AUS soccer used to be a league where every game was fairly competitive. “Physical,” people called it, in that way that’s euphemistic for “not very good.” But while teams like Cape Breton, St. FX, and (usually) Saint Mary’s were pretty good, there weren’t a lot of easy points.
That may be changing. It’s a little facetious to say so based on just one weekend, but the trend has been there for a while, driven primarily but by no means exclusively by Cape Breton, who want to be and are regular national contenders.
Almost every game this weekend was won by multiple goals, and not just by the home sides. There were lots of big leads, early, and mostly from the teams you’d expect.
This is actually a lot more like most of the other conferences across the country, with a clear divide between the small schools and the big schools. I’ll leave it without comment on whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing — depends, maybe, on what you’re looking for, on what you want university soccer to be.
L 2 – 3 v. Saint Mary’s; L 0 – 3 v. St. FX
The reason AUS is usually close (physical, slow, etc.) is because the smaller schools with teams of mostly local players — UPEI, in other words — always punch above their weight.
This weekend, with two home games, the Panthers gave up six goals. Last year, they gave up four at home, all season, and that was against good teams — they drew Cape Breton and Saint Mary’s last year, and only lost to X by a goal.
Lewis Page will coach this team up. Don’t go forgetting that AUS is a developmental league, and teams like UPEI especially so, since this is the highest level available on the Island.
The comeback against the Huskies came when Page threw on local youngsters Jacob Tweel and Nestor Campbell, and both showed nicely. They were still playing for bounces, though. there’s no model the Panthers can play that sees them spot teams preventable two and three-goal leads early in games. They just don’t have the firepower to come back from that, and they probably never will.
Next: They head to Halifax to play a Tigers side that is not getting a two-goal lead on anyone, then back to Charlottetown to host Mount Allison. Big weekend for UPEI’s playoff hopes.
L 0 – 2 v. Cape Breton; L 1 – 5 v. Cape Breton
More big scorelines. I only watched Sunday’s blowout, and the Seahawks actually weren’t that bad for the first half, but they were still two goals down early again, after doing much the same (even earlier, actually) on Saturday. Save yourself some time; you can see how the weekend in St. John’s went in 25 minutes.
Playing Jacob Grant out of position wasn’t the cause of the problems, but it was similarly inexplicable. I will never understand the desire of the contemporary coach to take a very good AUS striker — Grant scored five goals in 2019 and was rookie of the year — and play him as an okay-ish deep-lying #8. At youth level, sure, teach the players different skillsets. But AUS is about performance reps.
The experiment lasted about 35 minutes on Sunday and hopefully goes away for good now. Memorial weren’t dangerous against a Capers defense that can be opened up. Once you let Cape Breton carry the ball forward, that’s how you get a 2g/1a weekend from Jose Cunha. (Ottleti fans will be pleased) and a quiet weekend for Felly Elonda, as well as Grant and Brent Hennebury. Quality of opponent and all that, but there wasn’t much flash this week.
W 2 – 0 @ Memorial; W 5 – 1 @ Memorial
I wasn’t surprised by how it went in St. John’s, either. Cape Breton always start slowly, and they always bounce back on the second weekend. There are a lot of new faces this year, and a trip to the Rock, a couple nights in a hotel, is exactly what this group needed.
Everything flowed better. The patterns were clearer. There was better focus. At its best, this Capers team (every Capers team) is disciplined and driven. I wonder if they got a bit carried away at home on the first weekend. There was less individual effort, more shared responsibility. That’ll make any coach happy.
Next: Back home to host UNB and Moncton.
D 1 – 1 v. Dal; W 5 – 1 v. Dal
Like the Capers, UNB started a bit bumpily. I chose to watch the Saturday game, and it was not a spectacle. The Tigers stymied UNB and held onto a gritty point. UNB deserved more for their chances, but couldn’t finish.
Sunday, things were very, very different. Still a bit bouncy on that new turf — which actually looks like it plays really slow and is painted black for some reason; pity the FDSA players in the summer months — but the Reds at least took advantage of the bounces, and got them by forcing Dal into bad passes under pressure. It’s simple soccer, but effective — now Grant Takacs is gone, they’re all playing like him!
Keji Adeniyi, who is, if we’re honest, a much better player than Takacs, looks like he’s going to have a massive season. He’s already got four goals through three games, and he’s making everything happen with his willingness to both press and take a man on. He’s a player I’d be keeping an eye on if I were a CanPL team.
Next: The northern NS road trip, starting in Sydney, finishing in Antigonish — two huge games for playoff placements.
D 2 – 2 v. Acadia
Les Aigles-Bleus were the only team that wasn’t up or down by 2+ goals in the first half this weekend, but they actually may have come out of week two in worse shape because they’re now played three of six home games and have precisely two points to show for it.
Now they’re off to Sydney and Antigonish followed by a scary-looking October. These were winnable points against the Axemen, and Moncton goofed, coughing up an early lead and then, on cue, losing control of the vast majority of the game.
They just don’t have anyone who can control the tempo. Lionel Feval and Wyllian should be that kind of combination, but both are trying to do a bit too much, too quickly, and moves break down before they start.
One positive from the weekend: Rayane Ghazaouini got on for twelve minutes at the end, during which Moncton tied it up.
Next: They do the opposite of UNB: St. FX on Saturday, Cape Breton on Sunday.
D 1 – 1 @ UNB; L 1 – 5 @ UNB
At least I watched the Saturday game.
It wasn’t a great performance — even the goal was another instance of willpower over technique for Luke Berryman’s sixth in AUS. This team makes scoring look really, really hard.
A draw in Fredericton is actually a pretty good result. The Tigers played with slightly better tempo, and kept UNB scrambling even if it still felt a bit like boys against men.
On Sunday it was boys against men, and the game was over in ten minutes. Dal were so, so passive in defense — nobody wanted to play the body, and nobody wanted to take the ball and make a simple pass. Keji Adeniyi literally had three touches in front of an open goal at one point and nobody particularly does anything about him walking it in. Suliman Elomrani and Jack Ellis were both subbed off before half-time and those two are a top Nova Scotian prospect and a Liverpool academy product, respectively. It’s a young team, for sure, but there are some real worrying smoke signals on University Ave. and they’re not coming from the Gazette office this time.
That said, my rosiest expectation for the Tigers this weekend — and for any team doing a double in Fredericton — was two points. UNB are a very good side. So they get one, they go back home, and if they keep getting slightly better each game, Dal will keep pace in the playoff chase.
Next: They host Memorial on Friday night and UPEI on Sunday. They need at least four points this time. At least.
L 1 – 4 v. St. FX; L 0 – 4 v. Saint Mary’s
Speaking of young teams….
Mount Allison showed some real promise on opening weekend, and deserved a point from the Tigers at Wickwire thanks to structure down the spine of the pitch and some rugged defending.
It came apart a bit against two much better sides back in Sackville, though the Mounties actually kept pace with St. FX for a while, causing them some problems in the first half hour.
Then Paul-Germain Togbo got injured.
This is cruel, because the Montreal-born defender who up through German youth systems has been one of their best players the past couple of years, and if he played for a better team he’d get CanPL attention.
The Mounties don’t have a lot of talent, and Togbo does an immense job holding the defensive group together. All four goals against X came after he went off with what sure looked like a hamstring injury. He didn’t play against Saint Mary’s, either, and the Huskies got an easy win.
So it goes, sometimes. This is going to be a project.
Next: Just one game, hosting Acadia on Friday. They’ll play UPEI in Charlottetown, though, before I have another chance to do a recap.
D 2 – 2 @ Moncton
First points of the season for the Axemen, which sounds bad but the performance was much improved, and featured two really nice goals, both involving new #9 Toni Adeoye.
The first was a target man’s goal, a strong run to finish a nice cross from Jabu Deng. The second was even prettier for fans of old-school hold-up play like me: this one Deng fumbled on the break out wide, but though the cross isn’t great, Adeoye makes a perfect little lay-off and there’s Joe Iatrou to snip his first of the season.
They did lose control of the game late again, which I’ll putdown as more a symptom of a young team than anything larger. The Axemen were actually very good about controlling space through most of the game. Adrien Deveau was excellent picking up the half-spaces in midfield that Moncton like to exploit, and the young back line held up on the road against a tricky attack.
(Note: I’ve made a couple more updates to Acadia’s bit last week to account for a couple more corrections to the preview.)
Next: Away to Mount Allison in another single-game weekend. They need the win there to stay in touch when the games start coming thick in October.
W 4 – 1 @ Mount Allison; W 3 – 0 @ UPEI
Yep. St. FX just keep on going.
I didn’t actually watch that much of them this week — they’re not the most watchable team in the world, though it is worth showing up for the creative set-piece routines, and Kyle Cordeiro got another goal off a decent one (and because he was alert after a bounce) against Mt. A.
It’s worth noting that last year’s X team just squeaked by the Panthers in Charlottetown. I think the easier win this year says more about UPEI than it does St. FX, but three goals in the first half-hour left no doubt. This team is confident and clicking.
Except in goal, anyway, where they are X and always will be. Will Veinot got the clean sheet on opening day, but Veinot got hurt so Samuel Diltz came in for the second one. Diltz got hurt just before half-time in Sackville, so Jae Jeon came in, meaning X are already down from four goalkeepers to two, two weeks into the season. Jeon immediately turned a goal kick into a Tevin Lewis goal less than four minutes after coming on, so he’ll fit in nicely. Veinot was back in on Sunday, with Diltz backing him up.
Never change, X.
Next: X host Moncton and UNB, so at least Oliver Vossen will be around if they need him.
W 3 – 2 @ UPEI; W 4 – 0 @ Mount Allion
The conditions were tough in Charlottetown — you may remember the wind starring in the 2020 Island Games — but Saint Mary’s kept the ball down a bit more, moved it around, and waited for UPEI to make mistakes, which they did. Often.
I’d still like to see them work it around a bit more. Their second goal in that game was the pick of the weekend, off a nice bit of combination play. Sean Freeman had all three, plus another goal and an assist on Sunday, and has been terrific, earning AUS athlete of the week because he scored a hat-trick and AUS coaches know what that is even if Kyle Cordeiro and Jacob Spizzirri probably had better weekends.
They let UPEI back into it late, which was a little worrying, but they managed the last six or seven minutes well once it got interesting. I’ll put that on the conditions.
It’s been a very good start to the season from the Huskies. You have to get these points against the small schools, and it’s not as easy as St. FX make it looks. Saint Mary’s are right back there with them at the top of AUS.
Next: Just one game next weekend, hosting Memorial on Sunday. That one’s always a firecracker so get out to Husky Stadium if you can.
Cinematography of the Week
You gotta get the shot you need however you need it.
That’s the Mt. A social media guy, running down with the players after Lewis’s goal.
It’s good thinking, though. You don’t get that many opportunities for good celebration photos at Mt. A, so definitely worth a memory and let’s hope they get some good mileage out of it.
What I’m Watching This Week
I’m at a youth tournament all weekend so won’t be watching much AUS, at least not live, and I’ll probably forego the week three recap as well.
Plus, looks like there’s the usual mid-season hurricane on a charge up the AUS playoff race, so we’ll see how much of the weekend even gets played. I may try to get to the Wanderers game against Pacific if it’s not too rainy, but time’s going to be tight so not sure if there’ll be a liveblog for that even if I do make it.