I really wanted to actually manage to do weekly recaps for AUS this year. It’s a short season, after all.
Then, as so often happens in AUS, a hurricane happened. We lost week four, my power hadn’t come back on by week five, and I was away over Thanksgiving, the first time AUS has played over the long weekend. By week seven, the playoff race was sewn up and I was as behind on local university soccer as I am on the Canadian Premier League. Again.
Also, Memorial went out, cutting the readership of this blog by about half, so there was that.
Anyway, AUS playoffs are really their own whole thing, and never short of at least some complete chaos. It’s back in Sydney despite the damage from the storm, so let’s dust off the liveblog and get ready for a couple weekends of Canada’s only true, coast-to-coast, top-to-bottom soccer league.1I’m hoping to have a piece on CanPL coming in the next few weeks, though no promises exactly when. I find myself in a weird spot with that league, still very much hoping it succeeds, but increasingly feeling it’s becoming a somewhat separate or even clique-ish entity on top of Canadian soccer, rather than acting as part of a whole. That may not be an entirely fair reading, and I can’t tell you some of this isn’t a byproduct of frustration at Wanderers’ disastrous season, of course, but there’s a really rough winter coming for the league as a whole at the same time as it’s likely to be a very good year for the D3 leagues and the national team programs. Take from that what you will, and however you feel about CanPL, remember there is, has always been, and will continue to be meaningful soccer played in your backyard, especially this time of year.
We’ll also bid a quick goodbye to the teams that didn’t quite make it.
For the first time since 2016, the Mounties won a game, and finished the season with a quite-respectable five points — a win and two draws — to give you an idea, that’s better than Acadia in 2021 and just a point shy of Memorial in 2019. Only a 3 – 0 loss to the Axemen last weekend, in which Mt. A played a lot of teenagers, kept them on the bottom of the table.
Derek O’Keeffe has been a revelation in Sackville as the new head coach taking a young team without a huge amount of talent, giving it some confidence, getting it organized, and grinding out points. Mount Allison only scored three goals this year, but took points from every game in which they scored. Do not, in future years, spot this team a lead.
It was a miserable season for the Panthers, one which saw the program take a significant step back, in my view.
They won only one game all year, 3 – 0 over 10-man Mount Allison in Charlottetown in a game rescheduled due to Hurricane Fiona. That game also represented a full third of their scoring output for the year.
Jacob Tweel got one in that game and put up a couple more to lead the team with three goals in his rookie year, so there are reasons for optimism. On the flip-side, last year’s breakout rookie, Sammy Akinsola, went scoreless.
What really doomed UPEI was the defending, though. They conceded 22 goals, second-worst in the league behind only Mt. A. UPEI are unlikely to ever have enough offensive firepower to make up that many. It was a much more experienced back line, too.
There’s work to do on the Island.
Fair play to Acadia in that this was still very much a rebuilding year, and they rebuilt. I think they did improve quite a bit beyond what their 1-8-3 record would suggest, particularly in adding some promising rookies to tie everything together. They look like a team now.
There was progress from last year’s rookies Noah Schurrman, Oscar Marshall, and Jabu Deng, too. If they keep developing — most of them played the summer in the Nova Scotia Soccer League — and get Toni Adeoye, Nathan Amoah-Gyekye, and Gabe Morgan to do likewise, they’ll have a solid core of young, local players on which to build as long-time vets like Ali Jabara and Joe Iatrou head into their final years of eligibility.
The Seahawks team that dismantled Moncton on week one looked like it was going to power right through AUS and unleash a Nor’Easter on nationals in Kamloops. They were dynamic, tactically drilled, and fully elongated.
They won just one more game before last weekend and will now be watching Moncton in the playoffs. It has been one of the most complete collapses I’ve seen in this league. Memorial looked to have built a solid program, and while one bad year can’t completely undo that, they’re now down one more year of Felly Elonda and Jacob Grant. You only get so many.
Emmanuel Dolo’s departure clearly hurt, and the Harry Carter – Alex Dolomount back line didn’t quite hold up — this team probably can’t afford to concede 20+ goals. Brent Hennebury never did replicate his form from week one. I don’t know if they read their headlines or what, and they managed a scrappy win over St. FX at the beginning of October, but then lost three straight, and it was the loss at Mount Allison, in which they were shut out, that killed them.
Part of the reason they were shut out so often this year (four times!) despite having, in Elonda and Grant, two of the best attackers in AUS, might be down to some very odd tactical decisions by Jake Stanford. MUN often had sophomore Colin Curran at #9, and he put up… 2g/0a, and just 12 shots, as many as his rookie season in which he played half as many games, and mostly off the bench. When it wasn’t Curran, it was Taj Exley, who didn’t score at all this year and was eventually dropped to sub minutes.
I get what Stanford is trying to do. There is always a need, in AUS, to balance now with later. Eligibility is limited to five years. Memorial are a very local team, and the Seahawks do a lot to bring that local talent along against some of the region’s best. Guys like Exley and Connors need an Atlantic D3 league as much or more than Grant and Elonda.
Playoffs… and More
v. UNB (3pm, Wednesday2Yes, Wednesday. USPORTs has moved the schedule back by a day so the conferences are doing the same to give teams enough travel time. Quarterfinals will be Wednesday, semis Thursday, with the final on Saturday.2)
The Tigers are the only team coming into the playoffs with a negative goal differential. There’s always one.3Usually UPEI, who make eking out points an art.
It’s been a mostly off year for the Tigers, Alan Jazic’s second succeeding Pat Nearing, and it still very much feels like he’s succeeding Nearing, rather than making this team his own. It can take a full five-year cycle before a coach really shapes a program — witness Mesut Mert at Saint Mary’s, for instance.
Still, Dal look a bit concerning, improving from outright alarming to start the year, when they lost 5 – 1 to UNB — and got a draw out of them on the same weekend, before the hurricane.4Dal actually played on the Friday night as Fiona blew in, getting a critical 2 – 0 win against a Memorial side that looked like they knew their flight was cancelled. It actually rather turned Dal’s season around. There was a lot of that this year for the Tigers.
Mo Jaber started scoring in October, and they got Gracious Kasheke back from injury. It’s worth noting neither of those two guys will be back next year. None of the younger players really took a next step, either — Luke Berryman, who was so good against the PLSQ sides for Wanderers U23, had only 2g/1a in AUS. Suliman Elomrani was a bit better, but not yet the star he could be. The bright spot this year was actually New Brunswick prospect Jared Ndopedro, a star recruit whose minutes dropped a bit once Kasheke came back, but who’ll probably be his long-term replacement.
Dalhousie should be an easy out this week. The young back line did start to cohere this year, but there were still a couple of 3 – 0 meltdowns in October against playoff teams. Fair to say Dal’s still a work in progress and will probably be happy to have made the playoffs at all this year.
v. Saint Mary’s (6pm, Wednesday)
A surprise draw in Antigonish got les Aigles-Bleus the fifth seed, robbing us of another Halifax derby in the playoffs, which is a pity but indicative of the kind of year Moncton has had.
They conceded seven goals in the first three games in Septemeber, then pitched four clean sheets in October. Defense, which has until now never been the Moncton way, wins championships. There weren’t any great personnel changes — even star striker recruit Rayane Ghazaouni only played a handful of minutes — but consistency is a big part of defense and defense… you know.
This should be the pick of the games on Wednesday. Moncton can attack all kinds of different ways and always want to turn and go with the ball. Saint Mary’s are a bit the same, so expect a wide open, counter-attacking game, and probably a goalkeeping gaffe or two.
v. Moncton (6pm, Wednesday)
Jensen Brown has, to be fair, looked the part of a veteran goalkeeper in 2022. He still has the aggressiveness he’s always had, but there aren’t as many strange decisions, and the Huskies look a lot more comfortable playing in front of him now.
At the other end, Sean Freeman looks likely to be at least a first-team all-star5The AUS awards dropped as I was writing this sentence, and he is. He’d have been my pick for MVP, too, I think, but they gave it to Keji Adeniyi instead. after putting up nine goals. He was once again unstoppable in September, and slowed just a tad — as with the team as a whole — in October, and Mert rested him for the final two games after he went off early against St. FX.
Dropping points last week does mean Saint Mary’s miss out on the bye, though it may have been out of reach anyway. Their depth is probably better than last year, but the fatigue did them in the 2021 final and hurt them at nationals. Getting past Cape Breton in the semis will be a huge challenge, but Saint Mary’s deserved more from their early-season visit to Sydney. That, too, could be a very good match-up.
v. Dalhousie (3pm, Wednesday)
I made the mistake of not watching a lot of UNB early in the season, meaning to come back to them later in the year, when things mattered more, and, well….
There just wasn’t much of a playoff run-in this season, which means UNB have been coasting almost as long as I have. A critical win in Charlottetown gave them ten points by the time the winds had died down and it only took 19 to make the playoffs. Wins over Acadia, Mt. A, and Memorial in a lengthy hurricane-helped home stand meant the Reds were in before Thanksgiving.
Keji Adeniyi, back from an injury-plagued 2021, has just won AUS MVP and Barry Morrison got coach of the year6Which, given it’s voted on by the coaches, is probably the most meaningful of the pitcks. Both are well-deserved, and Adeniyi has been terrific both offensively and defensively — always the UNB model.
Luke Rosettani put up 6g/5a as well, which means this may be the last time I type Tristan Nkoghe’s name since Rosettani can be my new UNB darkhorse for the draft previews. Don’t sleep on Stef D’Ambrogio, either, though he had a slightly less flashy sophomore year. And Ryan Jetten was terrific as a sophomore centre-back.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. UNB still have a tricky playoffs ahead. They should beat Dalhousie, but that sets up a game against St. FX for (likely) the second seed at nationals. This team has the talent to finally make a bit of noise there, but so do the X-Men.
v. Winner of UNB – Dal (3pm, Thursday)
X posted an identical record to UNB and only pipped them to second seed — and the all-important bye — thanks to a testy 1 – 0 win in Antigonish on Sunday. Whether that extra rest is worth Max Bodurtha, whom they lost to a late and rather costly second yellow card, is up to you and Graham Kennedy.
His side were just spectacular in September, with most of the team coming off a provincial championship with Suburban. The form didn’t quite last through Thanksgiving, when they gave the Capers a real run in front of the fans in Antigonish7What else are you gonna do on a Friday night?, but couldn’t quite manage it despite opting out of club nationals to play that game. That may sting, and will add a bit of fire to any rematch in the AUS final.
I think X are slightly better than UNB, even if the Reds were a bit more spectacular at times this year. The X-Men play slightly boring soccer, if I may be blunt, but they do it very, very well. Everything is very organized. They all know each other’s tendencies, and know their rotations. That kind of familiarity is rare in the short university season and could pay dividends this weekend, and in Kamloops.
v. whoever makes it to Saturday’s final, 2pm
There were the customary wobbles early on, including a rather surprising home draw against UPEI and another one against St. FX in the aftermath of Fiona, but otherwise they’ve been perfect, another thirty-plus-point point season.
Jacob Spizzirri deservedly won rookie of the year — the Woodbridge prospect has been terrific and should get CanPL attention. Jakub Pariszek has been exactly as solid as you’d have expected, as has Ben Fortuin. Jose Cunha settled down and became the kind of 90-minute player he needs to be in CanPL. I don’t know if this is the most talented Capers team in recent memory, but it’s close, and it’s certainly the one that best exemplifies what Deano Morley wants to do to do the Canadian soccer pipeline.
And it’s working. The Capers will be back in Kamloops, where they last won national gold in 2017, with a whole new generation.