After dominating at the OCAA Regionals tournament, the UTM men’s varsity soccer team were ready to carry that same momentum with them to their Provincials tournament held on Thursday, March 21 and Friday, March 22.

The tournament began on the Thursday and the top two teams from each division would face off the next day during the semi-final round. The men’s first game of the day was against the Conestoga Condors, a team the men were undefeated against in the outdoor season. The first five minutes of the game started off slow, with UTM getting some scoring opportunities but no finishes. It wasn’t until six minutes in when Markian Krencil made a perfect cross to Sanjar Kairosh who one-timed it into the net, making UTM the first team to appear on the scoreboard. UTM players, Prabdeep Singh and Mohammad Golmakani also had opportunities but fell just short of scoring. Roughly halfway through the first half, Conestoga’s forward beat the UTM defender and scored a rocket top left goal, evening out the score. Although some sloppiness from UTM followed this goal, the men were clearly still the dominant team in the match. A few other golden opportunities were presented in the first half, but unfortunately did not lead to any goals.

In the second half, Conestoga came out hard with an early 3-on-1 counter attack that was stopped by starting defender, Damian Koscielniak, which then led to a 2-on-2 counter for UTM, but Conestoga was quick to shut it down. The game began heating up towards the end as both teams really upped their pace. Finally, UTM defender, Adam Czerkawski, got an opportunity at the top of the box where he took an incredible shot and placed it in the top left corner. No one on Conestoga challenged him so he cut inside and blasted it, in true Czerkawski fashion. With roughly 10 minutes left in the game, Kairosh stripped the defender of the ball and beat the goalie with a simple roll over and passed it into the bottom left corner of the net, making the score rest at 3-1. The boys got countless opportunities following these two goals that either went just wide of the net or were stopped by the goalkeeper. With only three minutes remaining in the game, Golmakani received a two-minute penalty after a challenge with the keeper. Shortly after, Koscielniak also gets a questionable two-minute penalty, leaving UTM to only defend with three players. Thankfully, Golmakani’s penalty ended about 30 seconds later so the men did not have to defend with three for too long. Conestoga managed to scrape in a goal at the end, but despite their best efforts to tie the game, they were no match for our Eagles. The match ended 3-2 for UTM.

The second game of the day was against rival team, the Sheridan Bruins. This was the men’s most difficult and most important match of the day as based on team stats, UTM and Sheridan were most likely the teams to advance out of their group. Within the first 30 seconds of the game, Kairosh passed it to Koscielniak and the boys set the stage early with a goal. Less than a minute later, Kairosh caught the goalie way too far off his line and punished him with a goal from the halfway line. UTM was now up 2-0 within the first two minutes of the game. However, credit must be given to Sheridan for not even being phased that they were already down two goals so early in the game. Three minutes later, Sheridan got their first goal, making the score only a one-goal difference. UTM’s movement on and off the ball was impeccable and leading to several opportunities. Although Sheridan was playing well and holding their own, UTM was still the more dominant team. Forward player, Jamari Whyte, passed to Czerkawski in front of the net where he rifled it top left corner—his second goal of the day. However, less than 30 seconds later Sheridan scored making the half end 3-2, still in favour of UTM.

Moving into the second half, Sheridan really turned up the pressure. The Sheridan goalie often plays as a sixth player and moves up into the attack when in the UTM zone, leaving their net wide open but also allowing them an extra attacker. UTM got a few breakout opportunities but unfortunately nothing came of them. Whyte got a two-minute penalty with eleven minutes left, but thankfully UTM was able to defend long enough to get him back on the field. Sheridan continued their 6-man attack with Czerkawski playing exceptionally well on defense.

Unfortunately, with less than three minutes left, Sheridan managed to tie it up 3-3. Despite UTM’s phenomenal performance, especially when defending, Sheridan’s extra player really gave them an advantage and UTM couldn’t scrape in another goal.

The final match of the day was one of slower pace. The men played the Mohawk Mountaineers and it was a possessive game from both teams with not very many opportunities from either side. Mohawk was playing a defensive game and was even hesitating to pressure in the UTM end. Fatigue was clearly a factor as UTM looked a little disorganized with some opportunities arising, but none that ended up in the back of the net. In the second half, Andre Pinto created some excitement with a hard shot at the top of the box that hit just under the crossbar and bounced just outside the goal line. With two minutes left in the game, Whyte received the ball at half and beat three Mohawk players right before blasting it in the top right corner. The men won the game 1-0, securing the first-place spot in their pool and in the semi-finals round.

The following day, on Friday, March 22nd, the men had their semi-finals game against the George Brown Huskies—a team the men defeated 7-1 at their Regionals tournament. UTM had many supporters that day including six members from the women’s team and a few from the athletic department. From the start of the game, it was clear that George Brown was going in full defensive mode—or, in soccer terms, “parking the bus.” Although this style of soccer does not look the prettiest, it sure is effective as UTM really struggled to breakthrough their team defense. Both teams were not giving up very many shooting opportunities. UTM finally started to breakdown the George Brown defense after about ten minutes of play, but it still wasn’t enough to seal a goal. Co-captain and goalkeeper, Aaron Peters, did a great job at ensuring his team remained in their proper formation and was constantly yelling out instructions to his teammates. Czerkawski was doing his best to create opportunities by running down the line, forcing his midfield and forward players inside to make space for him to shoot or at least get a cross off. UTM fans could feel a goal brewing during the first half as the men were playing very well, but unfortunately a goal did not ensue.

Going into the second half, the roles seemed to have switched between the teams. George Brown began getting more of the opportunities and the UTM men kept resorting to playing long balls to the forwards which does not work against a team who “parks the bus” as they essentially have all five men defending. The game began getting much more aggressive than it previously was with both teams getting fouls but no goals stemming from them. With nine minutes left in the game, a George Brown counter attack leads to the first goal of the game. After this goal, the UTM men looked so defeated and were unable to break through George Brown’s defensive line. UTM lost the game 1-0—an unfortunate result to their otherwise very impressive Provincials tournament.

The men once again played the Sheridan Bruins for third and fourth place in their final game of the day. The game started similar to their match the previous day—with a goal in the first 30 seconds of the game. Koscielniak crossed the ball and it deflected off the keeper where Czerkawski was quick to capitalize on the rebound. With less than three minutes left in the first half, UTM’s other co-captain, Jaimin Rehal, crossed an unbelievable ball to Krencil on the opposite side of the field where he just shot it wide. UTM entered the second half with the same sense of urgency as the first. Although bronze was not the medal the boys were hoping for, there was no way they were leaving with no medal at all. Only twelve minutes left in the game and senior player, Pawandeep Sandhu, picked up a rebound off Koscielniak’s shot where he faked the Sheridan defender and buried it in the bottom right corner. UTM was victorious in their final game of the day, bringing home a bronze medal for the second year in a row.

The UTM men’s varsity soccer team brought so much pride upon their school, with many other student athletes expressing their support and love to this team. Women’s varsity soccer player, Noor Aldoori, attended both days of Provincials and had nothing but positivity to say about the team. “Of course, third place was not the result that they wanted because I feel like the potential for first place was definitely there. But seeing how much this team has grown over the season and how much it will grow into next season, teams really do respect them now and I think they can feel that too.”

Peters also weighed in after the tournament with a few words of his own—“To be honest, I feel like we gave out a mediocre performance. This is our second year in a row finishing third place in the province but I feel like we can achieve more than that. The boys have been training hard throughout the year with the objective to finish first.” He continues, “Regardless, we are already looking to improve ourselves and the program as we are already preparing for our outdoor season in September. We are looking forward to training together over the summer so we can be a dominating force in the OCAA.”

The men have officially entered off-season mode where they will work even harder and hopefully take home the gold next year.