Meeting for their second Championship Final in as many years, Brandon University and Red River College both entered the 2016 Final on Sunday without recording a loss in Conference play this season. Both of their encounters in the regular season resulted in draws, so the best team in the MCAC would finally have to be decided.
By kickoff, the temperature was about ten degrees celsius with a strong south wind. Red River played the first half with it in their favour and it showed. If there was a difference in possession it was in favour of the Rebels who got the ball deep to the corners. They tested BU keeper Sydney Carter-Squire a few times while BU kept working against RRC’s defence and the wind. When RRC keeper Brittany Derkacz was made to play the ball, it resulted in her huge kick with extra distance. Most of the first half was loose balls and small runs in the neutral zone of the field.
Red River started the second half strong, nearly scoring on a third-try opportunity. RRC played very strong at the beginning of the half this weekend, getting out to early opportunities in both of their games. So it was shocking to see BU’s forward Jaycee Castle scored soon after, taking advantage of a waist-high ball that careened off her and in. The Bobcats were in the lead of a Final again. With the ball trading sides so often, it was difficult to tell if there would be enough energy for either team to mount another goal. But Nadine Reimer tied it when she scored for Red River and gave the Rebels life again.
Wasting no time, Brandon grabbed the ball and got it back to midfield. They kept possession off the kick and didn’t give it up until they scored less than two minutes after the Rebel’s goal, this time by rookie midfielder Kiera Riehl. After a quiet start the game was all of a sudden 2-1 in favour of the visiting Bobcats.
Third-year Julia Friesen had some great chances for Red River and Reimer continued to run the right side of the field and get close, but keeper Sydney Carter-Squire was fierce for the Bobcats. Several times she sacrificed her body and got the wrong end of a leg or elbow.
The Bobcats were granted a penalty kick with about 10 minutes left to play when Jaycee Castle was taken down in the box.
Aziza Kinnarath scored easily and after a season spent neck-and-neck, the best women’s team in the MCAC would win the Final by a score of 3-1.
Jaycee Castle was awarded Most Valuable Player of the tournament. When asked about her team’s return to the Final, she acknowledged the feeling of avenging last year’s disappointment.
“Last year still stings for us. That was our motivation to do better. We’ve tied with Red River all season so we wanted to win. We didn’t want to come to a draw, we didn’t want it to go to overtime or penalty kicks, we wanted to finish it.”
BU Head Coach Rainer Schira was impressed with the way his team showed up.
“They executed the plan that we had. They stayed calm and collected, they believed in themselves and in the team. We played like a team today and that’s exactly what we wanted.
“Our defense did its job, kept their long balls and running at bay. Our goalie (Carter-Squire) stepped in when she had to, our midfield distributed the ball well and our forwards struck when they had to. So we were really happy with all the team members…they executed the plan.”
This is the first MCAC title for Brandon University since joining the MCAC in 2015.
Six of the eleven players named to the 2016 MCAC All-Conference team belong to Universite de Saint-Boniface Les Rouges and Red River College Rebels. The first-seed Les Rouges were looking for their third straight MCAC men’s soccer title, while the Rebels were trying to get RRC its first Men’s title ever.
There was no love lost between these two teams, testing the referee’s judgement throughout. After a collision in front of Red River’s goal with All-Conference keeper Rory Picton and USB’s Sam Dhaoui, Picton was forced to come off with an apparent lower body injury. Picton played a huge role in the Rebel’s 2-0 semifinal win over Canadian Mennonite University on Saturday, and it was if his exit from the game opened the door for USB.
Before Picton’s backup, Shayne Pfeifer could get comfortable on the cold and windswept field, Les Rouges’ forward Aristide Ebrottie placed a ball in front of the goal mouth for midfielder Melchisedek Nkongo to put St. Boniface up a goal.
The second goal of the game would come when Sami Atoui took advantage of Pfeifer and the Rebels defence playing much too casually in their own end, and Les Rouges all of a sudden had a commanding two-goal lead.
In the second half the cold weather and fatigue started to wear on both teams. Play became physical and officials had to collect a great deal of injury time as players went down.
Ebrottie was red carded for an unsportsmanlike play and all of a sudden USB was without an important piece. Conduct has been a point of weakness for Les Rouges in the past, but they gathered their composure and resumed play. If there had been a time for Les Rouges to unravel it would have been now, but midfielder and third-year team captain Yahia Chihab got control of his teammates and settled them down.
RRC continued to play as fast as they could and were able to spring a couple chances late, but in the end they couldn’t put anything past USB keeper Samir Achour before the final whistle. Universite de Saint-Boniface were crowned their third-straight men’s soccer title. Melchisedek Nkongo was named Player of the Tournament.
USB Head Coach Justin Legare was extremely happy with the way his team played.
“They played incredible… I was really pleased we actually played our game”.
Legare said Ebrottie’s departure from the game was unfortunate considering how hard this team has worked on removing negative attitudes and playing through the ins and outs of a game. He says this is something that differentiates this year’s team from last.
“I had a lot of chats (this season), lots of talks with my players. We also brought in some players from structured soccer backgrounds which helped a lot too, so both of those things kind of helped.”
“I knew I had to the team to win this season, but it’s not always easy being the favourite. We put in a lot of time, a lot of time, and the guys worked so hard and it paid off.
Moroccan sniper and All-Conference selectee Yahia Chihab said he recognized his Les Rouges teammates begin to lose their composure late, but had too much time left on the clock to let them implode.
“(After the Ebrottie red card) I asked the ref ‘How much time’? And he said ‘fifteen’, and I said that’s kind of a lot of time…I told the guys to stay up and just (win).”
Chihab is thrilled to win his third Championship in a row.
“The third one was very important to me. Especially with Red River this year, they were really scary. A great roster with all their guys, they’re very good. So I thought this year there would be a lot of competition in the Final, but I’m just so happy!” He laughed. “The third one is magic”.