I don’t want to say I forgot about AUS exactly–there were some games in there, I’m pretty sure–but there’s not exactly much of a playoff race, is there? I go away for a weekend and I think I pretty much missed it.
Thanks to Hurricane Dorian there was a midweek game rescheduled from opening weekend, as Acadia upset Dal, costing the Tigers any shot at a playoff bye that was looking unlikely anyway. UPEI played a couple times and did their usual okay. I can’t seem to get the Cape Breton – Memorial stream to load despite it being one of the more interesting games of the weekend. Oh well. Combined with the regular Thanksgiving break, there’s not much happening.
Where this leaves us is with spots one through five pretty much set. St. FX gave Cape Breton a good run, but early goals this weekend cost them any shot at top spot. UNB could pass them for the bye, but UNB play the Capers on the final weekend while the X-Men play Acadia, so that’s doubtful.
Dalhousie are in, and can finish no lower than fifth, so they’ll play Saint Mary’s and home/away doesn’t really matter. The Huskies could still miss, actually, so a glance behind might be prudent after last year, but it would require an even bigger miracle from Memorial.
It’s not even been a fun season for the losers. My usual format is to write obituaries for the teams that didn’t make it, but all the fun is in CanPL this year. Acadia were always going to be rebuilding. Mount Allison are improving, but still well off the pace. Moncton lost key players and just aren’t that good. Memorial, the only team still sort of alive, just aren’t that good. The whole tiers thing may have been too accurate–it’s a bit boring when all the teams that should miss, do miss.
UPEI (D 2 – 2 @ SMU)
UPEI had only two games left after week five, but also did most of the work early. A point on the road is just enough for them given they play the Mounties at home in their finale.
The Panthers are the only team not properly safe. If Memorial win out at home over the Tigers–and who wants to trust the Tigers at this time of year?–they’d jump over UPEI, but the Panthers play Mount Allison, and a win would leave them tied on points.
Currently, the Panthers and Seahawks have not only identical goal differential but identical for/away splits. That won’t likely remain, and the Panthers hold the head-to-head anyway.
Sixth is the traditional UPEI playoff upset spot anyway.
They got the point this week thanks mostly to their fifth-years, who have really delivered this year in a way they didn’t last. Nacho Sanchez and Sam Smiley have been tremendous all year and are dragging a team short on raw talent into the playoffs. Good enough.
Dalhousie (L 2 – 3 v. Acadia; W 3 – 0 v. Mount Allison)
There are always certain players who love playing against certain teams. Gordie MacLaughlin loves playing at Wickwire.
The Tigers cannot handle his pace and direct running. Acadia don’t have much else this year, but he absolutely tormented them in Wolfville and did it again in the reverse.
The Axemen let Dal back into it again, but got a couple favourable bounces of their own and that’s how the Tigers end up on the end of yet another loss at home to an Acadia team they really, really should beat.
Now, they did this last year and it didn’t hurt them that much in the playoffs–they went on to beat Acadia in Sydney. They’ve also had a number on likely opponent Saint Mary’s all year. But they don’t have last year’s back-line, and it’s shown at times.
More worrying is that the impressive level of precision and commitment displayed against Cape Breton and, to a lesser extent, at Wanderers’ Grounds against Saint Mary’s, seems to be gone with the wind. For big games, this Tigers group has risen. They’ve usually fallen flat the very next game: the dispirited 0 – 1 to St. FX at home; this last.
Those lost points mean they’re likely looking at another semi-final match-up against Cape Breton. It could be close, but this whole season had to be about avoiding that after last year’s late-season oopsie, and the Tigers have missed badly.
Cape Breton (W 3 – 1 v. St. FX; W 1 – 0 v. MUN)
The Memorial game is interesting because the Seahawks held Cape Breton for 89 minutes.
I can’t watch it, but I can guess how they did it: Memorial sit deep anyway and Cape Breton struggle to break teams down this year. It’s a problem that, if it doesn’t read its head in AUS playoffs (Dal held them the same way) will come up at nationals.
The match against St. FX was better, though the Capers displayed another worrying trait in a tendency to let teams back into games at bad times. The goal before half-time, off a free kick, took a pretty big deflection past Ben Jackson. These things happen. But all of a sudden, the Capers’ strong start–Cory Bent scored three minutes in–was undone.
Caelann Budhoo was man of the match in maybe the most outright impressive game of his AUS career. He’s always been a solid if unspectacular playmaker. With teams keying more on Charlie Waters, he’s been freed to come into the middle more, and the role is growing on him. He’s still not an instinctive finisher, and benefited from a pretty big deflected goal himself, but he gets into really smart spots.
Cape Breton will finish first and have, so far, only given away four goals this year. There is no team in AUS even close to them, especially in Sydney.
St. FX (W 3 – 1 @ Moncton; L 1 – 3 @ CBU; W 2 – 0 v. MUN)
The X-Men now win the games they should, and I can’t think of a goal all year Seamus MacDonald fumbled. That’s big progress.
The result against Cape Breton yet again raises questions about their ability to beat the best teams. They’re only 3 – 1 – 2 against playoff teams, with two of those wins coming over the 5/6 seeds SMU and UPEI. The other was a slightly-fortuitous 1 – 0 on the road at Dal where MacDonald was heroic. They’ve drawn and lost (badly) to UNB, and can’t seem to get close to the Capers.
That was the story of their first half in Sydney, in what was likely a preview of the AUS final.
It wasn’t that St. FX were out of things. It was a reasonably entertaining first half, and the X-Men looked to attack, if prudently, from what possession they could fashion out of Cape Breton’s midfield. There were smart two and three pass moves.
That it was all undone three minutes in must be infuriating. They didn’t track Charlie Waters, didn’t anticipate the ball to Bent, and got caught scrambling. That’s Cape Breton’s only real attacking move. Defensively, you have to plan for it.
St. FX are without a doubt the second-best team in the league this year. They’ve fixed many of last year’s problems, they’re fairly consistent. But I’ve yet to be convinced this is a team that loves to defend. Against Cape Breton, you have to.
Memorial (L 0 – 1 @ CBU; L 0 – 2 @ St. FX)
The Cape Breton game was so, so close to one of the best stories of the season so far1It should probably be noted somewhere that Cape Breton played more than a few subs, but don’t spoil my imagined fun, here..
It rather hides the fact that Memorial yet again failed to score. The Seahawks have just fourteen goals, tied for last (with UPEI) among teams with a sniff of the playoffs. That’s the edge separating them from the teams above them, because MUN may have bettered UNB or Dal defensively this season.
It at least leaves a path forward. Jacob Grant’s been a big add offensively (though he badly shanked a penalty this weekend). One–dare I say, even two?–more players with some attacking invention and this team could compete.
I still think they’re limited by tactics. Fomba Fambouleh has some of that invention. So does Isiah Power-Smith, another recruit. Obviously, against the Capers, you have to be selective in attack, and Memorial created only one shot on target. That’s one better than Dal managed at home, actually.
They approached St. FX much the same way, but were more effective on the counter, at least for the first 20 minutes or so. Then, whether because they got tired or, more likely I think, they sat too deep, St. FX broke them. It took some good play, but Memorial were, yet again, too defensive.
MUN now need wins in both their remaining games, assuming UPEI beat Mt. A in Charlottetown (they will). The Seahawks are at home, so there’s that. And the Tigers aren’t especially consistent–could they scuttle a team’s playoff hopes two years in a row by losing spectacularly? Maybe. But to do get in, MUN are going to need to score.
Saint Mary’s (W 2 – 0 @ Acadia; D 2 – 2 v. UPEI)
Something has gone slightly wrong for Saint Mary’s.
The main thing, of course, is they’ll be in the playoffs–they’re not confirmed, but it would take that same MUN double plus a loss to Moncton. I guess you never know. They do have to get the job done.
The win on Friday snapped a five-game losing skid, all against playoff teams. Like X, the Huskies can beat the lower teams, but the top is a bit of a challenge. Unlike X, Saint Mary’s play much more direct. The defense, though, has similar problems.
At this level, it’s fairly rare for guys to defend 2 v. 2 especially well–hell, it’s a problem in CanPL and even MLS. When Saint Mary’s get stretched, it leaves Jonathan Wentzell and Cameron Zinn exposed. It’s been a problem for the better part of the past two seasons, but the upside for SMU is that this year’s fullbacks, Calum Thompson and Abdalaleem Alfitori, are both first-years and could well improve with more time at this level.
On Friday, they got goals from midfield against Acadia, which has been missing. If that continues, there’s a path to just score their way through the playoffs. The Huskies have hung with Dal this year–just not beaten them. If the Tigers let them open up, much as they let Acadia open up, Cian Tousignant-Osaidhall and Alex Black will run rampant.
Black, mind, hasn’t scored in about a month. That’s why they’ve been losing and why the goals from midfield mattered so much this weekend.
Hold on tight.
Acadia (W 3 – 2 @ Dal; L 0 – 2 v. SMU; L 0 – 2 @ Moncton)
The win against Dal was a nice touch on an otherwise miserable season. Rebuilding is not fun. This past weekend was not fun.
There’s not much more to write about, really. Gordie MacLaughlin is all kinds of fun and there’s some younger talent in guys like Joe Iatrou, but Iatrou’s NSSL form hasn’t translated to AUS for whatever reason–likely a factor of quality of teammate–and Acadia just need more at this point.
They’ll be back. But not this year.
UNB (W 1 – 0 v. Moncton)
The Reds haven’t given up a goal in October yet, though admittedly they’ve only played two games.
Last year, this team was a little more like Saint Mary’s, and there have been blips–that 3 – 3 game against X–of that, but mostly they’ve been very strong at the back.
Also interesting: Maximus Manhu was dropped this weekend, with Keji Adeniyi and Mario Maldonado providing the pace on the right. Grant Takacs played, too, so it may have been some squad rotation from Myles Pinsent. We’ll see, I guess.
They close against the Capers, which is a needed test for this group that hasn’t played a difficult match in a while.
Moncton (L 1 – 3 v. St. FX; W 2 – 0 v. Acadia; L 0 – 1 @ UNB)
Les Aigles-Bleus haven’t been able to follow-up that win over UPEI, and while that result means they’re mathematically still alive, they still have to play SMU away and Cape Breton, so nope.
Adrien Nagy has been good, but he’s been suspended too often. Jean-Michel Dako has scored this year, and been a threat, but the outbursts from guys like Simon-Pierre Brideau and Félix Robichaud late last season appear to have been blips. They’ve scored just 11 goals, and only tallied once in the past six. That’s not good enough, in October, and any ambitions this team had have fallen apart.
Mount Allison (L 2 – 7 v. UNB; L 0 – 3 @ Dal)
Progress is progress–the Mounties have just about halved the goals conceded from last season, though they’re still not scoring much.
There’s not much more to say, really. The recruiting class this year was pretty good–if it’s good again next year, then you start to see the pattern of building a team. For now, it is what it is.
What I’ll Be Watching Next Week
It’s the final weekend of the season–playoff preview time. And since the match-ups are mostly set, I’ll be watching for form.
We don’t see a lot of squad rotation in AUS, or at least, you tend to get a pretty clear delineation between starters and substitutes because, frankly, the talent pool in Atlantic Canada demands it.
But with CanPL and the upcoming draft, that may start to change. The top players should be pushing for that. Bench players should be pushing for minutes. There will be some rest and rotation this weekend, which means it’s an opportunity to shine as the spotlight shines, both in Sydney and at nationals in Montreal.
I’ll have liveblogs of most, if not all, of the AUS playoffs and at least the championship bracket at nationals, too, so keep an eye out and drop by if you’re interested in university soccer or the next generation of CanPL draftees.