The quest for the Sam Davidson Memorial Trophy began Thursday in Ottawa, as the OUA’s Guelph Gryphons defeated the AUS runners-up Saint Mary’s Huskies, 2-0, in the opening fixture of the 2021 U SPORTS Men’s Soccer Championship.
The OUA champion Gryphons, who entered the national tournament as the only undefeated team left in the country, began the contest with an excellent scoring opportunity in the opening minute when forward Mitchell Lefebvre found himself alone on goal, only for SMU keeper Jenson Brown to come up with a huge sprawling stop.
At the half-hour mark, Guelph sustained significant pressure in the Huskies’ box but were left empty-handed as the SMU defence denied the Gryphons on several close-range strikes.
The Gryphons finally broke the deadlock in the 37th minute, when midfielder Jack Sears’ low drive at goal pinballed its way onto the foot of rookie teammate Owen McKee, who scored the tournament’s opening goal with a tap-in from two yards out to make it 1-0.
Guelph’s Colin Gander, who provided the Gryphons with a strong presence down the wing throughout the game, nearly added a second for the Gryphons early in the second half, as a corner kick set piece give-and-go set him up for a curling belter from the right flank that went just wide of goal.
With Saint Mary’s pressing for an equalizer and sending plenty of bodies forward, the Gryphons were able to counterattack at will. However, SMU keeper Jenson Brown continued to stand his ground with highlight-reel saves, denying numerous scoring chances at the other end.
In the 68th minute, the Huskies saw senior defender Kwaku Korankye drew a red card after collecting his second yellow of the match for taking down a Gryphon in the final third.
Finding themselves down a player, the Huskies struggled to keep Guelph’s creative midfield at bay, leaving them on the back foot.
In the 73rd minute, the Gryphons finally put the game out of reach when dynamic midfielder Alex Zis made a swift cut past his marker before firing a bullet strike from outside the box past Brown to give his side a 2-0 lead, sending his teammates and the Guelph traveling supporters into a frenzy.
SMU mustered little going forward in the final 15 minutes and Guelph’s keeper Svyatoslav Artemenko, whose aggressive sweeper-style play limited Saint Mary’s touches upfront throughout, earned his third consecutive playoff shutout.
With the win, Guelph moves one step closer to capturing its first men’s soccer national title. The Gryphons will take on quarterfinal #2 winner, the Montreal Carabins, in Saturday’s first semifinal (1:00 PM EST) while Saint Mary’s will drop into the consolation bracket where they will face the Victoria Vikes on Friday afternoon (1:30 PM EST).
Nike Team Players of the Game
- GUE: Owen McKee
- SMU: Jenson Brown
GUE: 1-1: 2
SMU: 0-0: 0
GUE Owen McKee (1), 37th minute
GUE Alex Zis (1), 73rd minute