MONTREAL, QC – From new faces to fierce familiarities, the 2023-24 U SPORTS RSEQ men’s soccer season is full of talent and storylines to entice footy fans.
The season itself should play out much like years past. The top-tier giants who have dominated nationally showcase few lineup changes, amplifying an “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” strategy that will undoubtedly lead to success.
This isn’t to say the Montreal Carabins stand in a league of their own. A positioning battle came to light in 2022-23. It featured a slim margin of opportunity for three teams to make the third-place finish. There was a mere point differential of one by season’s end (Laval and UQAM finished with 18 points, and Concordia ended with 17 points). It goes to show how many impactful players play in the RSEQ.
Fans from last year’s campaign will remember sound finishers such as Carabins attacker Thierry Coté, who finished sixth in goals nationally with nine. Another stud is UQTR forward Samuel Laplante. Laplante’s debut year regular season initially displayed a player trying to find his footing, to national championship performances where he showed he belonged.
When it comes to the teams that finished lower in the table last year, recruitment was heavily focused on during the off-season. This work led to plenty of new names jotted down in the lineup card, with a few gems set on electrifying the RSEQ soccer landscape for years to come.
Concordia is a perfect example. Following a disappointing 4-3-5 record and after not qualifying for the postseason, head coach Greg Sutton’s job became replacing the numerous seniors whose eligibility ran out. There is optimism from the coaching staff, however. The Stingers amassed one of the most bountiful recruiting classes to date, bringing in eleven highly touted athletes to join their roster. Who among them will be the budding playmaker looking to turn into a blossoming star remains up for grabs.
Contender # 1: Montreal Carabins
Juggernaut may not be a fair adjective for this team. So, the undisputed heavyweight champion of the RSEQ is more appropriate when referring to Montreal.
Last year was a season of excellence. A 9-1-2 record and a +23 goal differential led to capturing the bronze medal finish in the U SPORTS National tournament. These are all achievements for the Carabins to boast about.
However, these accomplishments are the norm for the program. Star-studded lineups filled with players not solely ranked in the upper echelon of talent within the French province but also nationally.
As much as the offence deserves their flowers with an impressive 33 goals tallied in 12 games, it’s the backline that is nightmare fuel for opposing attackers trying desperately to beat the defence. This defence allowed under a goal per match (10 goals against in 12 matches) in 2022-23.
It should be noted, however, that the star defender Isamël Sow and attacker Thierry Cote finished historic careers dawning the all-blue kit in November of last year. Still, under the guise of head coach Pat Raimondo, the players selected to take the spots will be well-coached and prepared come the start of the season.
Contender # 2: UQTR Patriotes
The Patriotes were no slouches last year, having finished second in the RSEQ standings with a record of 7-3-2.
The might of the Carabins is apparent, but for the bulk of important stats that UdeM ranked first in, the Patriotes were right behind them. The Patriotes ranked second provincially in goals scored (26), goal differential (+11) and third in goals allowed (15 in 12 matches).
The strategy of head coach Shany Black has made the offence prolific in recent years. The Patriotes have cemented a dangerous attack scheme as the status quo for the program. A standard that first and second-year talent follows on a path to good fortune. Players such as Gabriel Wietheuper-Balbinotti, who ranked second nationally in goals with 13 in 12 games played, and Vincent Lamy, who ranked top-two in assists nationally with six in 12 games played, are team leaders.
2023-24 is another opportunity for UQTR to showcase their competitive nature against fellow big-name programs such as UdeM and Laval. A National Championship tournament is theirs for the taking. Hopefully, this time around, they move further than the consolation round.
Sleeper pick: Laval Rouge et Or
Laval did not qualify for the playoffs in 2022-23. Then why are they considered a top-two contender? The simple answer is redemption.
2022-23 was a year of disappointment for a typically strong Rouge et Or club. If it were not for the UQAM Citadins having a slight advantage between the two teams in head-to-head goal differential, Laval would have earned their rightful place at U SPORTS nationals.
The early season struggles are what led to Laval’s poor positioning in the standings. There were plenty of matchups where the Rouge et Or should have secured a win once the full-time whistle sounded rather than a tie. Furthermore, they allowed contests to get out of hand, resulting in crucial losses throughout the campaign.
This Laval squad can keep pace with the best teams in the RSEQ. Their goal differential was third best (+7), and so were their goals scored (23 in 12 matches). If they capitalize on opportunities by improving their shooting percentages and playing sound defence, this team could easily capture a top-three placement in 2023-24
Player to watch: Samuel Laplante – UQTR Patriotes
As mentioned earlier on, Laplante’s first year saw budding potential. A potential that was later emphasized when he took his talents to the national stage against the toughest U Sports soccer competition.
In the 5-0 shellacking against McMaster last year, Laplante laced over an incredibly accurate past to Wietheuper-Balbinotti for a goal. Anticipate more passing excellence on display this year by the now steadily improving second-year stud for the Patriotes throughout the fall of 2023.