TORONTO, ON – With two stops from Alessio Carbone, the York Lions continued to etch their legacy in OUA and U SPORTS soccer lore, clinching a spot in the OUA men’s soccer final for the fourth time in five seasons with a semifinal victory over the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks.
It took three red cards, two dramatic goals and penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw through 120 minutes of play. Still, York defeated Ontario Tech to book their spot at the U SPORTS Men’s Soccer Championships and set up an OUA Final clash with the Carleton Ravens on Saturday.
The OUA final marks the third time since 2018 that York and Carleton will battle for the OUA banner, with Carleton winning the 2019 matchup 3-0 in Toronto and York winning the year before that, defeating Carleton 3-1 in Ottawa.
On Wednesday, however, dramatics stole the show in North Toronto in front of a season-high crowd, with strong support for the Ridgebacks and Lions.
The Ridgebacks came into the match without leading scorer and former York Lions talisman Omar Marzouk, who missed the match due to a broken nose and concussion concerns. However, they still entered York Lions Stadium with a sizeable travelling fanbase and potent attack, led by two stacked strikers in a 4-4-1-1, with Brett Singer leading the line and Erion Metaj playing as the false nine.
Despite the attacking talents on display, the match came down to a battle of goalkeepers, with York’s Alessio Carbone making two saves in penalties, eventually coming out victorious after Ontario Tech’s Kevon Grant overshadowed him through the match with 17 massive stops.
While expected goals aren’t a publicly available stat in OUA soccer, the amount of highlight reel saves the York attack forced indeed had them leading on that front.
York’s central midfield duo of Isaac Bradbury and Christian Zeppieri created several chances to test Grant, forcing the Ridgebacks’ keeper into a kick save to start the second half. At the same time, Bradbury took several attempts from distance.
Meanwhile, the Lions harnessed their advantage in wide areas, using Justin Chichillo, Matthew Molicola and Justin Hendricks to take off wide defenders solo. However, they couldn’t create many chances through 90 minutes from that tactic.
After chances from either side and controlled attacking play from York, the match flipped in the 85th minute when the official awarded Ontario Tech substitute striker Abdul Hammad a red card, putting the visitors to 10 men for the rest of the night.
York continued pressing but couldn’t find a way past Grant by the time regulation ended.
In second half stoppage time, however, Molicola shifted centrally to support Bradbury and Agostino Principato, which helped him create the best chance of the opening half of extra time, as he curled a left-footed shot to the top corner, only to be stopped by Grant, who smirked at the Lions midfielder after the stop.
It took until the 110th minute for the Lions to break the deadlock when Zeppieri curled in a free kick from 22 yards out, sneaking the ball into the low corner and beating Grant on the 14th shot on target.
As red smoke bombs covered the York Lions Stadium stands in celebration, Zeppieri took off his shirt in jubilation, earning himself a second yellow card and a red card in a comedic manner, putting York down to 10 men and ensuring he missed the final.
York head coach Carmine Isacco also earned himself a sending-off and OUA Final suspension after reprimanding Zeppieri as he argued with the match official.
With five minutes remaining in extra time, Ontario Tech tied the match as Alex Irwin headed a ball out of Carbone’s arms and forced it over the line for a 115th-minute 1-1 goal, sending the match to penalties where Carbone’s two saves sealed the win for the Lions.
Although the Lions booked their ticket to the OUA Final and allowed themselves to win their first banner since 2019, they paid a hefty price and will miss Zeppieri, a critical midfielder, and their head coach for the championship match.
However, even with their suspensions, they head to Canada’s capital city to take on a Carleton Ravens program they’ve not met since the 2021 regular season.
The Ravens host the York Lions at 3:00 PM ET on Saturday, with tickets available here.