The UTM Varsity Eagles men’s soccer team competed in three OCAA championship soccer games over three days last week. Exhaustion didn’t matter for the young squad competing in their inaugural season. They lost to Algonquin College, who ranks fourth in the country, on Thursday; they beat reigning national champions Sheridan College 4-1 on Friday; and then they lost in penalty kicks to Fleming College 1-0 on Saturday.
The UTM Eagles had a play-off qualifier win last weekend against Mohawk College, which was a confidence boost heading into Thursday’s opening match. Mohawk had been on a five-game win streak before meeting the UTM squad.
The Algonquin Thunder, who reign as the 2014 provincial champions and currently sit fourth best in the country, were taken aback by UTM’s skill level. The teams not only faced each other on the field, but they also battled the swirling winds in Centennial Stadium.
Even though it wasn’t a favorable result for UTM—losing 2-0 to Thunder—the game was a moral victory.
Marco Natoli, 2015 OCAA Rookie of the Year, gave the UTM defense trouble early on. Fans held their breath as the Eagles’ first-half goaltender, Josh Bowman, stopped a Natoli breakaway opportunity. The sprawling saves put the momentum on UTM’s side.
Eagles head coach Robert Brown was proud of his team’s performance. “They battled incredibly hard against one of the best teams in the country,” he says. He acknowledges that the team is a year or two away from beating teams like Algonquin but believes that the talent at UTM deserves playing against the best.
There’s something about playing on the road for the Eagles—Brown believes that they play more hard-fought soccer on the road because there are limited distractions and the guys are focused and close together for hours before the match.
On Friday, the Eagles battled hard against the Sheridan Bruins, a team that didn’t look like last year’s dominant national champion squad.
Even though Kojo Awuah was UTM’s player of the game, scoring a goal in the Eagles 4-1 victory, Eagles goalkeeper Jacob Monaco deserves recognition for making a handful of game-changing saves continuously, giving the momentum back to the Eagles.
Eagles captain Andrew Kim, a fan favourite, fell to the ground in the 48th minute after jumping for a head ball and colliding with a Bruins midfielder. Medical staff examined Kim for precautionary reasons, but he left the field on his own two feet minutes later.
In the 68th minute, Eagles defender Nolan Anderson avenged Kim’s injury and buried a rebound, putting UTM up 2-0 and clearly in the driver’s seat for the rest of the game.
Late in the game, Sheridan’s Ivan Sunjka was unable to control his emotions, receiving a red card after elbowing Mohammad Golmakani in the 18-yard box. Eagles forward Paul Bialkowski calmly converted the penalty kick, giving his team a 4-0 lead late in the game.
Kim is ecstatic with the team’s playoff success so far. He’s optimistic about this program’s future, claiming they can be “scary good” in the coming years. Kim isn’t a vocal leader on the team; he feels his responsibility lies in his hard-fought style of play on the field.
On Saturday, the Eagles headed back to Etobicoke’s Centennial Stadium for the third consecutive day to take on Fleming College, hoping to solidify fifth place in the 2015 OCAA standings.
The dramatic penalty kick finale included heroic saves by both goaltenders. Fleming keeper Jared Hubble made three consecutive point-blank saves, allowing his team to score on goalkeeper Jacob Monaco in the final penalty round to win the consolation game.
The loss gives UTM a sixth-place finish in OCAA standings.
The Eagles look to build on their 2015 season success, hoping to use their experience and off-season training to make their way up the OCAA standings in 2016.