After a regular season full of surprises and new storylines seemingly every week, OUA Men’s Soccer turns the calendar to the most exciting time of the year: playoffs. First, a quick refresher on how these knockout matches will add up in the bracket:
- First, teams seeded three-through-six in each division will play each other in knockout matches. This resembles the NBA Play-In tournament, as the winners of each match will go on to play one of the top two teams in their division.
- Then, those schools collide in the semifinal. Again, this is pure knockout football.
- Lastly, the OUA Championship will take place, hosted by the highest remaining seed, with finalists clinching spots at the U SPORTS Men’s Soccer National Championship.
Now, what are said play-in matchups? It’s going to be, in the East division, the TMU Bold hosting the Nipissing Lakers; and the Queen’s Gaels welcoming the Toronto Varsity Blues. Out in the West division, the Guelph Gryphons host the Laurier Golden Hawks while the Western Mustangs travel to Hamilton to play the McMaster Marauders.
We’ll go through the matches and preview each in the play-in round, starting in the East division at Downsview Park.
TMU Bold (3) vs. Nipissing Lakers (6)
Wednesday, Oct. 25th, 7:00 PM | Downsview Park, Toronto
This match is undoubtedly TMU’s to lose. A season plagued by controversy in the form of hazing allegations looked derailed early on as TMU was forced to forfeit their opening two matches. Since then, though, it’s been match after match of outstanding football. There have been hiccups in between, but for the last few weeks, the Bold started to threaten the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks’ second-place spot, culminating in an all-around fantastic effort in the form of a 2-0 win against them.
Given that the winner of this match visits the Ridgebacks in the quarterfinal, TMU should feel optimistic about their chances. Of course, the first challenge is beating Nipissing, who has proved an easy out for the Bold in 2023. In fact, TMU’s first non-forfeited game was against Nipissing, thrashing the Lakers 8-0.
If we know anything about TMU, it’s that they just love scoring. A partnership of Colin Gander and Chris Campoli, a duo responsible for some big goals, has blossomed. Campoli led OUA in goals this year with 12, six from the penalty spot, while Gander has chipped in with five assists. Then there are other valuable offensive players like Zakaria Abdi, Luca Di Marco, and Justin Santos, who are sure to play a solid role. The defence is led and locked up by Kai Martin, who has good offensive instincts and goalkeeper Dante Ferraro. Thankfully, he’s recovered from a scary injury sustained against Ontario Tech.
As for the visiting Lakers, there are few threats being posed. They have pieced together good stretches this season, but don’t overwhelm opponents such as TMU does. Typically they’d be the squad in that unfortunate position. There’s no perennial goalscorer, and it’ll be difficult for them to break TMU’s line.
Prediction: TMU 5-0 Nipissing – I feel as though Nipissing can be stingy and play that role, preventing the Bold from hurrying the game along, and not allowing much play through the middle of the pitch. The problem is, at some point, they’ll be tasked with playing on the ball, and in my opinion, this is where TMU can open the floodgates with a sweet transition goal.
Queen’s Gaels (4) vs. Toronto Varsity Blues (5)
Wednesday, Oct. 25th, 4:00 PM | Richardson Stadium, Kingston
This has to be looked at as one of the tougher matchups to predict in these playoffs. While Toronto looked anything but convincing at times this season, they’ve won four in a row to get into the postseason. Meanwhile, Queens have collected wins in each of their last seven. Two teams that are very hot at the moment make for an enticing clash.
This year, they drew 3-3 on opening night, and Queen’s dominated Toronto in the six 4-1. The Gaels should be favourites, though the Varsity Blues have finally hit their stride, and this is not a team worth counting out.
Toby Richardson has some experience in the pro game and now shores up the backline; Russell Stewart and Andrea Schifano are absolute talismans in attack. However, why Queen’s can more than match the Blues is their midfield strength. Between Adam Al-hbadi, Andrea Gortana, Diaidie Traore, and co., the Gaels have lots of threats going forward and back. Toronto can’t match their level of depth in that area, and Queen’s have been able to win plenty of games because, in that area of the pitch, they can strip the ball off you and then go straight onto attack in a heartbeat.
And you can’t talk about the Gaels without mentioning one of OUA’s best strikers, Matthew Ciavarro. Put the ball into the box and he’ll almost certainly finish. His 11 goals are second in the conference – his counterpart Pablo Hempelmann-Perez also has 11. Jason Cho also offers some speed down the flanks when Queen’s play long balls.
The Gaels really should be higher seeded, it came down to an early-season slump when they had to face both Ontario Tech and Carleton twice. Had those games come later in the campaign when the Gaels were red-hot, we could be talking about a completely different bracket.
Alas, they’re here now, and surely without many complaints since they somewhat have Toronto’s number this year.
Prediction: Queens 3-1 Toronto – I definitely think Toronto can sneak one, but maybe when they’re down by two rather than leading or drawing at times. Ciavarro should be getting a routine brace in this one, and Hempelmann-Perez will grab a goal too. I just can’t see Queens going out so early. They’ll head to Ottawa with revenge on their minds.
McMaster Marauders (3) vs Laurier Golden Hawks (6)
Wednesday, October 25th, 8:00 PM | Ron Joyce Stadium, Hamilton
It was a tough year for McMaster. After battling with York for the first-place spot for much of the year, the Lions defeated them twice on one weekend, the second time courtesy of one of the most insane plays in OUA history. To make it even worse, they dropped out of the top two entirely after Brock surprisingly stormed up the table to claim pole position.
McMaster just couldn’t hang on, but at the very least they have a home game. And of course, it’s not like they’re a bad team. They finished the year having won two of their last three, and in recent memory beat the Golden Hawks twice by a score of 1-0.
Goal-scoring is not their strong spot, with top scorer Joseph Guindy having only netted four across 11 matches. Opting for a hard-nosed defensive style, they prefer to shut down teams and wait for the right moments. The Marauders should easily stifle Laurier, who scored the fourth-least amount of goals in the conference. The visitors also have won just a single match from their last four. Sneaking in by the skin of their teeth ahead of Waterloo, whom they lost two a couple of weeks ago, likely won’t set up any success.
Prediction: McMaster 2-0 Laurier – It’ll be a result typical of both these sides. I can’t see it being a particularly close 2-0, Laurier will have bits of promising moments but it could result in a relatively boring battle, with most possession being around the midfield and the defensive line. And for what it’s worth, I can’t see either beating York in the quarterfinal.
Guelph Gryphons (4) vs. Western Mustangs (5)
Wednesday, Oct. 25th, 8:15 PM | Gryphon Soccer Complex, Guelph
Early on in the season, Guelph was close to the bottom of the OUA West table since they had played fewer games than the rest of the pack. Since then, they’ve managed to take advantage of those precious games in hand.
Now, we see them hosting a team that they beat and drew at the start of the campaign. Another squad that maybe doesn’t have the prowess when finding the back of the net, Guelph hasn’t had their most productive forward, Ambrose Tinmouth, for half of the season. The Gryphons will enjoy his company if he can indeed start.
A player with four assists (good for fourth in OUA) is always welcome in a knockout match. Unfortunately for Guelph, they’ve been matched up with OUA’s best defence. Conceding just eight goals as a team all season, Western has the luxury of great goalkeeping.
Dino Bontis is a top-tier OUA shot-stopper, recording 50 saves and a .877 save percentage, good for first in OUA. Brandon Miranjie has been a rock at the back, playing all 12 games. Western has a designated core group, compared to Guelph they have a lot more important players who’ve participated in almost every contest. The question is: can they score? Western had four 0-0 draws in 2023, and the biggest root of their dropping points was narrow scorelines where they just couldn’t sneak a goal. Another Bontis, this time Charlie, will be needed deeply as their top scorer with four goals in the regular season.
Prediction: Guelph 0-1 Western – I think I trust the Mustangs here. It’ll be quite difficult on the road, but I have faith that once they take the threat of conceding out of the picture, it’ll be smooth sailing. A last-minute winner wouldn’t be too shocking here, for either team. I think that Western has the ability to take Guelph out of the match from the start, with that being the difference.