One of the nice things about the university season is it just comes thick and fast. Unlike the Canadian Premier League spring season, there aren’t a lot of midweek games. Instead, you get weekend back-to-backs. Pick your poison.
What it means is if a team flops a weekend–be it form, distraction, or just bad luck–the season can change overnight. Week three is the halfway point–most teams have played six of their twelve games. Surprises? UPEI are in the playoff picture. Saint Mary’s sit in the bye–but did their season just turn overnight? Memorial and Moncton passed up chances in critical games. Now the race is on.
Draws absolutely kill you in this league.
Saint Mary’s (L 2 – 4 v. Cape Breton; L 2 – 4 v. Dalhousie)
Saint Mary’s led AUS coming into the weekend and while this weekend was always going to be a gauntlet for them, but they needed a point somewhere to really lay claim to that second spot.
The performances were concerning, too. After a great start from Alex Black, he ran a bit cold this weekend, which is par for the course for him but a lot of the Huskies offense relies on his running. The back line is young, and looked it against two better (well, maybe–we’ll get to Dal in a minute) teams. Eight goals conceded in a weekend at home is Mt. A territory.
The frailties of last year’s centre-back pairing–Jonathan Wentzell and Cameron Zinn–resurfaced. Neither stayed particularly connected to their fullback and Cory Bent and Enrico Rodriguez ran rampant.
In pre-season, SMU fought the Huskies to a 4 – 3 loss on penalties, and the general read on that was it was a very good performance. Losing against Cape Breton happens; losing against Dal, at home, is something this team has to put right quickly, as a difficult early October looms.
Cape Breton (W 4 – 2 @ SMU; W 6 – 0 @ Acadia)
And I’d worried the Capers weren’t quite right this year.
I still wonder about Peter Schaale. He’s looked off, Wanderers fans. My guess is it’s a bit of fatigue–the grueling CanPL schedule followed by an equally grueling AUS schedule–but the Capers of last year, and the Schaale of last year, didn’t cop two easy goals, even on the road. One of them came off another defensive mishap, too.
Bent and Charlie Waters played more centrally this week, and the results were immediate–ten goals, and the duo were in on all of them on Friday night. There’s still a lot of movement up there, and that’s good–but it looked like the Capers’ attack had a focal point.
I wonder how much of that new-look attack is behind the defensive struggles, though. Cape Breton play a lot through Schaale and Campanile at the back, but Schaale needs diagonal passes and hold-up play to distribute, and neither Bent nor Waters provide that. They miss Joel Eckert-Ayensa’s pace on the wing, too. I see why Deano Morley put Bent and Waters out there, because both can receive the ball and beat a man. He’s also used Dan Williams a lot more this year. They’ve become a more transition-oriented team, which is okay, but they need to be a bit more solid in the middle to rely on that into November.
Memorial (L 0 – 3 @ UPEI; W 2 – 1 @ Mt. A)
This was a lost week for the Seahawks, and very nearly a disaster week after a strong start.
On the back of two winnable draws last week, they needed wins here, and didn’t get them. Travel is always a factor for Memorial, and flying in and out every week has its cost. They were thoroughly outplayed by a playoff rival in UPEI, and could have lost the Mt. A game but for a lucky non-call and a late winner.
There are still balance issues, particularly in midfield. Teams are beginning to key in that Erick Fernandez does a lot of the important work, and if he keeps picking up yellows at the rate he is, he won’t be doing that important work much longer.
Next week has to be six points or this team is done. Acadia in St. John’s should be doable, though if the Axemen are smart they’ll stay compact and try to snatch one with pace on the break–they’ve only been shut-out once this year, by Cape Breton.
After that, it’s the usual lengthy Thanksgiving break, then a trip to Northern Nova Scotia and a likely meaningless home weekend against Dalhousie.
It’s hard to see 11 points being enough this year. The Seahawks may have missed the playoffs on Saturday.
Dalhousie (D 3 – 3 @ Acadia; W 4 – 2 @ SMU)
Let’s talk about the Tigers.
There’s been turnover on this team1More than I thought…. so some struggles are to be expected. And they scored goals this week, which was a big part of the problem previously. (Obaid Hedayat was back, and this kid can play.)
The Friday result is a bit ugly, given Acadia’s trendline, but the Tigers have always struggled with the Axemen’s pace, and Gordie MacLaughlin yet again roasted their right side (it didn’t help that Quinn Park was hurt). The Tigers actually ran that game–we don’t have possession numbers in AUS but Dal had most of it and probably should have won for the chances they created.
They’re just inconsistent enough right now to be a bit tricky to place, and Pat Nearing’s men have yet to put together a six-point weekend. Creditable draw against Cape Breton? Home loss to St. FX. Iffy finishing in Wolfville? Ruthless at Huskies’ Stadium.
Enrico Rodriguez finally started scoring this weekend, and he’s a big part of that Dal attack. Calum Legge is still growing. Jeff Arkin’s been good. Fullback remains a rotating cast. If this team gets Alex Knesaurek back, I think they’ll be back where I thought they would be, but at the halfway point their in a fairly comfortable sixth.
UNB (D 3 – 3 v. St. FX)
Something’s wrong in Fredericton.
It’s a bit hard to say what, exactly, but UNB had only one game this weekend and got thoroughly dominated at home by the X-Men.
The Reds trailed in this game three separate times, and I suppose the fact they battled back shows character, so we can rule that out. The personnel are mostly the same. And but for another superhuman performance from Ben Gorringe, they’d have lost this game handily. They should have lost it handily anyway.
Gorringe should be in CanPL next year, no question. Tristan Nkoghe has two goals, but hasn’t been quite as consistently dangerous. For all the attacking players UNB have–and they have a lot–they aren’t creating a lot of chances, with just 36 shots, lowest in the league by some distance.
Neither are they exactly bleeding goals–just 1.2/game, better than all but the Capers. So what’s the problem?
A lot of what UNB did last year was about transition. I think they miss Alex O’Brien’s raw pace out wide. Otherwise, I wonder if they might be trying to possess just a little bit too much, and making a few too many passes rather than finding shots from anywhere as they did at times last year.
Maybe it’s just luck, too. The stats, such as we have, say they’ll get better. It has to be soon, though. Their October schedule is not all that nice.
St. FX (W 6 – 1 @ Mt. A; D 3 – 3 @ UNB)
The trip up the Trans Canada to Fredericton isn’t always easy, and four points is a good haul, especially given where this team was at the end of last year.
There was the usual helping of nice passing and build-up from X, but they were also willing to run directly at UNB’s back four and they put up chance after chance. They should have won, frankly.
Playing Dan Hayfield deeper means he can run forward in support, which he did for the third goal on Sunday, off a nice lay-off.
They’ll feel hard-done by the late penalty, and they lost Quincy Meh to injury, which is tricky given he’d been playing well. Tane Caubo scored, though, and getting contributions from strikers other than Dan Hayfield has helped the X-Men whether some defensive wobbles. They’re not quite as mistake-prone as last year, but they should really be letting UNB back into that game.
Ten points from five games is solid, but lost in that is that this team hasn’t had to face Cape Breton yet. Otherwise, they have a fairly easy second half, though, which means X should be back in the playoffs.
Mount Allison (L 1 – 6 v. St. FX; L 1 – 2 v. MUN)
Ever so close.
AUS actually had the wrong score up online for a while on Saturday night, so I watched through and was devastated when the Mounties gave up the late winner.
They deserved that point, too, not exactly out-playing the Seahawks but definitely creating chances. Xavier Tshimpangila had a great game and is emerging as yet another talented recruit. Joe Paliotti was excellent in midfield. Ziad Abdelrahman had four shots on target and deserved a goal.
They were missing Brogan Skinner, who’s probably their best defender, and that showed in some of the scrambles, which eventually led to the late penalty.
There’s shape to the team, too–a willingness to move the ball quickly in midfield and find pockets in attack. There are needs–a true target forward chief among them–but this team will get a point this year, I think, and that makes the league better. There are no more easy points, as Memorial found out.
UPEI (W 3 – 0 v. MUN; W 2 – 0 v. UdeM)
As easily as a season can fall apart, it can improve. In one weekend, UPEI went from fading fast to a solid fourth with nine points and a real shot at the playoffs.
Now, the strength of the opposition was relative. But the Panthers have to beat MUN and Moncton. That last playoff spot, maybe the last two even, are up for grabs this year. One of these three teams will make it, and so these results, even at home, are huge.
Even more impressive is that they managed to find five goals without opening up too much. I don’t know if that holds against the better teams in AUS–they still give up way too much space out wide–but Lewis Page has got the offense going. Mo Jaber has been the main source after a miserable 2018 campaign, playing well off Cohen Reddick-Stevens. For the first time in a while, Sam Smiley wasn’t even on the scoresheet.
Neither was Nathan Chow, but watching the Panthers, you can see his influence as a player capable of connecting back-field possession to attack. AUS doesn’t track pass completion or passes leading to shots, but every time he picked up the ball it went into the final third. Nobody else in PEI does that reliably.
Somehow, the Panthers still have to play Mount Allison twice (AUS basically considers the Panthers a New Brunswick team), which should mean they cross last year’s playoff points threshold, and assuming the execution they showed this weekend continues, they could get more. I don’t know that 15 points will quite cut it this year–there are a lot more teams taking points off each other at the top of the table.
It might be this weekend that mattered, in the end.
Moncton (L 0 – 2 @ UPEI)
Including pre-season, Moncton have gone 1-8-2 this year. They played a pile of preseason games, and lost most of them. They now have one win, against Mount Allison.
That just isn’t good enough to compete for the playoffs, and barring another miracle run late in the season, Les Aigles-Bleus simply won’t. They play away at St. FX and Cape Breton next weekend. It’s likely they’ll enter October with four points.
I didn’t watch a lot of Moncton this weekend, but when I have I actually like their approach more than I did last year. And last year’s success, such as it was, was pure luck: they clung to a win at Saint Mary’s, they blitzed Dal.
So far, that hasn’t happened and the weaknesses at the back persist (or have gotten worse). They also aren’t scoring, with only six goals. I don’t see the talent required to really shore up the problems at the back, and they’ve only given up seven goals anyway, though I’d bet on that increasing drastically next week. A team with Jean-Michel Dako should score more, but Félix Robichaud hasn’t recaptured that form he showed at the end of last year, at least not consistently.
It’s a long way up from the bottom right now (though Moncton do have games in hand).
Acadia (D 3 – 3 v. Dal; L 0 – 6 v. Cape Breton)
The only team lower than Moncton is Acadia, who have the same number of points (four) but have played one extra game.
They’ll take some heart from their gutsy performance against Dal. Nic Jeffries was solid and Gordie MacLaughlin loves playing the Tigers. They were badly out-possessed and could easily have conceded more, but they fought for a point and that’s something, this year.
Then Cape Breton came to town and blew them away, which is probably a fairer evaluation of their talent level relative to the national-level program they want to build.
Substituted player of the week
The Laws of the Game classify players three ways: players, substitutes, and substituted players.
Because AUS allows substituted players to re-enter, the third category doesn’t really exist here. Except for one moment on Sunday when Nyle MacLeod was substituted and his replacement, Manolhas Karkada, scored with his first touch after coming on, allowing MacLeod to go full Rocky before he’d even sat down.
For ten seconds there, I’d say he was a substituted player.
What I’m watching next week
I have the play-by-play call for Dal – UNB, so feel free to chirp me on Twitter (except that I don’t have a phone during the game, so won’t see it live).
That should be a good game, since if UNB are for real this year they have to start picking up points in the hard-to-play games, the way they often did last year. And their best performance has actually come on the road, 4 – 1 at St. FX, so maybe being away will help them.
I’d like to see Moncton, too. I was down on them above, but they have eight games left and gave Cape Breton a real run in Sydney last year. If the Capers are really gaining steam, that’ll be another blowout. If they have trouble with it, though, it’s a ray of hope for Les Aigles-Bleus and a real warning that the Capers have issues heading into nationals.