The lonely end: AUS week 6

The playoff race is effectively over, and I’ve been sick all weekend after reffing too much. Welcome to fall soccer.

It wasn’t a wildly exciting weekend, but there were, as always, flashes of fun if you knew where to look. Cape Breton – St. FX had some great play and a few fireworks. UNB and Memorial also got feisty. The second half of Saint Mary’s – Moncton was some of the most intense soccer I’ve seen in AUS.

This tends to be a physical league where everyone plays hard to the end and a bunch of other clichés. I felt like this was the weekend Cape Breton finally broke that mold.

Instead of doing blurbs on a bunch of meaningless games for UPEI, Mt. Allison, and Moncton, I’m going to devote their blurbs to a bit of a look ahead to next year. (I’ll save the playoff previews for next week.)

Université de Moncton: W 2 – 1 @ SMU; W 3 – 0 v. MUN

Moncton played their best soccer of the season and it didn’t matter.

After weeks of looking distinctly lackadaisical, even borderline recreational, Les Aigles-Bleus traveled to Halifax and played for their playoff lives. They were brilliant at what’s left of Husky Stadium (RIP…) on Friday, keeping Saint Mary’s quiet through a cagey first half, then fighting back into the game after giving up a tough goal.

They did all this without Jean-Michel Dako, who was presumably injured but the team balance was so much better without him that you do wonder.

Then they hosted Memorial on Sunday and knocked them out with a three goal shutout, and Dako got himself a goal late. All is well again!

It still doesn’t matter because Saint Mary’s thumped Mt. A 11 – 2 and that meant despite Friday’s win, Moncton are pretty well out of games to make up the points. They left the rally far, far too late, and to be honest, their season has been effectively over since their heartbreaking 1 – 0 home loss to SMU on week three.

(They can still equal SMU on points, but would lose all the tie-breakers.)

This weekend also showed a lot of what might be n the future for Moncton: Simon Brideau was excellent against SMU, as was Gershome Mambo. Felly Elonda will at least be in the conversation for rookie of the year, and he’ll definitely be a first-team all-star. Departing will be Saad Mersadi. Dako might stick around for a fifth year, but should he? He had six goals, but he also doesn’t fit a system well, and what Moncton really needs is more fluidity.

If they can fit Dako into that, and maybe recruit a couple defenders, they could be a playoff team next year.

They’d also be well advised to spend some time meditating on the importance of starting strong.

Dalhousie: L 0 – 4 v. Acaida; W 2 – 0 v. UPEI

A lot of people are talking about the loss on Friday night, but I think Dal still got what they needed out of the weekend, even if they went about it in a very, very backwards way.

In the interests of avoiding accusations of bias (I used to cover Dal more particularly), the Friday loss was bad. Not just because Dal conceded more goals than they had all season. It was the way they went about it. Michael Trim started by heading the ball into his own net and it really went downhill from there. The Tigers never looked bothered about competing.

They also played right into Acadia’s hands, and that’s the longer-term concern. Dal love playing quick, direct passes with lots of flicks and one-touch play rather than flowing possession. This meant a lot of passes delivered straight to Ryan Parris, whose performance was overshadowed by a Gordie McLaughlin hat-trick while also underpinning everything Acadia did.

The response against UPEI was better, and more Dal-like: clean sheet, single goal early, manage the game and steal an insurance goal late.

The question now is which Tigers team is going to show up in the playoffs. The last couple weeks have been less than the resounding drive up the standings Dal fans might have expected was coming. They’re clinging onto the bye in second place,  but will need a win at Moncton to make sure of it. That bye is going to be critical given Dal’s ongoing issues with fitness and, occasionally, discipline. An extra game does them no favours.

Saint Mary’s: L 1 – 2 v. Moncton; W 11 – 2 v. Mt. A

This weekend was Saint Mary’s season in microcosm: they’re competitive, they’ve done well to get the points they should, but they’re the odd team out in the top six. No one is going to pick them to upset one of the bigger teams (even though they have given Acadia a good run this year).

They only have one weapon, but boy is it deadly. Alex Black is incredible to watch. An old-fashioned winger, all power and speed, with plenty of ability to cross and finish. The Huskies are getting better about getting on the end of his runs, too, with Adam Dunsworth getting his first AUS goal on Friday.

You still have to win your home games. They were unlucky not to get at least a point against Moncton, missing about five chances to put Moncton out in their final push in the last ten or so minutes.

They can’t manage games, though, and without Christian Oxner for the rest of the season they lose not just his saves but also his ability to control the ball and start counterattacks. SMU are a run-and-gun team, and that starts with Oxner. By no means has Jensen Brown been bad–though he won’t love either of the goals he conceded against Moncton–but he’s not quite as good with his feet and it affects SMU’s ability to dominate games.

Cape Breton: W 3 – 0 v. St. FX; W 6 – 1 @ Mt. A

The more spectacular scoreline is the Mt. A result, but the 3 – 0 win on Friday was everything Cape Breton are about.

They’re such a balanced team. How do you gameplan for the Capers? There’s no obvious weak point, they don’t rely too heavily on any one tactic. They’re patient enough to take a team apart in multiple ways, whether it’s movement from Corey Bent or crosses from Stuart Heath.

I don’t know if there’s a team, at least in AUS, that can handle them at home. They dominated possession and the tempo against St. FX, not just inverting the run of play from their 2 – 1 in Antigonish earlier in the season but improving on it, limiting St. FX to only occasional, aimless counterattacks.

Everything clicked. They look ready and ruthless. There’s not much more to say (though I’ll have a bit by way of preview next week).

Acadia: W 4 – 0 @ Dal; D 2 – 2 v. UPEI

I just don’t know with the Axemen.

The Friday night game against Dal looked like Acadia had finally figured themselves out. Whatever ailed this team since early September was gone. In particular, McLaughlin’s hat-trick got them some much-needed goals* and the clean-sheet might be even more valuable. They prevented Dal getting too much joy from wide areas, which is a part of the field Acadia have had trouble defending. All was good.

Then they gave up two quick goals at home against the Panthers, including another easy goal at the near post off a corner. What? Acadia are huge. UPEI are not. The second goal was even worse. They got back into it (very) late, but cost themselves two points.

That draw on Saturday means they missed their chance to leap over Dalhousie into the bye position, because the Tigers rebounded from their loss by not giving up two quick goals to the Panthers.

I put Acadia and St. FX in a similar spot, and there’s a good chance they’ll play each other in a couple weeks (Acadia have Cape Breton next week while UNB play Mt. A, so the Reds have the inside track on third). Both are good enough to be semi-finalists. I’m not really sure either of them is good enough to get beyond that.

Acadia have some pieces, but there’s no depth, no team, no balance through the line-up. There’s young talent, but the back line, particularly Visser and Laviolette on the right, is a mess, and they’ll lose the best d-mid in the league in Ryan Parris to graduation next year. There’s no clear #1 goalkeeper. It’s now or never for the Axemen. If they bring their best, I think they can compete with anyone.

They do compete, of course. They just drop results in critical games, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they go out in their next critical game, in the quarter-finals.

Memorial: L 0 – 6 @ UNB; L 0 – 3 @ Moncton

Memorial were the other team that, coming into the weekend, has a very slim chance of making the playoffs.

It was never going to happen. UNB have finally figured out how to score, and scored at will against the very young Seahawks. Fomba Fambouleh did them no favours, either, by getting sent off for punching Alex Garcia in the face.

Memorial are another team where it’s hard to figure whether they actually believe in themselves or not. I mean, they’re committed, for sure–this is a largely Newfoundland team, of course they’re committed. It’s more that I haven’t seen them, at any point this season, really come out and play with anyone (except Mt. Allison).

There’s talent. They could really do with taking some more risks. The talent will develop, and there’s more good talent coming up the pipeline on the Rock. They have to believe they can play with the better teams.

UNB: W 6 – 0 v. MUN

UNB were probably always underrated due to their tough start. This was, after all, an AUS finalist last year.

Because of that tough start, the Reds have a very easy run-in to the playoffs. Whether that’s good or bad, momentum-wise, is a bit of a coin-flip. It was an easy win this week and will likely be an easy win next week, too, against the Mounties.

Myles Pinsent did the right thing and got almost his entire team into the game against the Seahawks. There was some silliness in the game, so this helped avoid any needless cards. It also tests the depth before the big games. Personally, I like the approach. You get a bunch of players hungry for more minutes and working together for a chance to play more games.

Remember, this team went to nationals last year and were about five minutes away from taking this year’s hosts, UBC, to penalties. There’s some decent young talent in this UNB side. Tristan Nkoghe alone, who I’d probably rate as UNB’s best player, at least in attack, could make a difference. Look out for Adeniyi and Manhu, too, off the bench.

In many ways, if you’re a UNB fan, watch Dalhousie next week in Moncton. That match will determine whether UNB play the quarter-final or not–anything but a win by the Tigers and UNB go second with a win over Mount Allison.

UPEI: D 2 – 2 @ Acadia; L 0 – 2 @ Dal

UPEI left playoff contention last week, so this is all futures for them. The result against Acadia is the kind of thing I’ve always thought the Panthers were capable of, on their day. The loss against Dal is more reflective of their season as a whole: give up an early goal, stay in the game, but never find a goal.

The biggest offseason question mark is how coach Lewis Page will replace Sam Smiley. He’s been the heart and soul of this Panther’s team. They’re nothing like the best defensive team, so they desperately need to find some offense. I hate to say it, but I think a rebuild is coming here. That’s harsh for what’s already a young team, but the talent just isn’t there.

What I did like from their

How successful that rebuild is will tell us a lot about AUS as a league, especially as we move into the CanPL era. UPEI is a small, sports-mad school, but the Panthers aren’t winning anything in AUS any time soon unless they find a way to attract out-of-province talent.

One wonders whether UPEI would fit better on the ACAA circuit, along with Mt. Allison. But that raises the question: what does AUS need as a league? And what is its purpose in the broader soccer pyramid?

St. FX: L 0 – 3 @ CBU

This was an odd and worrying weekend for the X-Men. First, they play a Friday-only schedule, which is good in that it’s easier on the body before the trip to St. John’s next weekend, but odd in that there’s no second match to go on.

That’s the worrying part. This was, in many ways, a playoff preview. And the Capers dominated it, beginning to end. This was the pitch where X will look to avenge last year’s playoff exit to UNB. They had every reason to want to avenge a tough home loss to the Capers, too.

And they never got going. Cape Breton’s first goal was gorgeous, everything the Capers are capable of, as Budhoo beat Dossou and drove a low cross to find another of Bent’s superb runs. After that, X barely touched the ball. William Warren made a couple brave runs, but there was no support, no pressure.

At least Will Veniot didn’t cost them the game–his howler came after the X-Men were already 2 – 0 down, off yet another harmless throw-in that somehow turned into a goal from 30+ yards out.

In truth, this was always going to be a tough match for the X-Men, and it’s not the most important given they have two very winnable matches against Memorial next weekend. (While the Seahawks will be without Fambouleh, X will be without Dossou, who picked up a second yellow late in the Capers game.) They even have a very outside shot at second place if they were to grab six points.

It’s the same old errors, though, even with Lewis Dye back in the line-up. They are going nowhere in the playoffs giving up a couple goals every game on goalkeeping errors. And is it time to start wondering when Dan Hayfield is going to score again? He hasn’t got a goal in October, and neither do the X-Men. He last scored in the 4 – 2 comeback win against Acadia on Sept. 30th, off a penalty. He has nine goals this year, but four of those came against Mt. Allison and four more came from the penalty spot. His last goal from open play was Sept. 21st against the Mounties–he has no other goals from open play this year–the only non-penalty goal was a free kick.

That’s a problem going into the biggest games of the season.

Mount Allison: L 2 – 11 @ SMU; L 1 – 6 @ CBU

I did Mt. A’s future prospects a couple weeks ago, and got philosophical last week.

This week, they did me proud and scored, quadrupling their offensive output for the season with goals from Cody Krocynski, Everett Patterson, and a second from Hirokaza Hasegawa.

Progress!

It’s incremental, but it’s something. It’s unlikely they’ll get points this year (their last match is against UNB, probably the most in-form team not based in Sydney), but they now have a respectable goals tally.

Krocynski is a rookie. Patterson and Hasegawa are both third-years who can form a solid spine next year. They have a well-respected coach with loads of contacts going into his first real recruiting season at a school that’s beautiful and respected academically.

Bold prediction: they will get points next year.

Because of their youth, there’s actually a nice platform to build from. They need a stud centre-back to partner Krocynski–easier said than found, but that’s the keystone in this infrastructure project. They could use a couple midfielders who can put their foot on the ball. They could use one meaty striker to give them a target and some teeth while freeing up space for Hasegawa.

That’s one main piece for each line, which is actually less than some teams in AUS need (lookin’ your way, UPEI).

Look out next year.

Leadership of the week

Kallen Heenan, channeling Sunday League captains of old, having a good scream at an opponent he just fouled for diving, then getting yanked off while his team’s trailing 4 – 0 at home. This is the sort of thing legends are made from.

It was a smart move from Nearing because a second red of the season for Heenan–and he was very, very close, having picked up a yellow about a minute earlier–would have seen him suspended most of the playoffs.

I actually like Heenan’s passion and fire. It’s too often absent from AUS, which can occasionally be accused of being physical but too polite, and too Canadian. Heenan’s every bit the old English captain (he’s from Halifax, but close enough). At some point, though, somebody’s going to try and get under his skin because while Dal have the best strike partnership in AUS, both Heenan and Rodriguez can be hotheaded.

They’re going to be fantastic to watch in a couple weeks. If you’re in Sydney, go buy tickets.

What I’m watching next week:

Honestly, probably very little.

Acadia – Cape Breton on Friday will be, like this weekend’s Friday kick-off, the marquee match that probably won’t deliver. I’ll be more interested in whether Acadia can put up a better fight at home, where they’ve admittedly not been great, and/or whether Cape Breton figure out their weaknesses.

Dalhousie’s trip to Moncton will also be meaningful in terms of which team finishes second to get the bye. Dal are in pole position, but have a tougher game than UNB, who will have wrapped up Friday night against Mt. A.

Otherwise, it’s all about form heading into the playoffs. That, and avoiding injuries.

Oh, but the ACAA playoffs are on! Both the men’s and women’s events are hosted by MSVU, meaning the games are being played in Clayton Park at Mainland Common. These will be very fun events–the four teams involved typically hate each other, the games are close and well-matched, and there are some great players in this league (Sam Karklins used to play for King’s and did very well at the Halifax CanPL trials).

Streaming is a bit unclear, but check TV1 closer to. If not, Holland College are hosting CCAA nationals this year (Nov. 5 – 7), which is sure to be a good trip.

About Dylan Matthias 76 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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