SMU get smooshed; UPEI go under: AUS week 4

A true newsman always focuses on the negative. Indeed, that’s why I’ve always loved soccer reporting: opportunities missed, calamitous mistakes, Canadian national team games in Honduras–this sport provides it all.

So let’s start at the bottom and work our way up, shall we?

Mount Allison: L 0 – 6 @ Dal; L 0 – 4 v. SMU

I usually hide the Mounties away at the bottom, but this week they lead the way.

Is a 4 – 0 loss kind of like a win for Mt. A? At this point, I think a second goal this season would be a victory worth celebrating. It may well be that Hasegawa’s goal way back on Sept. 7th may be all they get, as they again failed to generate a single shot on target all weekend. The Mounties have now gone 270 minutes without one, and only made managed more than one twice this season.

That actually marks something of a shift: this was a team that, when I’ve watched them, basically can’t defend at this level. They have some pace and trickery up top, but are so porous at the back that they can’t establish any field position whatsoever. If you never have the ball in this game, it’s hard to score, and if you can’t keep your shape defensively, you’ll never have the ball.

Has George Jenkins shifted to play a little more defensively? I admit I haven’t watched a lot of Mt. A recently–there are only so many hours in a day and their games aren’t overly meaningful in league-wide terms. If they are focusing on battening down a bit, I think that’s actual, real progress for Mt. A.

It’s easy to miss that Jenkins is one of the most experienced coaches to work in this league, even though he’s just joined Mt. A. His job is to build, and this is still a young team. If this year is about developing a defensive plan and identifying a couple players who might be longer-term pieces, that’s the biggest win Mt. A can get.

Université de Moncton: W 2 – 0 @ UPEI

It was a big weekend for Moncton, really, but it’s hard not to think this is too little, too late. The lost points against SMU and UNB are going to hurt.

A 2 – 0 win in UPEI is a pretty good result, and it’s a result that hurt a playoff rival a lot. It looked like Les Aigles-Bleus had figured out some of the problems I wrote about last week, particularly their tendency to run into attacking cul-de-sacs.

I took a lot of notes during their Saturday match against the Panthers, much of it a third chapter in the weekly obituary I’ve been writing about their season. Then they spun me around again! Felly Elonda finally scored! They got a team goal from off-the-ball movement on a corner kick!

The game, and Moncton’s season as a whole, was a great illustration of one of the truisms of AUS. It’s hard to remember that this is a league of student-athletes, and that can have a few different effects as teams approach their roles in the university a bit differently.

Some take a developmental focus, filling a small part of a very large void in Canada’s soccer landscape. UPEI tend to be this kind of team, as are Dal, UNB, and Acadia–the difference in level tends to reflect the local talent pool. There are other teams compete with a very professional mindset, and recruit heavily (St. FX, Cape Breton, Dal’s women’s team). And there are a couple that are effectively recreational outfits for a subset of the student body.

That’s not to take anything away from Moncton, who oscillate between that last group and occasional flirtation with the professionals. These are all talented players, and they all commit, show up, and work hard for each other. It’s more about what the exercise is about, at its deepest level? You can see it in the way Moncton play–not their tactics so much as the individual decision-making. Passes aren’t made with a lot of synchronicity, a lot of runs off-the-ball just don’t happen. You can see it when a full-back gets isolated against a tricky winger and nobody comes across to support him. You can see it when Dako or Elonda try a shot from 35 yards that’s never going anywhere. It’s hardly just Moncton. All university teams do this to some extent, playing more like a men’s team than a cohesive, coached unit that trains for a living. Most of these athletes are training for a career–in science, informatics, kinesiology.

It’s not really on the coaches. It’s not that the players are just happy to be there. It’s not just that the season is short and the schedule a little crazy. “The premier student-athlete experience!” shouts the new AUS marketing slogan, and I’m sure it’s a good recruiting tool but I’m not sure, if you put it to, say, SMU or St. FX, that those players would call what they’re doing an “experience”. Different teams see themselves differently.

And yeah, that was an attempt to re-use some of my notes. This is the news business. All about efficiency.

UPEI: L 0 – 2 v. Moncton; L 1 – 5 v. UNB

This weekend was a disaster for UPEI.

It started in training, when Sam Smiley rolled his ankle, missing the match against Moncton. UPEI had their moments on Saturday but missed Smiley’s ability to pull play to him up front and never really got near to goal. A better second half from Moncton cost the Panthers three points that were on the table.

Sunday’s match against UNB looked like a team that knew it was in trouble. Or maybe a team that didn’t really believe it had ever been in the hunt, because UPEI looked listless all afternoon.

Too many of the goals this team’s conceded this year are preventable. Too many of them come from effectively the same play, too: wide run not well tracked or cleared, a cross not dealt with, and a second ball not won. By the hour-mark against UNB they were 4 – 0 down, and it could have been six or seven.

For a team that doesn’t really score as such, that can’t happen. Credit to Lewis Page for changing formation to get some more players up front, but it didn’t really work. At some point, strikers gotta score, or the gamble’ll leave the back door way too open.

Memorial: L 0 – 2 v. CBU; D 0 – 0 v. CBU

Those opening weekend draws against UPEI hurt now, eh? (To be fair, they probably hurt UPEI just as much.)

A point against Cape Breton on Sunday is a big get for the Seahawks. They match up well against the Capers with their size and physicality. I don’t know how this team plans to score and they don’t seem to either, but they do what the previous three teams in this write-up haven’t been able to do: buckle up at the back and grind out the odd result.

There is a very, very tiny sliver of light on the playoff path for MUN. They have an odd schedule (MUN always has an odd schedule) with three weeks off now, then two critical road games against UNB and Moncton. Win those and there’s a… chance. Just.

Saint Mary’s: L 0 – 6 @ UNB; W 4 – 0 @ Mt. A

This was also a disaster of a weekend for SMU, thus the headline treatment. Yeah, they get three points from Mt. A–everybody gets those, so they don’t really matter. On a points-per-competitive-game table, this is a big drop. That scoreline is not a typo. Whoo.

The Huskies simply did not show up in Fredericton. Beginning to end, they were outplayed. Has Christian Oxner ever conceded six before? He looked flabbergasted by the end. It hasn’t been his best season, to be honest, but there wasn’t a lot he could do.

My read of this is that Cameron Zinn is a talented rookie but all rookies are inconsistent and this was Zinn’s “off” game. Nobody on that back line tracked runs. UNB’s thing is to run into one-on-one battles and play in supporting runs, which means you have to defend in twos. This is not something we do a great job of teaching young soccer players, and Ziin and Jonathan Wentzell struggled all afternoon.

The bigger worry was the midfield. Contrast UNB’s flaccid performance against an undermanned Dal side: Dal dominated the midfield, limiting not all of UNB’s chances but keeping them to one-offs. Fewer rebounds, fewer 3v2s. Kwaku Korankye struggled to apply pressure without Romario Mullings, who was suspended. Cian Tousignant-Osaidhail is a great playmaker, but he doesn’t necessarily dictate the game, nor is he that physical and UNB got in and around SMU again and again. Ben Gorringe was immense in the centre of the park and Tristan Nkoghe exploited every bit of space he was given with a goal and an assist.

UNB: W 6 – 0 v. SMU; W 5 – 1 @ UPEI

Eleven goals in two days for a UNB team that had only scored seven in their preceding six games.

It wasn’t so much that anything changed as that their finishing improved. Luck plays a big role in AUS’ short season, and UNB couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn through the first three weeks.

I really, really liked what Nkoghe brought, as I mentioned above. He’s shown signs each game of what he can do, but early on could never quite seem to put it all together. A final ball would be lacking, or he’d scuff the finish. He’s one of the best pure wingers I’ve seen this season, pacy and powerful with great instincts about where and when to attack space.

UNB had to rethink their entire attack after losing key players last year. It’s taken Matt Quigley and company a bit of time to learn each others’ preferences.

Acadia: L 2 – 4 @ St. FX

Probably better not to ask Findlay MacRae about how this game went.

There’s honestly not a lot to say. It’s like that sometimes with marquee match-ups, the “clasicos” where the rivalry takes over the game a bit. Better just to watch this one back on AUStv and see for yourself.

I’d be surprised if you come away not thinking Acadia were a bit unfortunate, winning the first half only to go down to ten men after a half-time scuffle.

There is an author to some of that bad luck, though, and while Acadia might point to the referee I think their tactics, in the second half, caused more problems than they solved. To be clear: I totally get why they sat so deep, up a goal in Antigonish against a solid St. FX side.

But it didn’t actually work. For ten minutes, they were hemmed in and only wonderful goalkeeping from Andrew Nutt saved them. Inevitably, the equalizer went in–it was a weird one, a bouncing ball from Josh Read that Zach Visser misread, possibly because it was never meant to get to him in the first place. These kinds of things happen when you’re defending three inches from your own goal-line.

For the rest of the game, St. FX dominated. Lewis Dye, who marked his return by screeching the winning goal into the top corner from all of thirty yards, was regularly operating well inside the Acadia half as the deepest man in a back three. Ryan Parris was playing as a sweeper, taking up space in front of Nutt rather than using his reach and strength to disrupt X-Men build-ups. You could see each and every goal coming.

Like I said, I totally get why the played that way and I don’t think this is a loss that Acadia, annoyed as they’ll be by it, will need to worry about too much, but they have now lost two in a row and have a difficult post-Thanksgiving schedule.

St. FX: W 4 – 2 v. Acadia

The biggest plus for the X-Men was the return of Lewis Dye, the rookie centre-half-turned-striker who is rapidly becoming one of the best players in AUS.

X’s dip in form without him was noticeable, as they couldn’t move the ball effectively out of the back. They struggled all through the first half against Acadia with the same thing because neither Josh Read nor Joe Edgerton are great passers (though Read picked up a nice accidental-assist). Dye came on at half-time, Graham Kennedy shifted to a back three, and that was the game.

Dye gives them flexibility and he lets Liam Elbourne receive the ball in better midfield positions. He lets Serge Dossou and Blake Fenton/Nick Aquino have more freedom out wide.

I remain a bit perplexed by St. FX’s goalkeeping situation, and I have to wonder if the X-Men do, too. Neither Will Veniot nor Seamus MacDonald have been good enough, and neither seems to have Kennedy’s confidence right now. MacDonald got caught out badly on Acadia’s second goal which, wait for it, came from a throw-in. Veniot may be able to relate. One of them needs to solidify that spot before playoff season.

Dalhousie: W 6 – 0 v. Mt. A

This was effectively a weekend off for the Tigers.

You know what I liked, though? Neither Kallen Heenan nor Enrico Rodriguez picked up needless cards against the Mounties this time.

Heenan had two goals, and Daniel Pacheco got some more minutes and made good use of them, adding another. Freddy Bekkers scored again.

All of a sudden, Dal look like they have what they didn’t have last year, that being depth.

Cape Breton: W 2 – 0 @ MUN; D 0 – 0 @ MUN

The draw on Sunday is a bit more significant than it looks, since it could knock the Capers out of exclusive possession of first place. They play Dal in two weeks, after the Thanksgiving break, and that match could be one of the better ones of the season.

There have now been two or three games where this Capers side hasn’t quite clicked, particularly offensively. They were never in any real danger of losing against Memorial, but neither did they create consistent chances. Even their big statement win against St. FX was a game of half-chances. Cape Breton are very good at winning those games–as York U–but they didn’t win one of them this weekend and now there’s that little seed of doubt. I bet Dal see that.

The Capers play a lot of their final games at home, and should take top spot going into the playoffs, but they play some tricky teams: Dal, St. FX, and Acadia all travel to Sydney.

Pedagogy of the week

St. FX students attempting the Guiness World Record for the most high-fives with a mascot about thirty-five seconds after a brawl broke out on-field between St. FX and Acadia. This could only happen at X, you see. My guess is there could have been a card or two more handed out–some of those attemptees looked ill-equipped for the task, though no one passed out. I understand they did indeed succeed, and such an accomplishment will be immortalized forever no matter what X football manages to achieve this year (they lost to SMU on Saturday). Props to mayor Laurie Boucher and the St. FX chaplain for lending their professionalism and stateliness to such an educational event.

What I’m watching next week

Turkey.

AUS breaks for Thanksgiving and returns Oct. 12. There’s football (not this kind), if you like that. I don’t. I don’t even like turkey, actually. I do like the annual Turkey Bowl between King’s and the Mount at Mainland Commons (this kind of football), but they’re playing it on Wednesday Oct. 3 this year, because students.

About Dylan Matthias 43 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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