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Saving the best for last

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While penalty kicks may not be the fairest way to win, you can’t doubt the drama they bring.

The entire Varsity Blues men’s soccer season hung in the balance on one shot. The Western Mustangs needed one goal to vanquish the top team in the Ontario University Athletics rankings but Blues goalkeeper Jon Smits was having none of it.

The Mississauga, Ont. native stared down the Mustang shooter, danced on his line, dove to his right and swatted the ball wide of the post. There was elation on the field and in the stands as Smits pumped his fist in triumph.

Midfielder Geoff Borgmann slotted one home and the Blues were one save away from the OUA final. It was up to Smits to guess correctly, and make the final save.

“I just looked at the guy’s eyes, read him the entire time, and tried to strip down his confidence,” said Smits.

Smits went right, the ball went right, and the celebration was on.

“What can you say about our keeper,” said forward Nordo Gooden. “He really showed up when we needed him most. He had me in tears—I’m not going to lie.”

With the hard-fought 3-2 win, the Blues moved into the OUA final against McMaster Marauders on Sunday afternoon where they eventually lost 1-0 on penalty kicks.

Toronto looked vastly different than the tentative team that played Laurentian last week. They played with purpose, confidence, and had the strut of the number-one ranked team in the country.

“I didn’t have to do much in terms of motivation,” said Toronto head coach Anthony Capotosto. “Mistakes are made by coaches arousing the players a little too much.”

Over a minute into the game, Nordo Gooden headed a corner just past the right post and three minutes later Alexander Raphael had a sure goal taken off the line by midfielder Ryan Avola.

“We were preparing all week to have a quick start,” said Borgmann. “Our game plan was to come out and pump some goals early.”

The Blues took a well-deserved 1-0 lead in the 18th minute when Gooden got his second of the postseason.

Borgmann took a one-touch pass and sprinted down the right side and centred the ball for Gooden, who tapped the ball by the left hand of Western goalie Andrew Murdoch.

The early Blues offensive surge left the Mustangs on the back foot as it took Western nearly 27 minutes to get their first chance on goal.

Western tied the game in the 28th minute. Michael Marcoccia gathered the ball, turned, and let a screamer go along the turf that beat a diving Smits. It was the fourth goal the Blues allowed in 11 games.

The Blues held an 8-1 shot advantage at the end of the opening 45 minutes.

Offensively, the Blues didn’t start the second half as crisp as the first. Their work rate and commitment was evident but they seemed plagued by nerves.

They moved the ball nicely from side to side, but the touch passes, there in the first half, were either too strong or inaccurate.

“It was a lot of jitters,” said Gooden. “We have a lot of rookies playing in the league who are not used to OUA soccer and they were nervous and it was showing out there.”

The Mustangs’ confidence grew. They pushed the envelope offensively but didn’t trouble Smits with anything of high quality.

Reminiscent of the first half, the Blues strung a series of passes that broke forward Gabe Gala through in the 38th minute. He went in alone on Murdoch but the keeper raced off his line and dove to knock the shot away.

Overtime was next.

Gooden scored his second of the game in the eighth minute of the first overtime session to give the Blues a 2-1 lead, but Michael Sawchuck tied the game with four minutes left in the second session, sending the game to a shootout.

With Borgmann’s goal and Smits’ save in the shootout, the Blues earned an automatic spot in the CIS men’s soccer championship.