Nicholas Osorio chases the ball against the Ryerson Rams. PHOTO by MARTIN BAZYL, COURTESY of THE VARSITY BLUES

As well as the Varsity Blues played in their opening weekend, it was clear that their fourth game against local rivals Ryerson Rams on September 2 would provide a sterner and more realistic gauge of the team’s chances of playoffs success this season. Based on the evidence offered that hot Sunday afternoon, the Blues must improve at all levels if they are to best last year’s Ontario University Athletics (OUA) quarterfinal exit.

Undoubtedly a harbinger for what was to come, Blues striker Jack Wadden was on the receiving end of a professional foul that forced the fourth-year player to be withdrawn in the 12th minute, with the game tied 1–1. Although the extent of Wadden’s injury was unknown, he didn’t return to the field — under OUA rules, players can be substituted back in — and he left the sidelines at halftime with a sling around his arm. Wadden’s pressing and positioning was sorely missed and, in his absence, the Blues largely failed to perform. This mirrored the team’s opening fixture against Trent Excalibur when, 4–1 up at halftime, Wadden was substituted off and the Blues performed noticeably worse. Even with top scorer Jae Jin Lee replacing him, the Blues failed to add to their solitary goal as Ryerson cruised to a fourth consecutive win.

Prior to Wadden’s injury, the Blues had burst to life following kickoff, in another parallel to the Trent game. Third-year striker Michael Matic, who retained his position in the starting lineup, replacing second-year defender Nicola Russo, lifted a shot over the goalkeeper in the 27th second to put the Blues in the lead. Matic, who had been wasteful with his chances in the Blues’ opening week, took his goal well and laid down a marker of his team’s intent.

The Rams would erase Matic’s early lead with Abdallah El-Chanti scoring from the spot after Blues keeper Stefan Dusciuc conceded a penalty in the eighth minute. The Blues added two shots on target after Wadden’s injury before falling behind in the 25th minute, courtesy of an Andrew Dias goal.

As the Blues searched for an equalizer, Ryerson were content to weather the storm and counter when possible. In the final minutes of the first half, Ryerson defender Nathaniel Tambakis was sent off after receiving two yellow cards in quick succession. Despite probing, the Blues were unable to take advantage of their numerical superiority, and the half ended 2–1.

Toronto continued to press in the second half, but an organized and resilient Ryerson restricted their forward movement greatly. In the 54th minute, fourth-year defender Kenny Lioutas swung a deep corner to the far post, but Lee could only strike the bar with his headed effort.

A minute later, a quick Ryerson counterattack forced isolated third-year defender and captain Nikola Stakic to commit a foul that, on another day, might have seen him receive worse than the yellow card the referee brandished. From 20 yards out, midfielder Arya Hemati placed his free kick in the upper left corner of the goal.

The rest of the half followed a similarly worrying pattern as the Blues repeatedly tried and failed to move the ball past Ryerson’s defense. As the half progressed, the Blues pushed further and further up, with Stakic moving into an advanced midfield position. Toronto’s fruitless forays forward only exposed them to numerous counterattacks, leaving Lioutas and midfielder-turned-centreback Gabriel Milo scrambling to react.

To compound the Blues’ misery, a number of wayward passes and cheap giveaways from second-year midfielder Anthony Sousa and Milo — both of whom had performed well in previous games — prevented any semblance of attacking rhythm. Too many times, the team played it wide to the right wing, only to launch blind, directionless crosses into the box.

Blues head coach Anthony Capotosto would have been disappointed with his team’s failure to make the most of their numerical advantage and the lack of composure they demonstrated throughout the match. If Wadden remains injured, they will need to find a way to be more ruthless in front of the goal and more capable of shoring up the midfield.

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