One can never quite anticipate what Atlantic University Sport will throw at you. Makes it a lot of fun to watch, and opening weekend gave us a few really great games, but writing previews hard.
Inevitably, there are things I get wrong, which is why this ship is always taking on water halfway across the North Atlantic. We lost the fact-checker in a storm two years back now, which is why I always appreciate people tipping me off because tracking down the accurate info can be tricky.1I’d love to be able to call every athletics department individually, but I don’t have that kind of time, and besides, sometimes teams really do have walk-on players and guys who get injured last minute.
Since this is opening weekend, we’ll use this recap to redress a few of the things I got wrong in the preview, which you can and should read in full here.
And we’ll take the same opportunity to look at where the teams themselves went wrong (mwahahaha!) because the AUS season is short and these early games matter.
D 2 – 2 @ Moncton; W 2 – 0 @ Acadia
We’ll start with the Seahawks because my preview of them needs the most corrections and they also picked up four crucial road points in huge opening weekend matches.
To start, Emmanuel Dolo has left Memorial as a whole. This is a good reminder that as skilled as some of these players are on the field, they are students first and foremost. I know nothing about Dolo’s academic aspirations, but I am sure he has to and will make the best decision for himself. What remains is that he has real soccer ambitions and real skill. I can’t find any trace of where he’s ended up, but I hope he finds a way to play somewhere.
Zach Visser is also gone, and I think he’s now graduated from his master’s, too — he was out of eligibility for AUS in any event.
It looks like some of the newer recruits might see a bit less time than I thought — but we’ll see what happens if and when injuries hit. This matters less than it could have because Felly Elonda is back — I thought he’d started at Moncton a bit earlier than he did.
(He will always be known at this blog, however, here and forever after, as Fully Elongated. Thanks Rick!2Or possibly, thanks Rick’s auto-correct…. Still the best comment this blog’s ever had.)
What They Got Wrong
And good thing, too, because Elonda was truly elongated on opening weekend. Easily one of the best performances I have ever seen from an AUS player. He looked like he’d just walked out of a professional set-up.
In a way, he had. Wanderers U23 is an odd little thing at this stage of its existence, but one of the reasons it matter so much is that exposure to higher levels is contagious. One guy going up against top talent elevates everyone else. And while a league would obviously provide more and better opportunities, even a single team can start spreading the fever.
Jacob Grant played too — I’m obligated to mention this, I think — but it was Brent Hennebury who scored the right-foot curler in Moncton.3Grant did have a goal late against Acadia, and also picked up a yellow for diving. The Seahawks were terrific, though, playing with a guile and tempo they only showed flashes of last year, with Elonda completely controlling the tempo. It looked nothing like an opening weekend performance and there wouldn’t be much to quibble with except they conceded two really sloppy goals late and coughed up two points against a pretty weak Aigles-Bleus side. That looked like opening weekend, but I’ll put it down to rust.
Next: Heading home for a stern double test against the Capers, albeit they didn’t look so great this weekend….
D 1 – 1 v. UPEI; W 1 – 0 v. Saint Mary’s
I didn’t get too much wrong with them, actually, though I wish I’d had enough time to get out to their game against Guelph because it looks like they’re carrying a few injuries out of that.
Both Jacob Spizzirri and Jakub Parizek looked really good, too. And Ben Fortuin is going to be the Capers’ captain within a couple of years.
What They Got Wrong
Right now, though? Hoo boy, there were some problems. Those results above are home games. Yes, the Capers drew UPEI in Sydney. And honestly, the Panthers were the better team after half-time. Kairo Coore came on and barely touched the ball, while Lewis Page brought on Salem Farag and he changed the game and got the winner.
Caveats apply here about absences and the Capers typical slow start. They’ll be fine by November. I worry a bit about Coore, though. He’s coming in from FC Edmonton, and should be dominating AUS, but he looked tired. The truth is Canadian Premier League teams (and particularly FC Edmonton) lack top-end facilities of the sort that can keep a player going through a long season. This is going to be a tough haul.
Cian Lynch only played Sunday’s game. Ditto Jamie Watson and Jose Cunha, who also looked really rough as well. Cameron Kilbride came on for spot minutes throughout. It was a bit patchwork, and showed.
Time will tell, but Deano Morley’s going to need an even bigger bounce-back than normal.
Next: As mentioned, a trip to St. John’s, which will be tiring but might also be just what this team needs to start clicking together.
W 3 – 0 v. Mount Allison; L 0 – 1 @ Cape Breton
The biggie here — tip of the hat to Andy Firth, a regular in Wanderers fandom and Scott Firth’s father, for reminding me about USPORTs’ silly eligibility rules — is that Firth can’t play for the Huskies until 2023.
This is a profoundly short-sighted rule. About the best you can say is it’s outdated. To be clear, there are two rules: the first, that a player who plays professionally loses a year of university eligibility for every year he’s played pro, is pretty standard and meant to preserve the league’s status as amateur. The second rule, however, states that a player who has played professionally within the past 12 months must sit out.
It’s meant to prevent transfer silliness, which is kind of moot anyway since these guys have academics to consider. And Firth is particularly hard done by it because he played a game for Wanderers in October of 2021, so misses the cut-off by less than a month.
There is absolutely no service to AUS by denying a highly marketable local star a chance to play. Canadian soccer is actively hurt by this — Firth is a promising teenager who desperately needs to be playing competitive minutes. I realize Mark Noonan is still reeling from the price of Toronto real estate but this is the kind of thing where CanPL needs to get on the phone to USPORTs and hammer something out — not just for Firth but for the innumerable other players who will end up in this position and who need the minutes even if they played summer semi-pro.4The USPORTs contracts obviate the issue by expiring in August, but the situation here is caused by a player opting to stay with his club through the end of the professional season, then missing the next USPORTs season after that, which should not happen and given the history and rigour of the CanPL-USPORTs draft partnership, is probably an oversight. There are cultural issues in growing local soccer, to be sure — I wrote about those last week. This is just an inadvertent bureaucratic cock-up and can be fixed easily enough as long as someone is actually paying attention and has a genuine interest in doing right by players. At the very least there should be an appeals process.
What They Got Wrong
I thought Saint Mary’s edged the Capers in Sydney. That game deserved a 0 – 0 — it was not pretty soccer — but where last year the Huskies were undone by defensive mistakes, this time they were undone by a refereeing mistake5To be fully clear: I try to lay off AUS referees because a lot of these guys are local refs doing the best they can, plus I know and work with a lot of them. Adam Dunsworth was almost certainly fouled on the Capers goal, but as obvious as it looks from the camera angle behind the benches, it’s a tougher call than it looks when the ball goes long down the field. AUS is never going to have VAR, so it just is what it is. Part of the game, part of the fun of local soccer. and a penalty misfire.
They were better against the Mounties — I didn’t watch that one, but Gary from From Aways (and now the Down The Pub podcast, which I listened to instead of watching the game) was there and had particular praise for Ben Kloppenburg in midfield.
At the SMU-MTA game. SMU pretty dominant. Like SMU’s #4 at CB (short-ish but good distribution) and the CMs (#13 & #8). The striker #9 looks punchy & sharp too. MTA look very lightweight.
— From Aways (@FromAwaysHFX) September 9, 2022
Kloppenburg didn’t play against the Capers — another local youngster, Nathan Langille, took his spot — and I thought SMU missed Kloppenburg’s steady cycling of the ball. Everything got very scrambly and very direct — Saint Mary’s can sometimes be a bit too eager to exploit spaces and while this makes for lots of one-on-ones, it can also make for a lot of running down cul-de-sacs. Cape Breton mostly stayed goal-side of their runners, though the Huskies did end up winning the penalty on a quick transition so it’s not like it didn’t pay some dividends. I just think while they played the Capers well, they still played them like underdogs in a game that was there for SMU to dominate.
Next: The Huskies do the Confederation loop, traveling to UPEI and then Sackville for a rematch with Mt. A. If they play like they did this weekend, that could be six points.
L 0 – 3 @ Saint Mary’s; L 0 – 1 @ Dal
Not much. They pretty much ran out the roster I thought they would, though they did add a couple players I missed in Ahmed Hafez and Aiden Denis, both of whom showed pretty well against the Tigers, I thought.
What They Got Wrong
Let’s flip this around, because usually the Mounties have a lot that needs fixing and, to start off 2022, I think they’re doing a lot right.
Now, this isn’t a team that’s going to beat a lot of people. But new head coach Derek O’Keeffe clearly knows this and, if the game against Dal was anything to go by, has got his team bought in on playing a low-ish block with the very occasional counter-attack, when they’re on and then some.
It’s not quite parking the bus and more controlling the low, dangerous spaces, but it’s something the Mounties could not or would not do previously. They utterly stifled Dalhousie at Wickwire in front of several hundred painfully bored fans, and were actually unlucky to lose that one.
They’re going to have to scrap for anything they get this year, because the talent is not there, and the talent they do have — mainly Tevin Lewis — is going to have to adjust to a much more pragmatic system.
But this is a team that hasn’t had a point in seven years, and was 10 minutes away from getting one off a team with four Wanderers prospects starting.
Next: They host St. FX and Saint Mary’s, which ain’t gonna be easy but it will be their home opener. Hopefully they can get a goal for the home fans.
W 1 – 0 v. Mount Allison
I almost missed Moe Jaber when I wrote the preview but caught that one just before I published, and he got an hour on Saturday night before being replaced by Mykeo Parker-Christmas. Otherwise, Dal Athletics does a nice job talking up their recruits and getting the roster out nice and early, which helps a lot.
To be fair, I didn’t catch that they were planning to move Jack Ellis to centre-back, though I did wonder if we might see that at some point this season and I think he looked pretty comfortable there, actually, playing as an aggressive stopper. It suits his skill set.
Finally, I didn’t mention Suliman Elomrani, who was also a Wanderers U23 player, but that was more because I couldn’t find a way to work him in.
What They Got Wrong
It’s a big year for the Tigers. They have a lot to prove, and they had a lot of time to prepare for a single game this weekend, against the worst team in the conference.
They were out of ideas by the half-hour, which does not bode well. The winner, such as it was, came on a madhouse scramble on a wobbly cross (Joseph Ndopedro was a bright spot, though he does have some rounding out to do) that Rhys Chambers really should have smothered. Connor Manuel, a centre-back-turned-defensive-mid, managed to poke home his first AUS goal. Nice moment, and there was much rejoicing.
Mount Allison outshot the Tigers, both in attempts and on-target, and were probably unlucky not to get a penalty just after going behind. The xG would probably be a bit kinder to the Tigers (AUS doesn’t track it) but it wasn’t a stalwart defensive effort, either. The visitors had real chances.
If Dal play like this against UNB — or anyone better than the Mounties — they will get found out.
Next: The season starts for real, with a double in Fredericton.
L 0 – 2 @ St. FX; L 0 – 2 v. Memorial
I was fairly hard on Acadia in my preview piece, and while I stand by my larger point about the soccer program’s place in the culture — a point driven home by the cheer squad sent out for this weekend’s home opener6Fair play, most schools have cheer clubs and I have no quarrel with them showing up at a soccer game if they want to. But they were getting no play with the spectators, it’s the wrong crowd, and not really fair on the cheer athletes to put them in that position. — but I should have noted that Acadia has a very successful women’s soccer program, and even the men’s was pretty good in the not-too-distant past.
I put a lot of the women’s success down to Amit Batra, who rebuilt that program some years back, and I mainly eschewed mentioning his successes because I didn’t want to frame the critique as about Findlay MacRae, who’s still an important part of the vision there, I think.
Two solid local recruits also slipped my radar — Toni Adeoye and Nathan Amoah-Gyekye are both top-end Halifax youth prospects who went to Canada Games. I think both have some rounding to do as do most rookies in AUS, but Adeoye, in particular, is exactly what Acadia need: a big, skilled target man to open space for the wingers in the box.
(Update Sept. 20: I actually missed in the preview that both Cedric Gravel and Tyr Duhaney-Walker have left, so I could have been even harder on Acadia. Max Rogers and Gabe Morgan have adjusted okay, though, so I won’t be too tough.)
What They Got Wrong
Amoah-Gyekye’s AUS career did not get off to the start he would have hoped, as he got sent off four minutes in against St. FX.
It was a silly moment in what was a very, very physical game Friday night in Antigonish. Always is, against X, and I like that the Axemen brought some bite to what used to be one of AUS’ more reliable derbies. The trouble is I think this team is ill-suited to playing down a man and they look like they might a lot.
The red took Adeoye out of the game — he can chase stuff down but he’s not the kind of striker who’ll create his own service. Acadia had to defend, shipped two kinda unfortunate goals off set-pieces, game over.
Next: Only one game next weekend, up in Moncton. That’s winnable for Acadia as long as they keep their heads in the game.
D 2 – 2 v. Memorial; L 1 – 3 v. UNB
I think I got most of the actual roster stuff right, though I’m only about 85% sure because my French is only about 85%.
I did whiff Thomas Maillet, who went and played 180 minutes this weekend after I thought he’d left — I think my mistake with Moncton was that I missed a couple of previous years’ rosters and figuring out eligibility is tricky at the best of times. Sometimes guys miss a year with an injury or something. Mea culpa.
What was evident from opening weekend is that Les Aigles-Bleus have some ongoing injuries / fitness concerns. Rayane Ghazaoini didn’t play, which Younes Bouida had more or less confirmed back in July — it’s important for him to settle in to school here before settling in on the pitch. Good look. But they were also missing Georges Musitu and a couple other veterans.
So don’t judge their opening weekend too harshly.
What They Got Wrong
On the other hand….
The problems were so, so much the same problems Moncton always have. The commentators on the Moncton webcast — who are very good, by the way, and very exuberant — said this was a Younes Bouida team now, and that pretty much matches my feeling after seeing what he’s built over the past couple years.
It’s very watchable. Moncton attack in waves, and when they get Musitu, Bilal Chabili, and Ghazaouini in there, they are definitely going to score some goals.
But they just don’t want to defend. Even with Maillet, they were just all over the place. And Christian Masimengo, who will absolutely make four or five spectacular saves a game, isn’t going to claim anything in the air, and teams know this.
I will say that Wyllian Sydavong Ok did very well in his debut — he’s going to be a boss in midfield in this league, and he’s already terrific at advancing the ball. Lionel Feval is also badly under-rated as a #8 in this league, and Félix Robichaud was all over the place as usual, just wanting for a striker to play off.
But it’s all attacking options. They’re going to score goals. But they ended up taking one point from six available at home (they beat UNB in Moncton last year) because they shipped five goals and it could so easily have been more. Those are opportunities missed just as much as some of their chances that went begging.
Next: As above, Moncton will host Acadia. Boy howdy will that game have goals.
D 1 – 1 @ Cape Breton; L 0 – 3 @ St. FX
I missed Salem Farag in my preview — occupational hazard with UPEI; they have so many guys who do a job, work hard, but who kind of blend into the (admittedly very pretty) scenery.
As mentioned, Farag was great off the bench in Cape Breton. But it was very much a UPEI performance in that it was everyone, and it was pretty anonymous. You could swap out any of the guys who played and they’d still look just like they did, which makes figuring out any kind of preview hard. Some teams really are just team-first. It’s all about systems. I’ll try and watch enough of the Panthers to do a deep-dive into their defensive structure at some point.
I should give a shout-out to Sammy Akinsola. Here I am speculating that he might hit a sophomore slump but he’s out there causing two very good teams some real problems with his running.
What They Got Wrong
Nobody, least of all Lewis Page, likes conceding off a goal kick less than ten minutes into a game. I thought it was game over, and maybe indicative of a rebuild ahead on the Island. But the rest of the way, they kept the other, much louder islanders quiet. No small feat.
I also forgot to mention Kasper Lasia and Duncan Murray in my preview, who were very good once again, though in my defense I talked a lot about them a lot last year, and I think those two have one of the best partnerships in AUS. They took a very good Capers midfield out of the game, on the road, and kept the balance of the game even. UPEI weren’t turtling.
The template is there for how the Panthers can be not just a playoff fringe team but an actual darkhorse contender for the first time since Jimmie Mayaleh and his nipples were starring up front. It’s always going to be defense first and direct, but with Farag, Nathan Chow, and Akinsola up front, it doesn’t have to be defense-only.
That’s the template. It fell apart a bit on Sunday, with three goals going in. That’s probably down to fatigue, going up against two very good teams. What matters more, for the Panthers, is picking up points against Acadia and Moncton and Dal. I’m not going to “correct” putting them eighth until they can find a way to win (not just draw) those games.
Next: The Panthers get two more tough games, albeit back at home, hosting Saint Mary’s and then St. FX.
W 2 – 0 v. Acadia; W 3 – 0 v. UPEI
Not much. You know what this squad is. I know what this squad is. They know what this squad is, and it showed. Job done.
I will give a nod to Will Veinot, who opened the season like a fifth-year goalkeeper should. Two clean sheets, no wobbles.
What They Got Wrong
Not much. There wasn’t much too get wrong, up against two teams they should absolutely beat at home, and they did.
I liked the variety in the goals. Two well-worked set-pieces against Acadia — the first one, in particular, was a really smart run by Kyle Cordeiro, who was excellent all weekend. Against UPEI, it was more transition play, drawing the Panthers up field and then using the space in behind. Just two really solid tactical performances.
There are always moments at the back where Lewis Dye and Luke Green terrify me. It’s mostly fine — they play on the front foot, and both are very good on the ball. Sometimes a little too good on the ball. There are going to be moments this year where X miss Josh Read.
But two zeroes on the scoreboard. Not much else to say.
Next: They head to Mount Allison and then UPEI. Should be six more points for X.
W 3 – 1 @ Moncton
The Reds, too, are pretty much team-first, and another team that’s known.
I missed that Joe Hamilton is no longer part of it, and you’d think I’d know that given wrote about him being in his final year often enough last season.
Otherwise, they played pretty much the line-up you’d expect, though in a back three with Roan Saengmeng and Justin Brown as wingbacks bombing forward, which I actually like a lot more than the kind of all-up, all-back approach Matt Quigley’s style sometimes dictated. Olivier Menard can and has dropped back to centre-back.
There are a number of newer recruits, some of whom played a bit and some of whom I missed because that’s how UNB operates. Brown, Ryan Jetten (who scored a screamer against Moncton), and Ashty Omar are all guys who played a bit last year and will play a bit more this year, whereas Alex Oprea and Francois Maurice are guys who’ll play a bit this year and probably more next year.
What They Got Wrong
Not much. It was a very composed performance against Moncton. UNB didn’t let Moncton’s speed pull them apart — the 3-4-3 helps with that — and just waited for their chances, which will always come against Moncton. They weren’t as dominant as Memorial had been, but it was still a professional performance.
Keji Adeniyi looked like he was back to his old self.
Luke Rosettani is going to be the main guy up front, probably alternating a bit with Adeniyi and Stef D’Ambrogio. None of those guys are necessarily big #9s — all kind of work a little bit off the man — but they can all score, and did in pre-season, even if only Adeniyi got one this weekend (he also set up Jetten’s blast).
Next: UNB host Dalhousie for a double home-opener at the new BMO turf. Hopefully they’ve moved that godawful light stand. I will be watching.
Adorable Commentary of the Week
I gave them a shout-out above, but my moment of the week was the Moncton colour guy having no idea what or where a “St. FX” was.
Would that we could all return to such a time of bliss.
What I’m Watching Next Week
I will watch at least one of the Dal games up in Fredericton because I think the Tigers are very much capable of making a game of one of those (hopefully the one I watch), but they really need to make a point next weekend.
The Cape Breton – Memorial double is also going to be very interesting, and possibly a very, very good game — the Seahawks were the class of the league this weekend — but you never know if the weather will cooperate in St. John’s this time of year.
So I might liveblog Saint Mary’s – UPEI. We’ll see. Lots of good games around the edges next weekend.
Keep the corrections coming!
Re: “At the very least there should be an appeals process.” SMU (Mesut Mert and Scott Gray) did appeal to USport for an exemption for Scott. I think they appealed because of the fact that Scott had very little game action from Aug 15th to the end of the season last year for the Wanderers. Scott received news a week into training camp that the appeal was denied.