The Université de Montreal Carabins and Pat Raimondo finally have the Sam Davidson trophy.
In a rematch of last year’s final, the Carabins flipped the result, beating Cape Breton 2 – 1 after extra time on a goal that went in, like all winning goals from great strikers, off Frédéric Lajoie-Gravelle’s backside.
He hadn’t, in fact, had the best of finals, but he was unquestionably the MVP of the tournament, scoring a hat trick in the quarter-final against UNB before adding a goal and an assist in a semi-final win over Trinity Western. Sunday was his final match with the Carabins as he’ll graduate this spring, and may not return to soccer at all according to Vancouver’s Away From the Numbers.
Cape Breton were always likely to return to the final after another undefeated season. Both finalists were far and away the best teams over the weekend, even if neither exactly coasted into the gold medal match.
The Capers were undone by injuries in the end, as is so often the case at USPORTs nationals, with three games in four days. Corey Bent was wobbly after a punch to the head in the quarter-final against UQAM Citadins. Stuart Heath limped through about 40 minutes of the final, then came off. Last year’s hero, Charlie Waters, wasn’t there at all after tearing knee ligaments in club soccer.
But Cape Breton were too often sloppy as well, giving up a goal 83 seconds into the final on a nifty but ultimately defensible ball from Omar Kreim that Guy-Frank Essomé Penda ran onto and finished. Even in their quarter-final win over UQAM, the Capers had started slowly, needing a late penalty to avoid the extra-time that so punished third-place Carleton.
The Ravens were many people’s darlings of the tournament, ousting host UBC in a 120-minute thriller before puttering to a stop by the highway against Cape Breton the next night. Gabriel Bitar did a lot to increase his stock in the CanPL draft, scoring twice against the run of play to stun the home crowd at Thunderbird Stadium and then again in the bronze medal win over Trinity Western.
Disappointing showing again for Lions, Thunderbirds
The York Lions, former two-time champions, again lost in the quarter-finals, again looked listless doing it, and again flamed out into sixth place, all despite having some all-star calibre talent mined from Toronto FC’s academy. Dylan Carreiro was absolutely invisible, and didn’t even play most of the consolation semi-final–a 1 – 0 win over UNB. Omar Marzouk tried and tried, but couldn’t finish, or even find all that much service. Only Cristian Cavallini, a fifth-year, looked like he cared, hauling his lifeless team to a frantic comeback from two down against the Spartans, only to miss his penalty by sending a panenka off the bar. It really summed up York’s approach to the weekend.
It was not, in general, a good showing for Canada’s MLS academy graduates, excepting Lajoie-Gravelle, who actually left the Impact system early. Ex-Whitecap Tommy Gardner’s only win was the worst challenge of the weekend, and an early exit. Caleb Clarke was obviously still injured and was out-muscled by Christopher Malekos when he did come on. Neither of UBC’s stars looked like the potential CanPL players they’ve been rumoured to be.
Atlantic showing about average
UNB got a tough draw, and finish tied for last with UBC. So it’s a half-full/half-empty situation. The loss of Tristan Nkoghe through suspension hurt them mightily against a Montreal side they were never likely to beat, and robbed watchers of a chance to watch a darkhorse draft pick. He was much better in the consolation semi-final against York, but by then it was too late.
Cape Breton carried the torch well, though, and their strong showing elevates the rest of AUS, in particular teams like St. FX and Dalhousie that were able to compete with the Capers through the AUS playoffs the week before, even if the hosts were always a step above. Their talent caught a lot of eager CanPL eyes, raising questions about how many of their UK players might want to play professionally in Canada. Though a great story for AUS, the Capers are a slightly less shining representation of local talent development.
Hosts better off the pitch than on
It was a passable weekend for USPORTs itself, too. The events went off without a hitch, the streams stayed up, and there were no major refereeing controversies. Some of the production around the event was a bit too try-hard, but it was at least present, which is an improvement over some previous national championships.
The supplied coverage from AFTN was excellent, though, almost-but-not-quite making up for the expensive webcasts. There’s still work to be done in making these events accessible, but university nationals remain one of the more fun, authentic soccer events in this country.
I wrote this as the sign-off on my last live-blog of the weekend, and I’m going to paste it here, too, because it’s important:
As always, this is a far more entertaining tournament than anyone gives it credit for. My hope is that, with the introduction of CanPL, fans start to discover the soccer that already exists in their cities, too. That’s very much the mission of this blog, and it’s why I decided to dust off the old liveblog and get back into covering university soccer, frustrations and all. It’s worth it because local soccer is worth it. By all means, go see a Wanderers match–or Pacific FC, or York 9. But go see a Saint Mary’s game, or Vikes game, or York. It’s cheap (often free), a huge amount of fun, and I can tell you from personal experience that it means the world to the players to have people come out to watch and talk about their game.
That’s soccer, in Canada, and it’s ours.