessibility CBC’s coverage provides drew over 41 thousand people to the streams featuring analysts Signa Butler and Breanna Burton. Once again, a clear example of how investment can demonstrate and increase demand for women’s soccer in this country.

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