You can always tell the first weekend of a season by the number of drab, ultra-conservative draws on tap.
I think I saw a scoring chance in there somewhere. Maybe.
Okay, I’m being harsh. It’s opening weekend and most of this is down to chemistry. Club playoffs were less than a month ago and these teams haven’t been together for a while. Hoo boy, were there some mishit passes and was there a lot of sluggish build-up play.
In an eleven-game season, though, chemistry matters. The top team in AUS is almost always the team that starts strong and the winner is almost always the team that can build a quick run of form.
So Acadia are going to be champions, I guess.
Acadia: W 8 – 1 v. Mt. Allison; W 3 – 1 @ SMU
Findlay MacRae got a solid 75 minutes for most of his starters to build some understanding and it paid off with a brace for Spencer Buck in just over half an hour.
Joe Iatrou and Gordon MacLaughlin also put up pairs on Friday night in Wolfville and Acadia outshot Mt. A 21 – 1.
Beating Mt. A is not much to brag about, but they faced a sterner test on Sunday against a Saint Mary’s team that looked not half bad against Dal on Friday. Acadia went behind just two minutes in–they gave up goals on their first two shots faced this weekend–but dominated the rest of the game to win by a pair.
Maybe more importantly, they looked smooth and connected doing it, adjusting well to SMU’s counter-attack after getting burned early and building patiently into the final third to win the deciding penalty in the second half.
They host Moncton and Memorial next weekend and could easily be locked into the playoffs by the end of September.
Dalhousie: D 0 – 0 v. SMU; W 4 – 0 @ Mt. A
The #HFXDerby at Wanderer’s Ground turned out to be a bit of a stinker (though the women’s game was a firecracker–see below), with both teams doing more to nullify each other than actually attack.
Around 70 minutes it looked like both teams would take a draw. Nearing had Dalhousie sitting back a bit from the off, and Emilo Roche did some great work to shut down SMU’s counterattack until he went off injured.
And that’s going to be the concern out of this one for Dal. Last year, injuries disrupted all their early momentum and they went out in the AUS quarter-final. Three players went down Friday night, including Freddy Bekkers and Cullen Mullaly in midfield. The good news is all of them played Sunday. The bad news is they lost Kallen Heenan and Enrico Rodrigueze–both their starting strikers–to needless red cards, and Mullaly only played about 55 minutes and didn’t look at all right.
There was lots to like on Friday for Dal, even if Heenan and Rodriguez could never quite combine for a finish. They attacked selectively, but are a physical handful when they do come forward, and that was on display against Mt. Allison on Sunday with Rodriguez in particular having an excellent afternoon before getting sent off for kicking out after a foul.
As with Acadia, there’s not much to say about a win over Mt. A, but a road win’s a road win, though it’s worth noting two of the four goals came from the spot.
This team can make the playoffs–if they can stay healthy and smart.
Saint Mary’s: D 0 – 0 @ Dal; L 1 – 3 v. Acadia
SMU lost 3 – 0 to Dal in pre-season, so I doubt they’ll be too worried about a 0 – 0 on a bit of an odd night at Wanderer’s Grounds. Different atmosphere, different surface, and it felt like the occasion overshadowed the performance.
They might be worried about a 3 – 1 loss at home, though.
At no point this weekend have SMU quite clicked. Kwaku Korankye has looked solid in the middle and Romario Mullings has been lively going forward, but the execution hasn’t been there from Tyler Dorey, who missed a great chance to win it late on Friday and never got any service on Sunday afternoon.
If SMU get going, this is just the first weekend of the season. Acadia was always going to be a tougher opponent. What would worry me is that they’ve looked entirely dependent on the counter-attack through two games, so far they don’t force enough turnovers to threaten consistently, especially against teams like Dal and Acadia that sit deep and keep a defensive midfielder back (Ryan Paris was tremendous on Sunday, scoring Acadia’s first with just his second-ever goal in AUS).
The AUS season is short. Not a lot of time for tactical rethinks.
Cape Breton: D 1 – 1 v. UNB; ??? v. UdeM
I expected more intensity than there was in Saturday’s match between last year’s AUS finalists. Opening weekend struck again: CBU were probably the better team, particularly in the second half, but never found a way to consistently threaten and ended up dropping points at home in a winnable game.
On a weekend where a lot of the league’s best played each other, that’s not such a big deal. But any coach will tell you that habits matter.
It was a bit better on Sunday, but boy did Moncton give the defending national champions a scare, taking an early lead that was only rescued by some heroics from Stuart Heath.
I’ve liked what I’ve seen from second-year forward Corey Bent, and he was involved in the scoring, netting the go-ahead goal, then setting up Heath just after half-time. That the Capers then let Moncton back into it before nabbing a late insurance goal is the worrying part.
But early days, right?
University of New Brunswick: D 1 – 1 @ CBU; L 0 – 2 @ St. FX
I’m a big believer that when you’re on the road, it’s not so much that you don’t need to win as it is that you look at the performance as a whole and you look at the glass half-full.
I think UNB can do that, after opening weekend. They never broke down against the national champion Capers. They conceded off a Nick Ellingworth mistake and scored a late goal when Alex O’Brien finished off some lovely link-up play down the flank.
They were a bit less resilient at St. FX, giving up an early penalty and never quite getting themselves back in the game.
But UNB had perhaps the toughest opening weekend schedule of any team in AUS. They get an undermanned Dal team next weekend, though, and might get a chance to put up some big points in what could be a critical pair of matches.
Memorial: D 0 – 0 v. UPEI; D 0 – 0 v. UPEI
That same truism about road games applies to home games, and it counts double for MUN who have the strongest home advantage in the league due to the travel and cold.
So it’s a bit of a mystery to me when, ten minutes from time against a tiring UPEI team, they’re still sitting with a lone striker up to and holding guys back on corner kicks.
MUN don’t get another home game until the end of September, when they host Cape Breton twice. It’s tough to win in Newfoundland, but Cape Breton can do it. MUN took two of a possible six points at home, and have dropped four of eighteen possible home points this season. (The only other team they host? St. FX.)
A point on the road? Fine. At home, a point is two dropped. I get playing for the point, but the context has to matter.
More than any other team, Memorial needed a quick start. Playoffs are probably a long-shot for what is a very young team that lost some key players from last year. Still, you have to go out and try to win. MUN looked utterly devoid of ideas save for low-percentage crosses to a single target forward, and quite frankly, the delivery needed to be better.
Université de Moncton: L 0 – 2 @ St. FX; L 2 – 4 @ CBU
In fact, Moncton had the same slate as UNB, only they didn’t manage to eke a point out of Cape Breton (granted, there was a period there where it looked like they might).
They can count themselves somewhat unfortunate, and they have an easier schedule than their New Brunswick rivals for the rest of the month, so this is probably not a weekend to read too much into.
I still think it’s going to be a fight for Les Aigles-Bleu to make the playoffs. On the other hand, a lot will come down to whether they can take points off the SMU’s, Dal’s, and UPEI’s of the league, and they’re the only one of those teams hasn’t left attainable points on the table this weekend.
University of PEI: D 0 – 0 @ MUN; D 0 – 0 @ MUN
UPEI made the trek out to Newfoundland–that must be a fun frosh week–and came away with a creditable if not amazing pair of points.
At this point, it looks good. It’ll look less good if and when Dal and SMU beat Memorial in Halifax, and UPEI are unlucky to be the only bubble team that travels to St. John’s this year.
UPEI always look energetic and ambitious, and they’re always capable of sneaking into the playoffs and causing an upset because they make up for a smaller local talent pool by working their arses off in the press, creating turnovers in midfield.
It didn’t pay off with a goal this weekend. Like a lot of teams, there were a lot of passes just out of reach of the runner and a lot of mistimed combination play. I still thought they were unlucky not to nab a winner late on Sunday–Sean Hawco made a couple good saves for MUN
Next weekend will be telling for the Panthers: they get what should be easy points against Mt. Allison but also host the Capers. (Might be telling for the Capers, too, come to think of it. That game has UPEI upset written all over it.)
St. Francis Xavier: W 2 – 0 v. Moncton; W 2 – 0 v. UNB
St. FX were one of the teams I didn’t watch a whole lot of this weekend, in part because their quality of competition was fairly low. 2 – 0’s the least indicative scoreline in soccer: a good, manageable win, makes a manager happy, but deceptive in that you can score early and then wait out the opposition.
That’s what St. FX did in both games, getting an early goal from highly-rated rookie Lewis Dye twenty minutes in against Moncton and then winning a fortuitous penalty around the same time against UNB.
They’re now one of only two teams with six points, though, and they got 180 minutes of solid reps and good habits.
Mount Allison: L 1 – 8 @ Acadia; L 0 – 4 v. Dal
There’s really not much to say.
Mt. A are not a big sports school and have periodically flirted with dropping down to the college-size circuit–they’re in that uncomfortable grey zone between the two leagues.
Uncomfortable is getting shellacked for eight goals only to come home and give up four.
Their goal this year is to play spoiler and develop what is a very young team to be a playoff team next year or in 2020.
Game of the week:
Best game of the week wasn’t a men’s game–it was the women’s match on Friday night at Wanderer’s Ground. Saint Mary’s aren’t a great team, but they played with a lot of energy and spiciness for a fantastic first half in front of a thousand fans. That’s an incredible turnout for a women’s university game–for any university game–and they got their money’s worth.
Fidelia Morales drew a first half red card against Kate Fines, and the ensuing penalty put SMU right back in the game after conceding a soft opening goal. Two minutes later, Jensen Hudder scored a wonderful curling shot from 35 yards out–she practically scored from the bench–and yeah, Ashley Blank should have had it but it was a gorgeous strike.
Dal looked tactically comfortable, even with it being the first game of the year, and put on a clinic in how to manage a lead down a player in the second half.
The game had a bit of everything. Most importantly, it didn’t end 0 – 0.
I’ll be keeping an eye on UNB and Dal next week, not just for old time’s sake but because I think those teams could easily meet in a quarter-final, and both could use a solid weekend.
I also want to see how St. FX fare against Cape Breton at home and Saint Mary’s on the road. The first is the marquee match-up of the weekend.
Moment of the week
Heartwarming moment of the week goes to the Memorial men’s substitutes who came out for their half-time warm-ups and decided to have a kickabout with a bunch of ten-year-olds instead.
This is how you make soccer fans and have fun doing it.