Wednesday, 9 November 2011

CIS Men's Championship - preview

The 2011 edition of the CIS men's soccer championship begins this Thursday in Victoria, British Columbia on the University of Victora campus. All of the games will be played at Centennial Stadium in a single-elimination tournament.

The 2011 edition features eight teams, two from each of the Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, and Canada West conferences. The teams are the Saint Mary's Huskies (AUS playoff champions), Cape Breton Capers (AUS season champions), Montreal Carabins (RSEQ champions), McGill Redmen (RSEQ finalists), McMaster Marauders (OUA champions), Toronto Varsity Blues (OUA finalists), Albert Golden Bears (CWUAA champions), and the host team, the UVic Vikes.

Today we will briefly preview all eight teams involved and show the path that the OUA teams would need to traverse to reach the championship final to lift the Sam Davidson memorial trophy.
Unlike the women's tournament, the men's tournament will crown a new champion as the Toronto Varsity Blues upset the reigning York Lions 4-1 last weekend in the OUA Final Four. Toronto finished second in the OUA East and dropped the OUA Final to McMaster by a 3-1 scoreline. A full preview of the Varsity Blues was done for the OUA Final Four previously. This is Toronto's third straight appearance and their seventh in ten years. The Varsity Blues lifted the trophy for the only time in 1988.

After defeating the Varsity Blues this past weekend, the McMaster Marauders were crowned OUA Champions. To get to the final, McMaster had to defeat the Carleton Ravens in penalties in the semi-final, scoring an injury time goal to tie the game. The number 7 ranked Marauders have shown their never-give-up attitude several times in the past three years and their expertise in kicks from the mark winning the 2009 and 2011 OUA Championships by winning at least one game in kicks each time. A full preview of the Marauders was done for the OUA Final Four previously. The Marauders last played in the CIS Championships in 2009, finishing 7th as OUA Champions. They are still looking for their first Canadian Championship having lost in the finals twice in 1991 and 1992.

From the AUS come two strong teams in the Cape Breton Capers and Saint Mary's Huskies. Like McMaster, both teams are looking for their first championship with the Huskies having been four-time finalists (1979, 1989, 2000, and 2003) and the Capers never finishing better than 6th.

The AUS regular season champion Capers ran away with the title posting a 10-1-2 record on the season, scoring 43 goals and surrendering 15 along the way. Surprisingly, they only posted one clean sheet on the season. Their dominance of the AUS Conference garnered them a number 2 ranking in the country. They claimed three All-Stars on the first team in midfielder and AUS MVP Andrew Rigby, and strikers Keishen Bean and Ian Greedy. Bean and Greedy scored 16 and 11 goals respectively and were the driving force behind the Capers' offense as both are very fast players with good touch. The team had six other goal scorers. Midfielder Silvano Rajkovic was one of those with six goals and a second team All-Star, and defender Damion Vassell joined him there. Andrew Murphy played every minute in goal for the Capers en route to their league title and is a very capable goalkeeper but when he faced pressure he would make mistakes that led to goals against. The Capers are a very strong first half team, coming out and pressuring their opponents from the start but seemed to take their foot off the pedal as the game progressed. This is Cape Breton's third appearance at the CIS Championships, all coming within the last five years.

The hottest team in Canada right now is the AUS playoff champion Saint Mary's Huskies. Finishing sixth in the AUS with a 4-3-6 record, the Huskies look to be the weakest team at the championships, but come in having defeated the top three AUS teams in St FX (shootout after a scoreless game), Cape Breton (4-1), and then UPEI (a shocking 6-0 in the final). Their season started well as they went undefeated for eight straight, but only managed three wins in that stretch. Strikers Elvir Gigolaj and Derek Gaudet accounted for the majority of the Huskies' offense with 5 and 4 goals respectively, leading the seven other goal scorers on the team. Jonattan Cordoba, their centre midfielder was the main playmaker on the team and their back line was ably defended by second team All-Star goalkeeper from England Adam Miller. Miller is a big player with a strong presence in the goal and posted four clean sheets, playing every minute of every game for Saint Mary's. They also had two first team All-Stars in defender Adam Downie and midfielder Rory Kennedy. If they can keep up their momentum from the AUS playoffs, the Huskies can be one of the biggest dark horses this year, but their outside defenders might be their downfall. This is the Huskies' thirteenth appearance at the CIS Championships and ninth in twelve years. Last year they finished third with a 2-0 win over Toronto in the bronze medal game.

The Montreal Carabins are the first team in our preview to be sending a team to both the men's and women's championships. In both cases the team is going as the RSEQ Champions. The men's squad finished with a 8-1-3 record scoring 30 goals and giving up 7. They posted fix clean sheets along the way, but were aided by two forfeits in the season due to (as I understand it) some ineligible players being used. The sixth ranked Carabins boast the RSEQ Rookie of the Year in defender Alexandre Haddad, and he was joined on the first All-Star team by midfielders Maxime Laurey and Kevin Chan-Yu-Tin, and striker Sylvain Willot. On the second team, goalkeeper Nizar Houho and defender Moustapha Sall were featured. Willot led the conference comfortably with 9 goals scored on the season, well ahead of the next best 5 goals. Nine other players on the Carabins scored with the next top scorer being Laurey with 4. This is Montreal's seventh appearance, all coming in the last nine years. They are still looking for their first trophy having finished third on three occasions (2003, 2006, and 2008).

Defeated by a 3-2 scoreline in the RSEQ final, the McGill Redmen come into the CIS Championships as the 10th ranked in the country, posting a second place finish in the season with a 7-3-2 record. They scored 23 goals and only surrendered 11, only posting two clean sheets along the way. Like Montreal, they were aided by two forfeits as RSEQ Coach of the Year David Simon led the team to the team's second CIS appearance in his three years at the helm. This is McGill's twenty-first appearance at the tournament all told, winning it three times (1981, 1982, and 1997). This year the team features four All-Stars, two first team in defenders Alexis PradiƩ and Thomas Lucas and two second team in midfielder Yohann Capolungo and striker George Banks. Banks led the team with 5 goals while PradiƩ and Capolungo had 4 apiece.

Coming in from the west are another two historically strong teams. Both the Canada West Champion Alberta Golden Bears and host Victoria Vikes have won the title four times (1972, 1979, 2003, and 2006 for Alberta, and 1975, 1987, 1996, and 2004 for the host Vikes). This is the thirteenth appearance and second in a row for the Golden Bears and fourteenth and third in four years for the Vikes.

The unranked Alberta Golden Bears booked their trip to the CIS Championships with a last minute win over the UBC Thunderbirds in the Canada West Final as Marcus Johnstone scored from the outside edge of the goal area. The Golden Bears finished the season fourth in Canada West with a 7-3-4 record, scoring 26 goals and surrendering 18, tallying 3 clean sheets along the way. Nine players tallied for Alberta with Johnstone and Milan Timotijevic scoring five each. The Golden Bears featured three All-Stars with midfielder Timotijevic making the first team and midfielder/striker Brett Colvin and defender Osmo Bimba being named to the second team. Last year, the Golden Bears tied for seventh, and come in looking to better that result.

The host Victoria Vikes have the most to prove of any team besides Cape Breton. The Vikes rolled to top slot in Canada West with a 10-2-2 record, good enough to rank the team third in Canada. 25 goals scored and a conference-best 11 against did not hurt as the Vikes posted eight clean sheets along the way. Led by CW Coach of the Year Bruce Wilson, Victoria's rookie midfielder Cam Hundal was a second team All-Star and CW Rookie of the Year. Joining him as All-Stars, but garnering first team nominations were goalkeeper Elliot Mitrou, defender Gaving Barrett, and the team's top scorer with seven goals, midfielder Craig Gorman. Playing at home will give the Vikes a huge boost as they will look to improve on their 5th place finish in 2009.

The opening day's schedule begins at 14:00ET with Saint Mary's facing off against McGill. At 16:30ET Alberta faces Toronto. The losers from those two games will meet on Friday at 14:00ET and the winners at 19:30ET in the first semi-final.

The last two quarter-finals on Thursday kick off at 19:30ET between McMaster and Cape Breton and then the host team's matchup at 22:00ET between Montreal and Victoria. The losers of those two games meet on Friday at 16:30ET and the winners at 22:00ET in the second semi-final.

The fifth place game between the winners of the two early Friday games kicks off at 17:30ET on Saturday, setting the stage for the Bronze medal game Sunday at 14:30ET and the Championship Final goes at 17:00ET.

For McMaster to get to the final, they will have to topple the top ranked team at the tournament, Cape Breton and the winner of the Montreal/Victoria game. On the other side, Toronto will have to defeat Alberta and then the winner of the Saint Mary's/McGill game. McMaster has the tougher path, facing the three highest ranked teams at the tournament in their half of the bracket, including the host.

All of the games will be streamed live on over the weekend.

The official CIS/SIC preview is also available. Gordon Smith of SSNCanada also has a preview of the men's championships for his Smith on Soccer show.

Thanks for Voodooman of the Red Patch Boys for his insights on the AUS conference, one I am most unfamiliar with.

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