By: Tom Lewis
McMaster men’s soccer ended their season on a high, taking silver at the CIS National Championships in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
The York Lions underlined their status as Canada’s strongest university side with a 1-0 win in the tournament’s last game, but the Marauders gave a good account of themselves in the first all OUA final since 2002. York completed the rare treble, winning the league table, league championship and national championship.
The Marauders did things the hard way in the quarter and semi-finals, dispatching both the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds and the Université du Québec à Montréal Citadins on penalties to advance to their fourth meeting with York this season.
Goalkeeper Angelo Cavalluzzo was the hero against UNB, saving three penalties to help his side through to an encounter against the Citadins, in which the Marauders had to come back from two goals down to overcome the Quebec side on penalties.
In Sunday’s final, McMaster matched York for much of the opening half, with Paterson Farrell crafting several chances, the best of which was a cross that just eluded Gersi Xhuti at the left hand post.
York began to ease into their pressing game and high defensive line as the half wore on, and forced McMaster into hurried build up from the back.
York’s pressure was rewarded inside 32 minutes, as a Joey Cicchillo strike found the back of Angelo Cavalluzzo’s net.
Marauders’ coach Dino Perri threw on Sasha Riccuiti, Karl Bicamumpaka and Kyle Kazda in an attempt to break down an obstinate Lions’ defence in the second half, but Mac faced the same problems that have now condemned them to three straight defeats against York, struggling to hold the ball up in the final third under pressure from midfielders Jonathan Lao and Mark Stinson.
Defensive midfielder Ryan Garnett continued to mop up well at the back, launching searching passes into the York half, while Sasha Riccuiti showed excellent skill to beat two men deep into the second half, but his ball across the York box failed to connect with any of the on-rushing McMaster attackers.
The Marauders were given a lifeline after York’s Jonathan Lao sent a late penalty wide of Angelo Cavelluzzo’s right hand post, but centre back Nicholas Vecchi picked up his second yellow card, reducing Mac to ten men, and a flurry of late corners failed to pick the lock on York’s sturdy defensive display.
Despite missing out on gold, the Marauders can be proud of an excellent CIS campaign, which saw them equal McMaster’s best-ever performance at the national tournament, having last won silver in 1991 and 1992.