TORONTO, ON – The 2023 U SPORTS Women’s Soccer Championships make their way to an OUA-hosted school for the first time since 2018, with the Queen’s Gaels hosting each match at Kingston, Ont’s Richardson Stadium.
The uOttawa Gee-Gees enter the tournament as the OUA Champions, having beaten the Gaels 5-1 in the OUA Final a week ago; they also return as the lone team from the 2022 tournament. The York Lions, the other OUA representative in Quebec City last year, failed to qualify for the conference post-season.
Joining the Gee-Gees are the host Gaels, who qualified not only as hosts but as the OUA runner-ups, as well as the Western Mustangs, who defeated the McMaster Marauders in the bronze medal match.
With the tournament set to kick off on Thursday, 49 Sports previews each OUA team and how they might be able to take home the banner come Sunday’s final.
All of the U SPORTS Women’s Soccer Championship matches from Kingston, Ont, will stream live on cbcsports.ca, as well as the CBC Sports App, CBC Gem and the CBC YouTube channels, with play-by-play provided by CBC’s Signa Butler.
Gee-Gees are favourites, unlucky with first-round UBC
Key player: Nibo Dlamini
Difference maker: Jenna Matsukubo
First game: Thursday, 1:30 pm ET vs UBC Thunderbirds
The uOttawa Gee-Gees are one of the favourites to win the title this season. The downside, however, is they’ve got a U SPORTS Final level of match in the opening round, taking on a UBC Thunderbirds side, which exchanged No. 1 and No. 2 spots with them in the weekly rankings all season long.
With the tournament structure of OUA Champion facing Canada West runner-up, UBC’s penalty loss to TWU in the Canada West final made life highly challenging for head coach Steve Johnston and his group.
Led by goalscorer Cassandra Provost and electrifying winger Jenna Matsukubo, the Gee-Gees match up equal to what UBC offers. However, a potentially match-deciding matchup comes between Matsukubo and UBC right-back Sophia Ferrieria.
While Matsukubo is strong on the ball and often catches defenders cutting inside, she will face her most formidable challenge this season with Ferreira, as the Portuguese U23 international is patient in her approach and aggressive in a challenge.
That battle down the wing will be critical to the proceedings. Still, both teams approach a challenging draw and one they will believe they can win.
Outside of Matsukubo, the Gee-Gees will hope Nibo Dlamini can continue to pull strings in midfield. At the same time, Provost, who scored 23 goals this season, will need to play off her midfielders to work around UBC’s centreback pairing of Jaqueline Tyrer and Sarah Rollins.
For the top team in OUA, scoring 55 goals, the Gee-Gees face a more challenging defensive test than they have all season; however, if they can score a few against UBC, they can beat anybody.
In defence, Adriane Devlin, Gabrielle Ferland, Olivia Krzywonos and Rosalie Coté will look to continue their chemistry on a backline that conceded just four goals through the regular season. In net, expect a split between Juliann Lacasse and Cassidy Joslin, who have shared playing time all season.
With a record of 11-0-1 in the regular season, buoyed by the addition of Matsukubo, the Gee-Gees are one of the favourites in the tournament, especially if they can dispatch UBC in the opening round. Should they advance, they would take one of the AUS champion StFX X-Women or defending U SPORTS Champion Montreal Carabins.
It won’t be easy for the Gee-Gees, but getting up to 100 percent in the first game against UBC could give them momentum to carry on to the title.
Queen’s Gaels get a good draw in front of home crowd
Key player: Seema Sakran
Difference maker: Mattson Strickler
First game: Thursday, 6:30 pm ET vs TWU Spartans
As hosts of the U SPORTS Championship, the Queen’s Gaels didn’t have pressure on them to qualify on their merit; they could win the title anyway. Just see the TRU Wolfpack in men’s soccer in 2022.
However, head coach Dave McDowell pushed his team to the OUA Final, qualifying for the tournament on their own, before falling to the uOttawa Gee-Gees in the championship match. The silver medal finish also ensured they would not be the No. 8 seed at the tournament.
Queen’s finished the OUA season with a 10-1-1 record, only losing to the Nipissing Lakers 2-1 on the final day. Before the loss, though, the Gaels had kept six straight clean sheets, part of a season where they conceded a mere three goals, the lone other win in a win over the Trent Excalibur.
In a season that saw significant turnover in key areas, notably Cecilia Way moving on from the attack to play professionally in Germany and Jenna Matsukubo joining the Gee-Gees, the Gaels got the best of their young talents and those entering the next stage of their U SPORTS career, notably rookie Leda Nahin and third-year striker Mattson Strickler.
Strickler led the team with 13 goals and five assists in 13 matches, often playing at the top of an attacking trio alongside potent Seema Sakran and Nahin, who scored nine and eight goals, respectively.
Sakran, in particular, stepped up in 2023, acting as an attacking support for Strickler, with the two overlapping in attack. Similarly, she scored the only Queen’s goal in the OUA Final loss to Ottawa.
With the quick adjustments up top, the defensive side of the game has also improved, with Sophie Miranda taking a significant step in her play at the back, starting 13 games while also being critical to transition play. Meanwhile, Clare Sun proved a strong option as a defensive stalwart.
While much of the team approached the season with a refreshed look, the goalkeeping remained strong and consistent, with fourth-year Kirtsin Tynan keeping 10 clean sheets while improving her distribution from past seasons.
The way to beat this team, however, comes down the wings and an ability to cut inside. While not every team has a dynamic winger, there is often space to exploit in Queen’s wide areas, leaving them vulnerable in transition.
They get a strong start with their first game, taking on the TWU Spartans, a team that Miranda and Tynan will be very familiar with, given their time in League 1 BC with the Victoria Highlanders and TSS Rovers. Tactically, the Gaels match up well with more experienced players in most positions and should be able to win individual battles while keeping track of TWU’s primary threats, such as Sophie Crowder and Bryana Buttar. It won’t be an easy quarterfinal, with both teams extremely strong defensively, but the Gaels have the slight edge on paper.
A potential semifinal would get extremely difficult, however, with the likelihood of that opponent being the RSEQ champion Laval Rouge et Or, who are heavy favourites on the Western Mustangs in their tie.
There is no doubt that the Gaels have a tricky path to the title, but their electric front three and stout defence will give them a chance in any game. The untested question with the group, however, is whether they can find a true game-breaking player to decide tight matches.
Western Mustangs need a perfect quarterfinal
Key player: Maya Lankin
Difference maker: Samantha St. Croix
First game: Thursday, 4:00 pm ET vs Laval Rouge et Or
The Western Mustangs are a difficult team to gauge, given they do not livestream their home matches. However, they finished atop the OUA West with a 10-1-1 record and came within a few penalty kicks to beat the Queen’s Gaels in the OUA semifinal.
They defeated the McMaster Marauders 2-1 in the OUA bronze medal game to clinch their spot at the national championship, ending what had been a fairytale season for the Marauders. To finish the regular season, Western won nine straight games, keeping seven consecutive clean sheets.
If Western are to make a run towards the U SPORTS title, it will have to come from their defence, with goalkeeper Samantha St. Croix likely to play a significant role throughout the tournament. Meanwhile, defenders Lauren Chabot, Avarie Thomas, Maya Lankin and Angelica Galluzzo will have to be near perfect, as they have been for much of the OUA season.
Up front, an advantage and disadvantage is that the Mustangs score by committee. While Reese Fowler has a team-leading four goals and three assists, she isn’t a typical game-changing player. That said, Western has three other players who have found the back of the net three times.
Overall, Western struggled to score, finding 20 goals in the OUA season for the ninth-best attack, and at nationals, it will be critical they get the best out of key players like Medina Birani, Mackenzie Bilotta, and, of course, Fowler.
Facing the RSEQ Champion Laval Rouge et Or in the opening match, Western will have to do everything they can to neutralize Lean-Jeanne Fortier and Daphnee Blouin, who each scored seven regular season goals this season. At the same time, Laval has several attacking threats, with Mathilde Rousseau and Karyna Fiset scoring six and five goals in complementary roles.
A win for Western in the opening match would be the biggest upset of the tournament, making them believe they can win the whole thing. Should they do that, they would encounter a more straightforward test in the semifinal, taking on the beatable Queen’s Gaels or TWU Spartans.