Plenty of promise for Blues soccer early in the season

Men maintain stellar record, women win one, lose one in weekend action at home
Anne Crone chases the ball against the UOIT Ridgebacks.  SEYRAN MAMMADOV/COURTESY OF VARSITY BLUES
Anne Crone chases the ball against the UOIT Ridgebacks. SEYRAN MAMMADOV/COURTESY OF VARSITY BLUES

The Varsity Blues soccer program put in a solid performance over the weekend as they faced off against the Trent Excalibur and the UOIT Ridgebacks. The men’s squad outscored their two opponents 8–1 over the two-day homestand to improve to a 5–0–1 record, while the women’s team won one and lost one, falling to the undefeated division-leading Ridgebacks on Sunday.

The women’s Blues entered the weekend’s first match against Excalibur with a 2–2–0 season record after dropping two contests in Ottawa last weekend to the Ottawa Gee-Gees and Carleton Ravens. After a slow start against the Excalibur, the Blues gave up an early lead in the sixth minute. A physical first few minutes between the teams culminated in a penalty kick for Excalibur after veteran midfielder Kaitlyn Steffler was roughly taken down in the box. She made no mistake on the spot kick, beating Blues goalkeeper Vanna Staggolis to put the visitors ahead 1–0.

Steffler and veteran striker Haley Giles formed a dangerous tandem early on in the game, setting up a number of good chances and nearly putting Trent up 2–0 in the 11th minute after a searing shot by Giles sailed just over the crossbar. As halftime approached, the Blues pushed back and knotted the score at one apiece in the 39th minute. An arching shot by sophomore midfielder Maddie MacKay from just outside the box eluded Trent goalkeeper Mackaylen Bickle, glancing off the crossbar and into the net. The goal was initially credited to midfielder Nicki Parkes, who barreled in and tapped in the apparent rebound, but the initial ball by MacKay was later ruled to have passed the goal-line. Staggolis made a couple of huge stops for the Blues in the tight contest. She came out aggressively to neutralize a partial breakaway in the 50th minute by Trent striker Kaitlin Logan. Staggolis also made a sensational foot save on a breakaway in the 76th minute, when the ever-dangerous Giles took a through pass and raced in alone.

The game-winner came in the 59th minute from Toronto striker Natasha Klasios, who made her 2017 season debut after representing Canada at the FISU Summer Universiade in Taipei. The veteran forward took a perfectly placed ball by Parkes in the box and fired it past a diving Bickle to make it 2–1 for the Blues. A potential game-tying scenario materialized in the final minute, when a free kick was awarded to Steffler at the penalty box arc. Staggolis made the save and controlled the rebound in the ensuing fracas, protecting the lead and allowing the Blues to claim a 2–1 victory at the closing whistle.

The Blues men’s squad took to the pitch immediately afterward for a 3:15 pm kick-off against the men’s Trent Excalibur.

The Blues entered the weekend matchup with a 3–0–1 record after posting a thrilling victory on Sunday, September 3, when two late goals by third-year striker Jack Wadden and fifth-year striker Antonio Ajhert propelled the Blues past the visiting UOIT Ridgebacks. The Blues dominated ball possession from the opening kickoff. Trent keeper Mitchell Leclair had to be sharp early on, making a number of great stops on the attacking Toronto team. After a series of quality chances — including a killer shot by Blues defender Kenny Lioutas that cannoned off the crossbar — the Blues finally got the opening goal in the 34th minute. Wadden corralled a bouncing ball in close and roofed it past Leclair to take the first lead of the game. Not long after, the Blues nearly made it 2–0 after forward Russell Rodrigues made a perfect aerial cross to lunging midfielder Yousef Helmy, whose volley sailed just over the crossbar. The second goal came in the 45th minute on a Toronto free kick from outside the box, when a bouncing direct shot from midfielder Marko Mandekic found the far side of the Trent net to make it 2–0. In the 50th minute, the Blues continued to add to their lead. Lioutas showed great poise after taking a pass in the box, controlling and turning to fire the ball home. Not content to nurse their 3–0 lead for the rest of the match, the Blues kept up the attack. Wadden found midfielder Gabriel Milo in the box with a through pass, who made a few deft moves around the Trent defenders before placing a shot off the goalpost and in. Veteran Lukas MacNaughton made it 5–0, before Milo wrapped up the game at 6–0. The following Sunday, September 10, saw the women’s squad take on the undefeated UOIT Ridgebacks for the 1:00 pm game. Despite the Ridgebacks taking control in the early minutes and testing Toronto goalkeeper Staggolis repeatedly, the Blues struck first in the 11h minute. After a Toronto free kick, fifth-year defender Christine Mulligan gathered the ball and fired a hard shot toward the net, which was blocked by a UOIT defender. Mulligan’s second shot hit the mark, arcing up over goalkeeper Victoria Savage and in. Unperturbed, the Ridgebacks tied it up in the 30th minute. Third-year midfielder Mikaela Tierney beat Staggolis to a loose ball in the box and scored to knot the score at 1–1.

Klasios nearly restored the Toronto’s lead in the 39th minute after capitalizing on a missed clearance by a UOIT defender in the box. The star forward cut in toward the goal but fired the ball just over the net. UOIT came out firing in the second half, dominating possession and leaving the Toronto defenders scrambling in their defensive zone. Staggolis was forced to make a great diving save on a strike by UOIT forward Taijah Henderson. But Henderson would not be denied on the second opportunity a few minutes later: after a sequence of sustained attacks by UOIT, she took a high pass and scored in the 72nd minute to make it 2–1.

With the minutes winding down, the Blues found themselves chasing play as the Ridgebacks continued to dictate the pace with ‍expert ball movement. The home team’s hopes for a comeback goal were dashed when Ridgebacks striker Cassandra Sribny took a through ball on a rush, scoring on a breakaway in the 90th minute to make it a 3–1 final. With the loss, the women’s squad slid back into a middling 3–3–0 record, while the Ridgebacks added another win to their perfect record through five games.

After their 6–0 blowout of Trent Excalibur on Saturday, the Blues men’s team took to the pitch for their second game of the weekend with a sterling 4–0–1 record to face the visiting Ridgebacks men’s squad. The game began as a lively back-and-forth affair with the home team maintaining a slight edge in scoring chances. Ridgebacks keeper Nicholas Miller made two outstanding stops close to Blues strikers during a bombardment in the sixth minute to keep the match scoreless. The Blues kept up the pressure and had a few near misses as balls rolled just wide of the net during two goalmouth scrambles. At one point, a cannon of a shot from defender Koosha Nazemi sailed just over the crossbar. But it would be the Ridgebacks drawing first blood in a rare foray into the Blues’ defensive end. A hard bouncing strike by Erik Petrovic from the top of the box was deflected by a deft header from midfielder Noah Antenucci, putting the Ridgebacks ahead 1–0 in the 27th minute. Less than minutes later, the Blues evened the tally. Veteran striker Nirun Sivananthan took a superb through pass from Lioutas and calmly slid the ball past a diving Miller. The score was 1–1 at the halftime whistle.

UOIT began the second half with a goalkeeper substitution. Second-year ’keeper Vithuran Karvannathasan came in to mind the UOIT net, and he was tested early on. After Toronto was awarded a penalty kick in the 45th minute, he turned aside MacNaughton’s hard shot and swallowed up the rebound amid a swarm of Toronto attackers.The score remained deadlocked at one apiece until the 77th minute, when Lioutas scored for Toronto to make it 2–1. After collecting the rebound from a fantastic point-blank save, Lioutas fired the ball into the corner of the net as  Karvannathasan scrambled to recover. The strike would prove to be the game-winner as the tense and physical match drew to a close and Toronto exited the weekend series with a perfect record.

The Blues soccer squads are in action again next Saturday, September 16, when both the women’s and men’s teams will take on Trent Excalibur for a rematch in Peterborough.

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