COURTESY OF SEYRAN MAMMADOV/VARSITY BLUES

Eighty-eight minutes into this one-sided affair, Blues midfielder Nikola Stakic received the ball in acres of space on the halfway line, sauntered forward 15 yards, and nonchalantly dinged a perfectly weighted ball over a brittle Nipissing Lakers backline to unleash winger Jacob Doroszkiewicz.

By the time Doroszkiewicz caught up to the ball on the right flank, three of his Blues teammates populated the opposition box completely unmarked. Doroszkiewicz fizzed a cross first time across the face of the goal, allowing forward Matthew Roberts to poke the ball into the back of the net. There were four Lakers defenders in the box too, but by this stage in the game they had long forgotten the concept of defending. This was the final goal in a lopsided affair which the Blues won 6-0 to cruise their way to a quarterfinal berth.

Of course, the disparity in quality between the two sides was no surprise: the Blues had finished the regular Ontario University Athletics (OUA) East season in third place with 30 points, while the Lakers had finished in sixth with 16 points. The teams were drawn against each other here for the OUA playoffs, a preliminary round for the teams in third through sixth place to determine who plays the first- and second-ranked teams in the quarterfinals. Still, the Blues deserve credit for an inspired and ruthless 90-minute performance.

The Blues started the game on the front foot, moving the ball forward and forcing the Lakers into errors with a high forward press. Two minutes into the game, the Lakers gave the ball away from a throw-in, allowing the Blues to take control and switch play to the right flank. Weak clearance from a Lakers defender allowed midfielder Nicola Russo to intercept the ball and deliver it to Stakic.

The midfielder deftly pulled three opposition players out of position with his dart infield before delivering a defense-splitting ball onto the path of attacking midfielder Atchu Sivananthan, who slotted the ball into the net.

“Once we get the first goal we’re a difficult team to play against,” head coach Ilya Orlov said in a post-game interview. “I think that [goal] settled us down and also just enhanced our confidence.”

Indeed, the Blues’ confidence was on full display as they continued to torment their opposition with an effective press and a compact structure. The Lakers, meanwhile, continued to invite pressure with subpar passing and poor positioning. In the 14th minute, Lakers defender Cody Vaillancourt passed the ball straight to Blues midfielder Yousef Helmy on the edge of the box. Helmy, somehow completely unmarked despite there being seven Lakers defenders in the box, scored with a powerful shot into the far corner, bringing the score to 2–0.

Fourteen minutes later — and, remarkably, with eight Lakers defenders in the box — Nicholas Osorio received the ball from Helmy in the same position. He buried a shot into the near corner to increase the Blues’ lead to 3–0.

The second half started in similar fashion to the first as the Blues continued to bear down on the Lakers’ goal. Sivananthan, playing the number-10 role, combined exceptionally well with centre forward Artem Tesker throughout the game, weaving in between the Lakers’ inattentive defense. In the 48th minute, Sivananthan, receiving the ball 45 yards away from goal, embarked on a mesmerizing solo run that culminated in his second and the Blues’ fourth goal of the game.

The Blues’ next goal came courtesy of yet another defensive lapse from the Lakers as Jamal Brown passed the ball straight to Tesker in the 71st minute. The first-year forward found Russo, who squared the ball for Doroszkiewicz to claim the Blues’ fifth of the night.

First-year striker Roberts was brought on for Tesker two minutes later. The former Swansea City U18 player saw his first minutes on the field since his injury on September 1 in a game against the Gaels, and capped off a fine cameo performance with the team’s sixth goal.

The Blues will now face the Ryerson Rams in the OUA quarterfinals for the third year in a row.

“We’ll see tactical adjustments based on how they play but I think if we come out with this kind of energy and this kind of performance, we should be fine,” Orlov said. “It’s a Toronto derby so of course it’ll be a good one as always.”

While the Blues’ games against the Rams are often exciting affairs, their record against their Toronto rivals is poor. The Blues have lost six and drawn two of their past eight encounters. This season, the Blues drew 0–0 with the Rams at home and lost 2–1 away.

Progression beyond the quarterfinals for the first time since 2016 will be a tough task for the Blues, but this 6–0 victory certainly sends a strong message of intent.

Disclosure: Michael Teoh previously served as The Varsity’s Volume 138 Deputy Senior Copy Editor and Volume 139 Business Editor.

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