Blues break losing streak against Rams in quarterfinal matchup

Men’s soccer team win 3–1 against rivals, courtesy of Tesker, Stakic, Russo

Blues break losing streak against Rams in quarterfinal matchup

For the Varsity Blues men’s soccer team, the old proverb ‘third time’s the charm’ rings true. Courtesy of excellent goals from Artem Tesker, Nikola Stakic, and Nicola Russo, the Blues claimed an impressive Ontario University Athletics (OUA) quarterfinal victory against the Ryerson Rams on Sunday evening. The victory comes after having suffered the ignominy of being dumped out by the Rams at the OUA quarterfinal stage in both 2017 and 2018. 

Beyond that, the win also marks the end of the Blues’ three-year winless streak against their Toronto rivals, as their previous win against the Rams came 1,085 days prior to this one. Yousef Helmy, Kenny Lioutas, and Stakic are the only remaining players from that team.

The former two are in their final year of eligibility, meaning that this game could have been their last with the team. Fortunately for them, however, this win means that the Blues will live to fight another round, against the York Lions on November 1.

In truth, the 3–1 scoreline flattered the Rams, who looked lethargic and insipid throughout much of the match. In contrast, the Blues started on the front foot, playing with courage and showing a clear commitment to head coach Ilya Orlov’s tactical plan. This plan consisted of a structured press when defending, was quick to transition, and played wide when attacking. 

The majority of the opening 20 minutes was spent in the Rams’ half, with the Blues pinging the ball around effectively and breaking down the Rams’ attacks before they could develop. Tesker and Atchu Sivananthan again played as the Blues’ forward two. They linked up well, reading each other’s runs and effectively drawing defenders away from one another.

It is perhaps no surprise then that the two of them were involved in opening the scoring in the 27th minute. Receiving the ball near the halfway line, Sivananthan drove forward at the Rams’ defenders, who were unable to cope with his direct running and dribbling.

As he progressed toward the Rams’ goal, he unleashed a powerful shot that the keeper could only parry into an onrushing Tesker’s path on the right side of goal. Tesker then slammed a shot into the top left corner of the net to make the score 1–0.

The goal seemed to awaken the Rams, who began to press forward for the equalizer, and almost found it in the 35th minute. A corner kick was delivered into the Blues’ box and was headed goalward, only for the Blues to scramble it away with a fine goal-line clearance.

While the Rams continued to look for a goal, the Blues did not relent in their own attacks, as Sivananthan played a creative tour de force, inspiring all of the Blues’ attacks. He was involved again as the Blues scored their second goal in added time of the first half. The goal was almost identical to the first as Stakic received the ball on the right side of the opposition box and slammed the shot into the top left corner, beyond the keeper.

The Rams finally got their act together to start the second half, nearly scoring in the 48th minute after forward Kyle Laborde-Ayres hit the post. The Rams exerted intense pressure on the Blues, who found it difficult at times to play the ball forward.

When the Blues finally did break forward, they made it count. Sivananthan and Tesker combined well to evacuate their defensive half, and Tesker embarked on a good run against the diminished Rams defence. It seemed as if his chance was gone when more defenders returned to their positions, but Tesker found Russo on the outer right edge of the box with a perfectly weighted pass. Russo ran onto the ball and hit a first-time volley to score the Blues’ third of the match.

Apparently not content to protect a 3–0 lead, the Blues continued to commit men forward, pinning the Rams’ defence back. While they continued to look threatening going forward, their defence began to crumble under greater Rams pressure.

In the 66th minute, the Blues lost the ball in the attacking third, falling victim to a quick counter-attack. The Rams hit the post in the ensuing attack and the Blues, in the chaos of attempting to clear the ball from the crowded box, conceded a penalty. Rams captain Abdallah El-Chanti — who for large portions of the game was unable to help the Rams move forward effectively despite tidy passing — stepped up and hit the top left corner, above the dive of Blues keeper Stefan Dusciuc.

After conceding the goal, the Blues seemed to realize that they were already winning and subsequently did not have to commit so many players forward. They returned to the tight defensive structure that they started the match with, diminishing the Rams’ attacks. 

The Blues soaked up pressure well in the closing 15 minutes of the game. The Rams again hit the post late after Dusciuc misjudged a shot, but they ultimately did not add to their consolation goal. The ever-impressive Sivananthan continued to torment the Rams when the Blues did break and could easily have added to his five-goal tally of the season in added time, only for the goalkeeper to save well.

Much of the match was marred by poor refereeing, with both sets of players, coaches, and fans vocally criticizing the referee and his assistants. However, in the end, the Blues will be grateful that they were able to relegate the referees’ errors to a footnote in their sweet revenge story.

Up next for the Blues are the York Lions in the OUA semifinal. The Lions finished first in the OUA West conference and have won the OUA in each of the last two years. The Blues’ last win against the Lions was in 2011, and their last four matches against them have all ended in defeat.

The Blues were able to end their three-year winless run against the Rams in an impressive fashion, so what’s stopping them from ending an eight-year one against the Lions?

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

Editor’s Note (November 10, 1:24 pm): This article has been updated to reflect the author’s former affiliations with The Varsity.

Blues men’s soccer team secure 1–0 win against Laurentian

Win moves the Blues to second in the OUA East Standings before showdown with third-place Ryerson

Blues men’s soccer team secure 1–0 win against Laurentian

The Toronto Varsity Blues men’s soccer team defeated the Laurentian Voyageurs 1–0 last Friday, vaulting them up to second place in the Ontario University Athletics East Standings, and keeping them undefeated for this season. This win puts them even with Ryerson University with a game in hand, setting the stage for a rivalry showdown at Varsity Stadium on September 22.

Toronto controlled much of the possession in the first half, generating most of the scoring opportunities. In the eighth minute, a great play from Toronto in the box led to the ball just squeaking past the keeper, but it was cleared off the line by Laurentian defender Graeme McLean. In the 17th minute, Toronto midfielder Atchu Sivananthan forced a turnover from McLean, and made a brilliant pass into the box to fellow midfielder Gabriel Milo, who then hit the crossbar from a tight angle. The Blues didn’t stop pressing when an exceptional cross from Sivananthan led to a great opportunity for Jacob Maurutto-Robinson, whose header missed just wide of the goal.

The Blues offence finally broke through in the 23rd minute, when a free kick by defender Kenny Lioutas led to a header goal in the box by Atchu Sivananthan. More great passing from Sivananthan led to a great one-on-one opportunity with the goalkeeper for Artem Tesker, but Laurentian keeper Adam Scanlon dove out for the ball before Tesker could get the shot off. Laurentian started to get some chances going with their best coming near the end of the first half, but a chance in the box from midfielder Brandon Moxam went just over the net.

The second half saw the Blues play a more defensive style, congesting the box and not letting Laurentian get any quality scoring opportunities. Laurentian didn’t get any shots on the goal in the entire half. It was also much chippier than the first half, with Laurentian receiving two yellow cards, the first coming from Kristian Shuttleworth in the 71st minute, and the second coming from Nicholas Correa in the 84th minute. Laurentian’s final opportunity came with a throw-in in the final minutes, with the keeper coming down the field to help the offence, but they were unable to get a shot on the goal before the final whistle.

“I think we played well in terms of the attacking parts,” head coach Ilya Orlov said in a postgame interview. “The game plan was to go out and attack. We knew we were going to have possession most of the game, and obviously if you watch our game, our plan was to attack the wide areas and we were successful in getting the ball there.”

Men’s Soccer vs. Laurentian University

Soccer doubleheader

Women’s team get second win of the season, while men’s team draw in game cut short

Soccer doubleheader

Women’s team

The Varsity Blues women’s soccer team secured a 3–1 win over the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) Ridgebacks on September 13, with impressive goals from newcomer Valentina Greco, regular starter Erin Kelly, and three-time Ontario University Athletics (OUA) All-Star Jenny Wolever. This loss for the Ridgebacks continues its fall from grace after the team went undefeated in 2017. 

The Blues were dominating possession from the very beginning, making intelligent passes and creating countless shot opportunities. Defender Daniella Cipriano played an especially smart game from the outset, moving quickly up and down the line to maintain possession and shutting down the few Ridgeback offensive efforts that broke past the half line. 

Cipriano’s speed and quick thinking created the opportunity in which Greco scored her first career goal — a quick cross up the line led to a goal in the second minute. “It was a really good play built from the back, they played it wide, [Kelly] just crossed it in and I finished it,” Greco described.

Kelly kept up the momentum with a header goal from another great Cipriano touch in the 14th minute. There was a significant commotion in the keeper’s box, but Kelly kept her cool and finished the play. She was a standout player throughout the game, making lots of touches and supporting a dominant offensive trifecta with Wolever and newcomer Miranda Badovinac, who together made aggressive plays throughout the first half. 

The second half saw deteriorating organization and coordination for the Blues after a penalty against keeper Levanta Staggolis led to a penalty kick goal for UOIT. Play got a little scrappier in the final minutes, with the Ridgebacks hungry to even the mere one-goal gap and U of T fighting for three points. 

In the end, it was Wolever who made it clear that the Blues’ lead was there to stay, with an insurance goal in the 90th minute, off a Kelly assist. “This was a game where even though things weren’t coming together as we thought, we all worked together and kept pushing, and I think that’s what got us through,” said Wolever. “We’ll just keep improving from here.”

Men’s team

The Varsity Blues men’s soccer team tied the Ridgebacks 1–1 on September 13 after 75 minutes of hard playing. Despite a promising second half, in which midfielder and former Guelph Gryphon Atchu Sivananthan scored off a penalty kick, the game was cut short due to an unrelenting lightning storm.

Both teams fought aggressively from the first minute, and it shows in the 15 fouls earned only in the first half. The Blues dominated possession, keeping constant pressure in the Ridgebacks’ half and executing flawless passing patterns. 

Star defender Kenny Lioutas instigated a number of intelligent plays from the beginning, shutting down Ridgeback breakaways and consistently keeping his cool in the face of a scrappy, foul-filled game, focusing instead on keeping possession and shifting the play. 

Despite an obvious domination of possession, the Blues couldn’t seem to get any chances once they moved into the keepers’ box: the great pass formations could not be backed up by any goals in the first half, and the frustration amongst coaching staff and players of both teams was palpable. 

It was at the start of the second half that the Blues’ aggression translated to shot opportunities. After an apparent goal from OUA East second team all-star Marko Mandekic was deemed offside, the Blues’ anger translated to them outperforming their opponents as consistent shots on net were made by Sivanathan, Mandekic, and defender Koosha Nazemi. This only intensified after UOIT scored on a penalty kick, only for Sivanathan to tie the score with a redemption goal in the following minute.

This upwards trajectory was only heating up when the game was called off. 

Varsity Blues Men’s Soccer vs. Ryerson University

Varsity Blues Men’s Soccer vs. Queens

Helmy double seals Blues’ tense 4–2 win against Lakers

Toronto men’s soccer display strong ball distribution

Helmy double seals Blues’ tense 4–2 win against Lakers

The Varsity Blues men’s soccer team scored four goals against a resilient Nipissing Lakers, but continue to give the impression that they have yet to fully hit their stride.

The Blues entered the Saturday evening game against the fifth-placed Lakers with very little at stake, having sealed third place in the Ontario University Athletics East conference the week prior. In the 14 preceding games this season, they have comfortably etched out their position as a buffer between the heavyweight table-topping duo of the Carleton Ravens and the Ryerson Rams and the rest of the division.

This performance always threatened to produce the free-flowing, counterattacking barrage that the team is capable of, but, symptomatic of its dead rubber nature, the 4–2 result showcased the Blues’ profligacy in front of goal, and surprisingly poor set-piece defending.

Just 13 seconds after kickoff, Blues fourth-year goalkeeper Stefan Dusciuc was forced to divert a shot behind for a corner after Nipissing exposed gaps in the Toronto defense with cross-field passing.

The following minute would best be described as a panicked affair for Toronto, who could not leverage control of the ball or assert defensive authority.

The Lakers would swing in a cross to an overloaded penalty box, forcing Dusciuc to palm the resulting shot directly back into the danger zone. Nipissing’s Cody Vaillancourt was quickest to react, slamming the ball into the Toronto net just one minute and 14 seconds into the game.

Following the restart, the Blues organized with three at the back and Blues captain Nikola Stakic — usually playing at the heart of the defence — as the team’s midfield anchor. Despite his smart movement and tracking back, a lack of support in the centre of the pitch allowed Nipissing to dominate control in the early periods. Nipissing’s high press further pushed Stakic into defensive duties, and the rest of the attack-minded midfield lacked the tools to offset the opposition’s attacks.

Still, the Blues were clearly cognizant of their strength on the wings, and almost found an equalizer in the seventh minute. On the right flank, Blues winger Koosha Nazemi played the ball to Nick Chiappetta, who returned it to Nazemi in the opposition penalty box with a well-worked backheel pass. One-on-one with the Nipissing goalie, Nazemi shanked a tame effort woefully wide of the net.

The Blues were left to wait until the 24th minute for their equalizer, as a terrible Nipissing pass unleashed midfielder Yousef Helmy toward goal. Helmy showed good ball control in dribbling past the opposition defense, slotting a comfortable goal into the bottom left corner of the goal. With the newfound confidence of a well-taken goal, Helmy grew into the game as it progressed, picking out smart passes in the final third to stamp the Blues’ attacking intent on the game.

Playing his first home game, Blues first-year defender Jacob Maurutto-Robinson put on an excellent display, particularly with his impressive passing vision. In the 30th minute, he delivered a peach of a ball that beat the defensive line to Helmy. Helmy’s half volley was even sweeter than Maurutto-Robinson’s delivery, as the ball thundered past a hapless Nipissing goalie to make the score 2–1. Helmy’s silky dribbling and Maurutto-Robinson’s pinpoint passing would continue for the rest of the first half, giving the Blues more control over the game.

Excellent in the Blues’ previous set of home games, midfielder Anthony Sousa experienced a difficult start to the second half. In the 47th minute, he had a shot from point-blank range saved by the goalie, and two minutes later, he blasted a shot high and wide, again from within the penalty box.

Maurutto-Robinson would again contribute, this time to the Blues’ third goal in the 53rd minute, after a targeted lob from 30 yards found Sousa, who lay the ball off to striker Jack Wadden to dispatch and make the score 3–1.

Despite the Blues’ momentum, their defense on set-pieces continually left a lot to be desired, and in the 61st minute, they paid for their carelessness. A Nipissing corner somehow found Darius Tignanelli in acres of space, and he was all too happy to place the ball into the net. Stakic and Dusciuc will have been disappointed by their failure to organize their backline for the second time of the evening, but perhaps this will serve as an impetus for head coach Anthony Capotosto to work more on man-marking in training.

The Blues started to slip from the game following Nipissing’s second goal, and too many times, they were forced back to their goalie by the Nipissing press. Dusciuc himself was forced into a couple of rushed clearances and poor balls and, on another day, the Blues could easily have been punished for a lack of structure and composure in the defensive third.

Curiously, following a raft of substitutions in the 68th minute that included midfielder Michael Matic entering the play, the Blues were able to assert more control over the game, and Matic scored the team’s fourth in the 72nd minute from inside the box.

Even with the dead rubber victory in the bag, the Blues kept foraging forward, and in the 90th minute, Nazemi delivered a perfect pass to striker Jae Jin Lee in the box. One-on-one with the goalkeeper, Lee hit the post from inside 10 yards. While he will have been disappointed not to add to his seven-goal tally of the season — and he certainly won’t get many easier chances — luckily, the miss wasn’t of importance this time.

Wadden hat-trick seals routine Blues men’s soccer victory

Assured attacking display marks Toronto’s fourth-straight win

Wadden hat-trick seals routine Blues men’s soccer victory

After two weeks on the road, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues men’s soccer team marked their Varsity Stadium return with a straightforward 4–0 victory against the Royal Military College (RMC) Paladins. Even with four goals scored, the Blues were not at their attacking best, but they still managed to make everything look easy. Fluid play and a robust midfield effectively slammed the door on an RMC team that certainly didn’t have the key to unlock the Blues’ defense, let alone a chance to try to pick the lock.

The Blues’ dominance was such that midfielder Nicholas Osorio and centreback and captain Nikola Stakic were withdrawn after 29 minutes, with the Blues leading 2–0.

The first goal of the game came in the 21st minute, after a long ball forward from defender Kenny Lioutas unleashed winger Koosha Nazemi down the right flank. Nazemi used his pace to easily brush off the RMC defense and venture into the opposition box. He directed a pass across the face of the goal for onrushing striker Jack Wadden to put past the keeper.

Two minutes later, Toronto fed the ball to midfielder Anthony Sousa 25 yards away from goal. An outrageous backheel flick split the RMC defense, allowing Wadden to slam the ball into the upper left corner with aplomb. Sousa’s assist was a moment of pure class, and Wadden’s alertness to the ball is equally worthy of plaudits.

Sousa continued to terrorize RMC with moments of brilliance, and he almost notched another assist after a great run down the flank, but his delivery fell just behind Wadden.

Despite adding two shots on target, Sousa also lost the ball on a few occasions when trying to be too fancy, and he showed no desire to track back and regain possession. Still, with a tricky Queen’s Gaels fixture the following day, Sousa was perhaps smart to conserve energy against poor opposition.

In fact, the Blues’ game plan seemed to centre around remaining focused and rested for the Queen’s game, with a lower intensity press and players freely attempting numerous tricks and dribbles that made the game seem more like a friendly than an OUA regular season clash.

It was clear before the match that RMC lacked the personnel to seriously challenge the Blues, and head coach Anthony Capotosto would have undoubtedly considered that, as he gave defender Dumebi Iheanacho his Blues debut and kept top scorer Jin Jae Lee off the matchday squad entirely.

Early in the second half, defender Josh Bowyer neatly split the RMC defense, but his pass was too heavy for Wadden to reach.

Moments later, Toronto’s third goal would come, following an attacking onslaught in the RMC box. A woefully out-of-position RMC leftback provided Kristopher Gamache space on the right side of the box, and he laid the ball off to Wadden, whose shot was returned to the danger area by the goalkeeper.

Gamache’s follow-up shot was blocked by one of a trio of RMC defenders who had congregated in front of goal, and his shot from the rebound was blocked again. Wadden received the rebound but likewise shot straight at a defender. The ball fell to Sousa, who, intent on not extending the series of blocks, curled his shot into the top corner to make it 3–0.

The Blues continued to torment the Paladins, and even though they didn’t constantly press, they chose their moments to press smartly. In the 63rd minute, they stole the ball in the attacking third and spread the ball to defender Nicola Russo on the left flank. Russo’s cross was too high but the referee pointed to the spot after deciding Gamache had been fouled in the box.

As soon as the whistle blew, it was clear that Wadden would take this opportunity from 12 yards out to earn his hat-trick. Wadden coolly dispatched his spot kick to the bottom left corner, beyond an outstretched goalkeeper.

Immediately after celebrations, he was substituted off, presumably to rest for the Queen’s game. Despite his lowered pressing intensity this game, Wadden’s positioning was a constant threat and will surely lead to more scoring opportunities in the remaining games this season.