Everyone loves surprises!: Week three in AUS

This weekend occurs every season: blogger makes all kinds of early-season assumptions, bookmarks a bunch of matches that will prove those assumptions, maybe even writes half a post about it, loses badly when everything goes the opposite way.

Until roughly Sunday evening, I had Université de Moncton as a playoff bubble team. I had Acadia as a top team and they lost to UNB. I still kinda think Dalhousie aren’t going to make it past the quarter-finals but they just won two more games and are now clear into second place, so they might not have to play the quarter-final.

There were some predictable results, but not very interesting ones. St. FX kept winning, Cape Breton kept winning, Mount Allison still haven’t scored. This week, I’m spending a bit more time on the surprises, and trying to figure out where I went wrong.

Université de Moncton: L 0 – 2 @ Dal; L 2 – 4 v. UNB

My mistake with Moncton was putting too much stock into a nebulous sense that they’d had a tough schedule. They have, which is what made the match Sunday afternoon against UNB so important. A New Brunswick derby, at home–this was a game they could win, they’d not looked bad at times, and have the talent to upset a team or two.

What struck me as Moncton went behind sixteen minutes into their Sunday afternoon match against the Reds was how badly the Moncton system was working. This isn’t a team that looks like more than the sum of its parts, and it needs to because UdeM is a small, French-language school without the same access to the local talent pool.

What makes Les Aigles-Bleus distinct is that they keep two defensive midfielders very rigid in the centre of the park. This has the benefit of keeping their shape compact and shielding a back line that can’t really handle a full-on physical assault. They then leave Jean-Michel Dako and Simon-Pierre Brideau to combine in the middle while the wingers make runs inside.

For reasons I wrote about last week, this doesn’t always come off, but the real problem for Moncton is in transition. How often do those pacy wingers get free behind the opponent’s fullbacks? How often can Brideau post up and bring Dako into the game?

All this happens because Moncton are too slow moving the ball out of defense and through central midfield. The 4-2-3-1 is a hybrid formation, built around the attacking width of a 4-3-3 where you have wide wingers and fullbacks and the defensive structure of a 4-4-2 with a midfield pair who can pivot and support. Because it’s slightly more fluid by design, it means each player in the system has to link with others, own a role, and contribute to others.

Neither central midfielder for Moncton moves the ball particularly well. Both sit and shield the back line relatively, but when the “three” line attacks, it leaves too much space and too many players not involved in play. Against a team like Dalhousie that builds off good hold-up play, this means Moncton lose the posession battle. Against a team like UNB that presses and looks to convert quickly, Les Aigles-Bleu don’t have enough time. Their central mids can’t find their wide support or get the ball into Dako, they get turned over, and the shape never gets set.

Christian Masimengo was brilliant for Moncton, particularly in the first half against UNB, or it could have been over in half an hour. Moncton battled back before conceding a penalty, and never really got back into it en route to a 2 – 4 home loss. The worst part might be the way they did eventually concede: not so much as a result of the endless chances they gave up because they couldn’t move the ball, but off the corners and free kicks that resulted from second phases when Moncton couldn’t clear the ball.

Six games in, they’re without a point and their season is effectively over.

University of New Brunswick: W 2 – 0 v. Acadia; W 4 – 2 @ UdeM

It was exactly the opposite with UNB. I’d not been impressed with their lugubrious performances against a depleted Dalhousie team at home. They could easily have come out of this weekend winless and clinging to a playoff spot.

It’s not all fixed for UNB: they still concede chances out of nothing sometimes and they lack a real platform to build out of midfield. But a win against Acadia is a big surprise, and they were clearly the better team against Moncton. Now they get easier matches at home against Saint Mary’s and away to UPEI and if–if–they can execute better, they could solidify their position before things get too tight.

I still don’t like how easily they give up goals for what has, over the past couple of years, usually been a defensively stingy team. If they can find a way to cut out the mistakes–because a lot of the chances they concede are just mistakes–they’ll be a much tougher out.

Acadia: L 0 – 2 @ UNB; W 2 – 0 @ Mt. A

Last week, I thought Acadia were the best team in AUS, and potentially strong enough to bang an OUA or Canada West team around at nationals.

Now there are questions.

I couldn’t watch much of them this week due to a bad stream at UNB, and they ran out some second-string players (probably a smart and sporting move) against Mount Allison, so I won’t read into that too much. They’ve now played the Mounties twice–most other teams will as well by the end of the season.

They’ll make the playoffs, sure. The spine of their team is still excellent. I’m more worried about their mentality: almost every game, they’ve conceded an early goal. Even the 8 – 1 win against Mt. A on week 1, they conceded early in the second half. They gave up a goal four minutes in against SMU, and again against UNB this weekend. That’s a pattern.

Cape Breton: W 3 – 0 v. UPEI

This wasn’t a surprising result in any way, but it’s the first time I’ve seen Cape Breton dominate a team thoroughly, and it’s down to a couple tweaks in the way they played.

Cory Bent is a livewire at striker. He’s fun to watch one-on-one, but too often through the first four games, he was getting run down channels and into reasonably harmless cul-de-sacs. It gave his game a really individual look, which wasn’t really a fair reflection of what he could do on a technical level.

Against UPEI, he dropped deep off of Stuart Heath up top. Heath’s a physical powerhouse and he creates a lot of space with smart movement. Bent was able to find a lot of space to roam between the lines and it caused UPEI problems all night. If you go watch the video stream, the second goal is the best example of it all night: Bent drops back, applies some really good pressure on Mohammed Jaber, turns it over, and sets up Heath, who wins the decisive corner.

Bent’s not on the stat sheet at all. He’s not even credited with a shot. I still think he was CBU’s man of the match in the best match they’ve played all year.

St. FX: W 11 – 0 @ Mt. A; W 1 – 0 v. UPEI

It was a closer game on Sunday than my bit about UPEI might make it seem. Lewis Dye is still out and St. FX really miss the rookie at the back, particularly his calmness on the ball.

In a lot of ways, they did the same thing they had done against CBU last week, but succeeded this time. They waited out UPEI, and won a penalty off a scramble in the box after some nice play by Tane Caubo.

Once they hit their groove, I don’t know that there’s a better team in AUS at closing out, limiting chances while moving the ball around smartly to conserve energy and open up lanes.

Their match next week against Acadia is their second chance to do that against a top team. They largely flopped on the first opportunity last week, and because of that they’re in a position where they need the points to keep pace with Dalhousie and Cape Breton, or else they’re looking at another quarter-final in early November and we know how that can end.

UPEI: L 0 – 3 @ CBU; L 0 – 1 @ St. FX

This team can’t defend high balls and it’s going to cost them their season if they’re not careful.

They conceded early on Saturday–off a corner. They conceded a critical second goal in that game–off a corner. They give away a penalty. They gave away a penalty on Sunday, too.

These are not the kinds of goals winning teams give up. Sometimes, you get pulled apart by a strong attack. That can happen against CBU, even, but instead they give up three set-piece goals. Even the penalty kick came about as a result of a lost header by Cohen Reddick-Stevens on a one-on-one contest. So did the one Sunday.

Those kinds of goals hurt. They destroy momentum. They put a team out of a game when there was a chance for a draw.

UPEI aren’t a big team, so one can kind of understand struggling with corners, but they’re losing second balls because they don’t pick up runners or deflections well. Giving away penalties is just silly. Teams like UPEI can win when they play the patience game: play careful, don’t give anything away, maybe sneak a penalty themselves.

This was always going to be a tough weekend for the Panthers. Their next two games, against Moncton and UNB, are critical now.

Dalhousie: W 2 – 0 v. Moncton; W 1 – 0 v. Memorial

Ben Grondin still hasn’t given up a goal.

There’s not a lot more to say about Dal’s weekend. They got the job done, and I liked their fluidity against Moncton. They were less conservative, and Quinn Park finally got on the board, creating a nice goal from the right for Freddy Bekkers.

That’s been a bit lacking from Dal at times. Park loves to bomb forward–he plays as a wing-back but is listed on Dal’s roster as a forward, which isn’t wrong. He’s never been a huge producer, though, with just one career assist prior to Saturday. At times, he’s not been used enough to stretch the field. The Tigers mostly play for combinations between Rodriguez and Heenan, and for good reason, but they needed a second option and Park provided one.

As mentioned above, Dal now sit second on 14 points, which is enough to stop thinking about making the playoffs and start thinking about avoiding the quarter-final that bumped them last year.

They host Mt. A next week, which keeps the pressure on Acadia and Cape Breton to pick up points in tougher games.

Memorial: L 0 – 1 @ Saint Mary’s; L 0 – 1 @ Dal

Another narrow loss in a game dominated by their opponents.

I think this is what Memorial are this season. They’re not going to score much, and they’re not quite good enough defensively to hold off and eke out road points, which puts them in a tough spot.

They’re only three points out of sixth right now, but face a brutal next four games at home against CBU and then St. FX. Their 1-1-2 record is deceptive: their only goals, and their only win, has come against Mt. A and those two draws were both at home.

Saint Mary’s: W 1 – 0 v. Memorial

Results are results.

Tyler Dorey scored off a corner kick to beat MUN–did everyone score off a corner this weekend?–but largely dominated the game anyway, even if they could never quite capitalize through open play.

Like their opponents, SMU are a one-trick outfit–they’re just better at that one trick, which is exploding with pace down any and every channel, winning set pieces, and punishing teams.

There are parts of their game one could quibble with, and I’m reasonably sure Mesut Mert has quibbled at times this season. They keep getting results, though, right from the first weekend against Dal. Eight points through six weeks is… good enough.

They have a New Brunswick road trip next weekend, and play Mt. A twice in the next couple weeks. There are valuable points up for grabs there.

Mount Allison: L 0 – 11 v. St. FX; L 0 – 2 v. Acadia

I’m a bit surprised by the Acadia result, though as above, very few first-teamers played. I’m almost more surprised Mt. A didn’t push Acadia a little harder and score a goal. Their only goal this season came at Raymond Field in Wolfville and I wondered if their attack-without-much-defense strategy, even if it is enforced by their talent gaps, might cause Acadia some of the same problems Saint Mary’s caused them.

Nope.

Mount Allison didn’t manage a shot on target all weekend.

The less said about Saturday the better. They were 5 – 0 down just ten minutes into the game.

Relaxation of the week

UNB players collapsing on the ground after winning 4 – 2 against UdeM.

It wasn’t an especially close game, but it was an important one for the Reds and they ran themselves into the ground to get all six points on offer this weekend.

They’ve earned a rest before two more massive games next weekend. This season is short but it comes fast fast fast.

What I’ll be watching next weekend

Much like this weekend, next weekend has some critical match-ups for determining advantages in the playoff races. UNB host Saint Mary’s and then head to UPEI. If they’ve turned the corner, they could put some distance between themselves and the Panthers for that last playoff spot.

If Memorial are to stay in the hunt, they probably need at least a point off the Capers in St. John’s.

St. FX v. Acadia is likely the tastiest match of the weekend in terms of pure talent battling it out. Both teams need the points, too, not to make the playoffs but to get the quarter-final bye.

Whether St. FX fans will be up for an afternoon game after hosting the Huskies in football Saturday afternoon remains to be seen. My guess is: loud game that crowd wishes were quieter.

About Dylan Matthias 28 Articles
Captain of this motley crew. Formerly editor-in-chief at The Dalhousie Gazette, covering university soccer and Halifax news from a student perspective. Once a Vancouverite, always a Haligonian.

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