KINGSTON, ON – The 2023 U SPORTS men’s soccer championships provided drama on opening day in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, with two matches decided in penalty kicks, along with some highly touted programs eliminated in the quarterfinals.
Despite winning the OUA Championship, the Carleton Ravens struggled on the U SPORTS stage, losing to the Montreal Carabins in penalties to open the day’s action. At the same time, both UBC and MRU sides from Canada West eliminated the AUS Champion StFX X-Men and OUA runners-up York Lions.
As the Thunderbirds return to the U SPORTS semifinal for the second straight season, they take on a familiar foe in the Montreal Carabins and one they may be able to pass in 2023 AT 4:00 pm AT on CBC Sports.
Facing the same matchup as their women’s team in Kingston, Ont., the UBC Thunderbirds enter the semifinal stage with the most promise of any UBC team in nearly half a decade since they hosted in 2018.
While the program has sent several players to the Canadian Premier League since the league’s inaugural season in 2019, the 2023 edition of the team has more promise than any of the previous ones during the league’s existence, despite losing the Canada West final 1-0 to MRU.
Taking on the Carabins, the Thunderbirds will look to stick to their plan of using their wide areas and finding balls in close for Sebastian Dzikowski to barrel in on one or two touches. Although StFX provided a different challenge to what they will see on Friday, the blueprint was there — as it was in the Canada West semifinal.
Building from the back is critical for the group, notably up the wings, with Chris Lee playing wingback behind Logan Chung and Eric White controlling the right side. Once they can work the ball up the wings, they can engage their other midfielders, like Markus Kaiser, Brennan Fuerst and Luke Norman, with the latter two establishing themselves as strong rookies.
Although it is a perfect example of how UBC wants to build up and attack, they executed a pristine buildup in the quarterfinal against StFX, with every player on the pitch touching the ball at least once before Norman finished for the goal.
“That was a terrific goal; that’s goal of the year material right there,” an impressed head coach Mike Mosher told UBC Thunderbirds Athletics.
“They pressured us; we went out one way around, out the other way and then combined right through them from our penalty area to their penalty area. The number of passes on that sequence…what a goal.”
However, they face a new challenge in Montreal, a team brimming with potential Canadian Premier League talent and a group that has won at this stage of the U SPORTS Championship.
The Carabins will miss Jordan Tisseur after he picked up a red card in their quarterfinal win over Carleton but still feature a lineup with veteran standouts, including former CPL U SPORTS Draft Picks Kareem Sow, Julien Bruce and Quentin Paumier, who all featured in Thursday’s win.
Similarly, Lohan Lefeve has been a consistent performer for the Carabins and created several chances from open play n the quarterfinal.
While the Carabins have been a less offensive team this season than in recent years, their attacking contributions are spread throughout the roster, and they win games by possessing the ball rather than simply running with speed toward target strikers.
Expect a similar lineup for the Carabins against UBC, but do not be shocked if the Thunderbirds swap out some of their attacks for more defensive-minded players. For example, Chris Lee could move to midfield, opening a spot on the backline and a more defensively aware attack. At the same time, UBC could remain with a similar group and look to clog up the midfield, suffocating any possible movements from Carabins’ buildups.
Whichever way the match falls, there are players with CPL potential playing, especially looking at upcoming CPL-U SPORTS Draft prospects, outside of the players already selected by CPL clubs. This group likely includes Norman and Fuerst, who have been standouts, while a player like Logan Chung could also warrant a professional opportunity.