Rams look for first OUA soccer title this weekend
BURLINGTON, Ont. – It has been an impressive reign amidst the soccer elite for the York Lions men’s squad, and despite falling last year in the gold medal game, the host Lions will be looking to regain top spot at the 2017 Men’s Soccer Final Four this weekend amidst a loaded field.
Details surrounding the event can be found in the 2017 Men’s Soccer Final Four Fan Guide.
Continuing their impressive streak of success, the Lions finished this season atop the West Division for the 11th straight year, which has helped guide them to their eighth consecutive OUA Final Four appearance – a streak that has seen three gold, two silver, and two bronze medal finishes. If the Lions want to secure their fifth straight berth in the U SPORTS championships, they’ll be relying on the division’s leading scorer, Cristian Cavallini, along with decorated veterans Jonathan Lao and Daniel Gogarty.
Cavallini, who comes in as the reigning OUA West Rookie of the Year, suffered no sophomore slump in his second year with the club, but rather sat second in the OUA in scoring (15 goals in 12 games). Lao, a two-time West Division MVP and four-time OUA All-Star, had yet another strong season to follow up his OUA and U SPORTS Player of the Year campaign in 2016, and joins Cavallini in one of the most electrifying midfields university soccer has to offer. On the back end, meanwhile, Gogarty also enters the game with an All-Star nod under his belt – including All-Canadian honours last year – and is often referred to as the “unsung hero” by head coach Carmine Isacco.
This talented trio will lead York in the team’s first action of the weekend against the Ryerson Rams. Ryerson, like York, is no stranger to the Final Four, with this being their fifth straight appearance. Despite the team’s forfeited games this season, the Rams have been able to stay the course, overcome the adversity, and bounce back to compete for the OUA title once again.
While the team boasts many strengths, one of their biggest is in net, as fourth-year goalkeeper Praveen Ahilan is in the midst of one of his strongest seasons. The reigning OUA Male Athlete of the Week led the conference with nine regular season victories, including five cleansheets in the regular season and two more along the team’s playoff path thus far. One of his many shining moments, meanwhile, was his performance in the quarterfinal penalty kicks, wherein he stopped three of five shooters to secure the Rams’ victory over the Varsity Blues.
Battling up front for the Rams are the likes of fifth-year forward Nick Lambis, who led the team with nine goals on the season; two-time MVP Raheem Rose, who maintains an incredible skill to both find his teammates and find the back of the net; and sophomore midfielder Abdallah El-Chanti, who provides a sense of balance in the position en route to his seven goals on the campaign.
These standouts, along with the entire Rams squad, are looking forward to the challenge that York will provide in what should be a terrific semifinal fixture.
On the other side of the draw are the McMaster Marauders and Carleton Ravens, both of whom put up Final Four worthy campaigns of their own.
For the Marauders, this will be their third OUA Final Four in the past four seasons after falling in the quarterfinals last year. It will be McMaster’s first visit to York since the 2015 Final Four – where the team ultimately fell to the host school in the gold medal game – and they’ll be looking to do one better this time around.
McMaster has set themselves up to compete after a strong regular season record of 12-3-1, good for second spot in the OUA West (37 points). A big reason for this regular season success was the team’s top goal-scoring threat, striker Dusan Kovacevic. The second-year players potted 11 goals in 14 regular season appearances, and continued his opportunistic scoring touch in Mac’s quarterfinal victory over Guelph, scoring the game’s only goal in the 28th minute to provide the edge.
Standing tall in the midfield, meanwhile, is senior star Yunus Mollayev, who made 14 appearances (11 starts) after returning from the 2017 Summer Universiade in Taipei. He operates alongside Mac’s two primary play-drivers – wingers Carlo Difeo and Sasha Ricciuti – the latter serving as McMaster’s second-leading point getter in 2017 (seven goals and three assists).
The Marauders last met their semifinal opponent, Carleton Ravens, in 2012, when the two teams battled for the OUA Championship and again at the then CIS (now U SPORTS) fifth-place game. The 2017 edition of the Ravens squad, however, is much different, and is led in large part by a pair of first-year players. The combination of Gabriel Bitar and Stefan Karajovanovic, both rookies, accounted for 48 of the team’s 59 goals this season, which quickly answered a lot of the questions that surrounded the Ravens’ young core heading into the season.
These first-year strikers are just a couple examples of younger players finding their own in the starting lineup for the Ravens this season, as the major of the core group are in their first year. Joining the talented crew of youngsters, meanwhile, is a steadying presence in net, as third-year recruit Nick Jeffs, who previously played two seasons with the Louisville Cardinals (NCAA Division I), led the OUA with six shutout victories.
The team’s impressive chemistry and undeniable talent, two elements that led to their East Division leading 13-1-2 record, continued into the team’s quarterfinal matchup with the Ridgebacks last weekend, as the team put an exclamation point on their season to-date with a 7-0 win over UOIT.
Looking ahead to their semifinal match, however, it is setting up to be a much more closely-contested match as they battle for a spot in the finals.
The Ravens and Marauders will meet in Friday’s second semifinal (6:00pm) with the winner moving on to face either York or Ryerson, who will play their semifinal at 3:00pm on Friday. The Final Four will come to a close on Saturday, as the bronze medal game takes place at 1:00pm and the gold medal matchup – whose participants will both advance to the U SPORTS Championships next week in Kamloops, B.C. – will be played at 4:00pm.
Fans can catch the action from all four games live on OUA.tv.