Like the Cape Breton Capers, things got a bit busy last week and I had to take a couple days off.
Don’t worry–we’re back now to go through it all. The good, the bad, and the very, very weird–September has been a very “AUS” month, and we’re not even halfway through the season yet.
(Week 2: W 2-1 @ Mount Allison; L 0-1 @ UPEI)
(Week 3: L 4-6 v. Moncton; L 0-5 v. Cape Breton)
Let’s start with Acadia, since their season is now effectively over after just three weeks. Gotta love an eight-week season!
Three points out of five games is not going to cut it, I’m afraid, especially when three of those five are against teams that aren’t likely to be playoff calibre. Not that Acadia look playoff calibre, either.
Even the win against Mount Allison had a distinct aroma of the fluke about it. I don’t know if the 2-1 scoreline flattered the Mounties exactly so much as it was a pretty wild, mistake-filled game all around. The three goals were split between penalties and goalkeeper howlers (and Acadia’s first was both!) and anyone could have won it at any point off a completely bonkers play.
The game this weekend with Moncton in Wolfville was equally crazy–les Aigles-Bleus put up five goals in 25 minutes in the middle of the second half. Neither team could defend at all, as the ten goal scoreline kind of suggesta. Acadia’s best defender so far this year has probably been Adrien Deveau, who’s only played about 150 minutes after being sent off twice in three games. The less said about the rest, the better.
It’s a little hard to figure out what this Axemen side is or even wants to be. Their best game so far is probably the 0-2 against what’s turned out to be a very good UNB side back in Week 1, wherein Acadia were down a man for most of the game. They got Oscar Marshall and Noah Schuurman into space out wide, though, and created a few dangerous moments without getting completely torn apart, either.
Their better spells against the Mounties and Moncton came in much the same way. This team has can look very sexy when running at players, and of the six goals they’ve scored this year, at least four have been some form of pretty.
Defending is not very sexy, but it does win games. The relative youth of AUS teams as well as a disparity in professionalism means some teams don’t commit to defending as much as they do attacking–attacking is fun! Between the turnovers building out of their own defensive third and Moncton running through four or five defenders in the box, I think I can guess where next year’s recruitment should focus.
Université de Moncton
(Week 2: L 0-1 v. UPEI; L 0-2 v. St. FX)
(Week 3: W 6-4 @ Acadia; D 2-2 @ Dal)
Every year, Moncton has a week like this where they show up and look like the French national team having an off-day for 48 hours or so. Often enough, they do it on the final weekend and it ends up mattering in a way French national team games on an off-day don’t.
One of the nicer things was to see some of the veteran guys getting healthy and getting on the scoreboard. 2018 hero Félix Robichaud did Dal in, scoring a quick second-half brace that left the Tigers a bit shocked. That’s les Aigles-Bleus at their best.
They still can’t defend. Like, at all. I can never quite tell if it’s a talent thing, a commitment thing, or maybe both. It’s sure entertaining, though! And boy, was the game against Acadia entertaining. Goals rained down.
The reason Moncton won was individual brilliance, first from Georges Musitu, who did the proper hat-trick and got one with his head, one with his left foot, and one with his right, and by goalkeeper Andre Leblanc. Shout-out to Malik Abu-Dieh, who is now officially Moncton’s back-up goalkeeper after clearing two straight balls off the line between two terrific saves by Leblanc.
Like I said, entertaining.
(Week 2: W 3-2 v. Dal; W 3-1 v. Memorial)
(Week 3: D 1-1 v. UPEI, W 4-0 v. Mount Allison)
A good way to make sure you make the playoffs–and make them properly, not the way Saint Mary’s got there in 2019–is to win the easy games, especially the games at home.
The Seahawks are less of an easy out this year, but they were still coming off a frenetic game less than 24 hours earlier, and while Emmanuel Dolo–and goalkeeper Jensen Brown–gave the Huskies an early scare, SMU out-waited Memorial and scored three quickly as the visitor’s tired, much as Dal didthe day before.
The win against the visiting Tigers in the derby was much more indicative of this year’s Saint Mary’s team, in that it was still a bit discombobulated and kind of out of control at times, but they got big contributions in big moments from key players like Sumit Malik, who looped home probably the goal of Week 2. That is how you make the playoffs comfortably.
This past weekend was more about doing the expected part well. You get a draw on the island off a weird goal, which is fine, and make sure you do the job against Mt. A. That leaves the Huskies on ten points, which is a good spot to be in at the end of September (it took 17 to make it in 2019). October is a bit tougher, but the Huskies have yet to have a bad performance in 2021, and if they do the job against UPEI at home and Moncton on the road (that’s the tricky one), they’ll scare someone heading into the playoffs.
(Week 2: L 2-1 v. Acadia)
(Week 3: L 0-5 v. UNB; L 0-4 v. SMU)
Every year, I try to talk myself into Mount Allison being a bit better this year, and every year they find new ways to let me down.
This weekend it was needless red cards, with Alex Ponikvar taking himself out of the game before it had even really started by kneeing Jensen Brown in the head on a dead ball.
Maybe it was already over. If Mt. A are to be competitive, it has to come from being tough at home, and conceding nine goals over two games at home is not that. At some point, if the program is going to develop, the Mounties need some of the players in it to develop. They’ll always work hard, and they even beat Moncton in pre-season, but unlike les Aigles-Bleus, they never seem to rally for that one big upset each year.
There’s not much else to analyze, I think. They will get a couple more goes at Moncton, which might be interesting for the sake of pride. Otherwise it’s a tough October ahead and probably another tough year for the Mounties.
(Week 2: W 2-0 @ Moncton; W 1-0 @ UNB)
(Week 3: W 3-1 v. Memorial)
The X-Men remain perfect, the only team to manage that thus far in 2021, thanks to their snatching a win out of Fredericton against a tired Reds group. Kyle Cordeiro, who’s been my rookie of the first month, scored a blast off a set play, and then X held on.
The UNB game was their first real tough one of the year, actually, and this team’s true mettle will be tested when they play Cape Breton, Saint Mary’s, and Dalhousie across the next five games. They won’t likely remain perfect, but if X can remain competitive, I’ll believe there’s some improvement from the 2019 group that went out rather easily at nationals.
Winning the games against the weaker teams is what teams that consistently go to and perform at national competitions do. The difference between an Acadia and a St. FX isn’t that great, but X go to Moncton and see the game out.
(Weel 2: L 2-3 @ SMU; W 3-1 v. Memorial)
(Week 3: D 2-2 v. Moncton)
I don’t think the Tigers have played a bad game yet this year, but they’re through half of their home games, are about to go on a five-game, three-week road trip1In AUS terms, anyway. Obviously they bus out to a game, usually spend a night, and then are back late Sunday for classes on Monday morning. It’s at least as grueling as any conventional road trip., and currently sit outside the playoff spots. It’s getting close to being a bit squeaky.
Against Memorial, I thought they’d broken out of the minor fugue state in which they started the season. It took about a half, and they gave away another penalty first to spot the Seahawks a lead, but they also adjusted really well, kept Emmanuel Dolo off the scoresheet, Ayoub al-Arabi was pulling the strings and scored a beauty (and added another this past weekend).
But you can’t draw Moncton at home. The math is not great: it took 17 points to sneak into the playoffs in 2019; Dal have four right now, and close out the season with what’s effectively a home-and-home against St. FX and Cape Breton.
They’ve not necessarily played any kind of stinker this year, and there’s some figuring out of things going on with a new group up to. Unhelpfully, Enrico Rodriguez is playing hurt again–he’s only managed 85 minutes across the past four games after taking a hard tackle against SMU. The scoring is more or less happening, albeit by committee.
The young group at the back–Alan Jazic has played a back three for most of this season–has struggled more. Both Robichaud’s goals featured multiple touches in the box. You can’t have that when you’ve got three centre-backs. It’s cruel, but those little mistakes are crippling this Tigers group.
They absolutely must pick up wins against UPEI and at Acadia. Every game from here on out is a playoff game, and maybe that’s what this young-ish team needs to figure out how to get through a quarter-final.
(Week 2: L 1-3 @ Dal; L 1-3 @ SMU)
(Week 3: D 0-0 @ Cape Breton; L 1-3 @ St. FX)
I set my expectations for Memorial very high heading into the game at Wickwire on Sept. 18. For the first 10 minutes or so, they didn’t disappoint: Emmanuel Dolo was electric to watch. Jacob Grant has added a level of hold-up play and finesse to his ruthless finishing. There is a lot to like about this team.
And, hey, they finished week three in a playoff spot, which is not something you’d expect to say about the Seahawks when they’ve only played one of their home weekends.
That draw against Cape Breton, too. That is like a win for Memorial, who manage to take something out of another flight down to Nova Scotia.
It feels harsh to consider Week 2 a bit disappointing, but it probably is for Jake Stanford’s team. In both Halifax games, they took a lead… and then got a bit tired, and that was when the shape came a bit unstuck… and then it’s 3-1. Again.
They scored first this past weekend against St. FX, too. Emmanuel Dolo is a really, really special player, and if he keeps this pace up should have CanPL draft interest, and if not, should absolutely be part of Wanderers’ U23 set-up if possible, because he needs to bring that finesse against top-tier talent.
As fun as the attack is, the losses in Halifax showed that the Seahawks are very fragile at the back this year, especially at fullback, and especially if you can isolate Harry Carter and make him turn. They play into turnovers too often, too–this is not a team that’s built for that or is ever going to be built for that. If they can get the old Newfoundland stinginess back while keeping Dolo, Grant, and Felly Elonda free in attack, that’ll turn the disappointing weekends into big successes.
(Elonda’s the tricky one, in that. When he’s slipping passes to Grant and Dolo, he’s superb–he never had that kind of attack in Moncton. He’s also the source of a lot of those turnovers, though, and none of those three guys does much defensively.)
(Week 2: W 2-1 v. Acadia)
(Week 3: D 1-1 v. SMU; L 1-2 @ UNB)
There are things we could talk about from UPEI’s three games, but then again, it was hard to see part of their Sept. 18 game against Acadia because the lights went out halfway through.
AUS really is the most CONCACAF university league. Hurricane? No problem!2One of my favourite stories of the year is that Memorial goalkeeper Sydney Walsh didn’t start her first game of the year because she was on a work placement with NL Power and they were a little busy. Lightning? Play on, I guess.
Let’s just stop there for a second, though, because there is absolutely no reason UPEI’s game against Acadia should have taken place. Lightning was flashing on the regular, and while it wasn’t actually a strike that knocked the lights out, it was in no way safe.
Here’s the Canadian Soccer Association on lightning:
Watch the skies for developing thunderstorms and listen for thunder.As soon as you hear thunder, quickly get to a safe location. If you can hear thunder, you are in danger of being hit by lightning. More people are struck before and after a thunderstorm than during one.
It’s a sensible, clear policy. People are killed every year by lightning, and soccer fields are among the most dangerous places to do due to being wide open with massive, tall light-stands often positioned near the player benches. It’s just not worth the risk, not when the consequences can be so high.
Look, I’m reluctant to cast blame. AUS is still local soccer, almost-but-not-quite amateur. I try to be understanding of that when I write these posts. We’re in a strange spot right now, too, where the presence of CanPL and the prospect of being drafted or getting a bit more media attention makes the games feel a bit bigger.
This is a good thing, and having been to UPEI, I know exactly how much they care about their local teams, and I firmly believe that the right kind of professional team in Charlottetown could absolutely work.
But AUS isn’t professional soccer. This is a league of mostly 18-to-23-year-olds, away from home for the first time, caught up in classes and the first team to which they’ve made a real commitment.
Every adult on that field on the 18th failed those kids. Professional games have delegates and weather radars and all kinds of tools available to them that AUS does not. When there is that much lightning, everybody needs to be off the field before the power goes out, no question. Athletic directors, event staff, referees–they all have a role to play in the good of the game and the safety of everyone involved.
(Week 2: L 2-4 @ UNB; W 3-0 @ Moncton)
(Week 3: D 0-0 v. Memorial; W 5-0 v. UPEI)
Believe it or not, UPEI didn’t even have the only game with lightning in Week 2, though at least people got off the field fairly promptly in Fredericton.
It’s difficult in AUS, because teams are traveling. So Cape Breton hung around and gamely finished off the last ten minutes of a game they weren’t getting back into. I’m not really sure why–games after 67 minutes can be considered completed in AUS, and Cape Breton had completed that game by about the fiftieth minute.
The Capers were run ragged, and Deano Morley was demonstrably trying different things in a game attempt to stop the bleeding against UNB. That more or less worked this past weekend, but the offense dried up–0-0 against Memorial is not what you expect from the Capers. Against playoff teams (of which Memorial is one, right now), the Capers are 1-1-1.
They’re beating the teams they should and will probably always beat. They have too much talent to be in any real danger of missing the playoffs, but I dunno how much I’d bet on them in November, even if they are hosting.
They don’t really look national calibre right now. One of the problems is the absence of Peter Schaale at the back. Euan Bauld is still Euan Bauld, but he’s never been super quick. Neither is Jose da Cunha, the 19-year-old CanPL prospect out of CD Estoril in Portugal, who still has a bit of learning to do physically and is having to help out Raine Lyn as well, who’s struggling on the left of a back three.
UNB just ran right through them. As easy as it is to blame the back-line–and they absolutely haven’t been great–the midfield is maybe the larger problem. It’s there that the Capers are noticeably younger, and noticeably missing Isaiah Johnston and, particularly, I think, Marcus Campanile.
Those guys aren’t coming back, so it’s on Carson Larabie and Cameron Kilbride to figure this out. Cairo Koore’s been lively at times in attack, and that’s not a group that should be struggling with a lack of bite, but that’s what it looks like a lot of the time.
There’s obvious talent. Charlie Waters is having maybe his best AUS season. But sometimes what happens with university programs is that they go through generations, and towards the end of one–or in the transition to another–you can get some years where the tail end of a very, very good team looks like a shadow of its former self. Maybe that’s any team, at any level, rebuilding.
That’s where Cape Breton are right now, I think.
(Week 2: W 4-2 v. Cape Breton; L 0-1 v. St. FX)
(Week 3: W 5-0 @ Mount Allison; W 2-1 v. UPEI)
The win against the Capers felt like it had been coming for years. UNB are always good at home (even if they were actually playing across the river at the Willie O’Ree complex), and have enough talent to surprise people, but this didn’t really feel like a surprise.
It came exactly the way all of their wins have been coming this year: Grant Takacs looks like a national-level goal poacher. Tom Pheulpin is quietly the best full-back in AUS. Keji Adeniyi hasn’t scored a lot, but he’s the wild-card up front who can pin back an attack. Matt Quigley looks comfortable being Ben Gorringe and Joe Hamilton is Joe Hamilton. It’s a veteran group doing what it should be doing.
It wasn’t a collapse by Cape Breton, either. UNB worked them around for most of the first half, stretching the Capers back line with direct play, sussing out that Tede Lisi and Anesti Pejo are vulnerable defensively at wing-back. Both Lyn and da Cunha want to move the ball out of the back and UNB were ready for that, turning them and Carson Larabie over on the regular, then burning them for pace.
Which means a lot of this goes to new head coach Barry Morrison, whose team is 5-1-0 having played by far the toughest schedule in AUS. They aren’t exactly back at home in October–more on that below–but have one foot in a semi-final bye, and might well expect more than that in a month’s time.
Odyssey of the Week
The turf at UNB’s usual home is borked, so they’re very much on the move through 2021, playing September’s home games at Fredericton’s main turf complex before hosting their other home games at the Saint John’s campus–an hour down the Trans Canada.
UNB Saint John has an ACAA team, actually, and hopefully some of the attendance bump around AUS this fall can rub off on the college circuit, too.
Even playing at Willie O’Ree is a bit of a trek. It’s about a five minute trudge to the dressing rooms. By the end of the game, they’d done this four times, thanks to lightning delays.
Maybe Barry Morrison can apply some of his toboggan expertise and figure out a way to shuttle guys over there once the weather gets colder. Playing two games in a weekend is bad enough.
It’s been a busy summer. I know some people have been wondering where the blog has been, and I appreciate everyone following along. There’s not a lot to it than just getting busy, and something had to give for a while.
I’ve missed the CanPL games, but at this point will have to catch up over the winter. I am vaguely following Wanderers but with the season mostly through, and Covid still kind of there, I figure I’ll hold off for now.
There will be AUS and USPORTs coverage this fall, though. Don’t exactly hold your breath for these recaps, but I am watching the games so there’s a decent chance of me writing about them, too. And I’m still planning to liveblog the playoffs and national tournament, plus provide my usual draft coverage.
Take care out there and stay well.