Monday, 26 September 2011

University Women: RMC Paladins 0, Ryerson Rams 1

With Sunday morning looking dreary and cool, I feared the worst for the afternoon. I was assigned as one of the assistants for the RMC women's game against the Ryerson Rams, the second time I'd seen Ryerson in two days.

I arrived in plenty of time at the RMC campus and talked with RMC's coach Chad Beaulieu and one of their assistants, Mark Stanley, for a bit before the rest of the team of referees arrived. We talked about their season to date and how even though they've had some trouble with injuries over the last couple of weeks, they were pleased with how the team has been handling the adversity.

The game was scheduled to be played on Navy Bay 4, which is just to the left upon entering the campus, one of six sports fields surrounding the campus entrance. The field was in fantastic shape, and very little wind was coming in off of the bay at the meeting of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. With few clouds in the sky and a bright sun, it was almost natural that we would be wearing black uniforms for the game.

While the teams were warming up, our team of officials did some light jogging and talked about past officiating experiences with each other. We also had a pre-game talk in preparation for many of the possible eventualities on the field of play. Of course, as is often the case, few of these eventualities actually came up during the course of play. Instead we ended up facing an entirely unusual set during the course of the match.

The match started off slowly with an almost entirely uneventful first ten minutes of play. RMC played a standard 4-4-2 formation, while Ryerson switched from their 4-5-1 on Saturday to a 4-3-3 attacking formation. Soon after, the two number 10s (left fullback for RMC, Stephanie Bengle, and right striker for Ryerson, Erica Huculak) began tussling down the wing, grabbing each others' shirts and throwing sneaking kicks at ankles. Both were called for fouls along the way with the Ryerson player being shown a caution in the 20th minute for persistently infringing the Laws of the Game (aka "Y3"). Soon after, she switched to the left striker position, but committed another foul within ten minutes and the Ryerson coach smartly substituted her so as to avoid taking a second caution.

The Ryerson captain Andrea Raso dominated the midfield, as nobody on RMC was able to keep up with her speed and skill on the ball, and her midfield counterpart from RMC, Kimberly Archibald, was forced to bring her down on one play drawing a caution for unsporting behaviour.

Ryerson dominated the first half with RMC rarely managing to get out of their own end, to the point that one of the spectators commented that the wind must have been really strong in the first half. Despite the constant pressure, Ryerson was unable to get many good chances at the goal and only had a few shots on target. RMC was very strong at soaking up the pressure, despite having their main centreback moved to the outside rightback position due to an ankle injury sustained during Saturday's match. The first half ended scoreless, and both teams left the field, one looking frustrated, the other relieved.

The second half began with RMC kicking off. Their strongest striker, Lisa Udegbunam, started the second half despite not being at 100% health. Unfortunately, she was forced off the field after about twenty minutes of play due to her cough and breathing problems. She was the impetus of their attack for the first portion of the second half with the team putting a lot of pressure on Ryerson right off the kickoff and putting balls into the area from kicks and midfielder Adelaide Fearnley's long throws into the penalty area. A hand-to-ball call against RMC allowed Ryerson to relieve the pressure and their goalkeeper Lauren Lasalle took a long free kick up the field. It fell to their left striker, Christine Lavotsis, and she was able to take advantage of one of the RMC defenders slipping to take the ball inside and put it low and just past the outstretched hands of RMC's goalkeeper Olivia Clarke in the 47th minute to give Ryerson a 1-0 lead.

The next ten minutes were much more even between the two teams but were marred by an unfortunate injury to RMC's goalkeeper. While collecting a routine ball in her area, she appeared to slip and fell over, apparently injuring her leg. She was unable to continue and had to be helped off of the field by the RMC trainer and one of Ryerson's coaches. Kelly Milliken, RMC's backup goalkeeper, came into the game after a brief warmup and almost immediately faced a good shot from Ryerson that she was able to touch over the bar.

The rest of the game continued in the back and forth style with chances at each end, including one shot that Milliken tipped off of the bar, that came back into the field of play. Fortunately for her, she was able to stop an ensuing shot and then smother the ball to keep the score 1-0. The other incident of note came late in the second half off of an RMC corner kick. The ball came in and Ryerson's goalkeeper missed it entirely. It fell into the middle of a mix of players and pinballed around before one of the Ryerson defenders touched the ball back to the goalkeeper. The goalkeeper dove on top of the ball to claim it inside the goal area. The referee blew his whistle and awarded RMC an indirect free kick at the top of the goal area for the goalkeeper handling the ball when it was intentionally played to her by a teammate.

The entire Ryerson team lined up on the goal line between the goalposts and RMC prepared to take the kick. The initial kick was put a yard or two toward the middle of the goal and a second player flew in to take the kick, but put it over the bar. The game ended soon after with no further chances. RMC's coach Chad Beaulieu admitted after the game that he did not tend to use that kind of indirect free kick in practice, as he had not seen a similar incident in a game he was involved in for several years. Interestingly or perhaps oddly, that was the third such incident I'd seen in a game I'd been in attendance at this year.

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