On a bitterly cold and windy Sunday afternoon, the Varsity Blues men’s soccer team squared off against local rivals the Ryerson Rams at Varsity Stadium in the quarter-final round of the Ontario University Athletics Championships.
Both teams strode confidently onto the pitch at 3:15 sharp. After the national anthem blared through the stadium, the athletes finished their warm-up.
The Blues had a slow start but soon settled into the rhythm of their game. The play moved back and forth rapidly over the field, with the ball moving between players and teams extremely quickly. After this back-and-forth for the first 25 minutes, both sides began to take more serious intervals of possession.
Ryerson held the ball longer than the Blues for the first half, moving dynamically over the field. Their play was reliant on high, soaring kicks and power instead of smaller, more efficient passes. This pushed the Blues’ defensive line, forcing team co-captain Lukas MacNaughton to spread himself across the field, moving between lines and trouble spots. Both teams were very vocal, pushing back against perceived poor calls and inter-player aggression. Despite some movement from strikers Nirun Sivananthan and Jack Wadden and some chances on the part of the Rams, the first half remained scoreless.
As the sky gradually darkened, the second half began. Toronto struggled to get concrete shots on goal again, often getting mired in the midfield and losing possession before the 18-yard box. Both teams grew in frustration as the game continued scoreless, which showed in their interactions with one another and the officials. The referees were largely unwilling to award penalty calls, apparently wanting the game to play out on its own. This did not go over well with many of the particularly rowdy fans in the crowd.
As the second half drew to a close, both teams became increasingly frantic, driving toward the net with the familiar rabidity of the last few minutes of a tied game. This game was especially important — losing the quarter-final would mean the end of their season; winning would mean a chance at a gold medal down the line.
Unfortunately, neither team was able to capitalize on their limited chances, and the game was pushed to extra time: players were given a brief break, then they resumed play for another two 15-minute halves. Athletes were clearly beginning to tire but pushed through the pain to try — unsuccessfully — for a goal.
With a few last minute substitutions, the game drew to a close and penalty kicks began. Despite a strong showing, the Blues were ultimately defeated 1–0 (3–2) in the penalties. It was a defeat that ended a solid season for the Blues team, but fans can rest assured they’ll be ready to take it all the way next year.