When the 2014 UNB Varsity Reds men’s soccer team’s season is looked back upon, their record will show just one loss.
Unfortunately for the Varsity Reds, that one loss came in the most pivotal game of the year and eliminated them from medal contention at the CIS men’s soccer championship in Charlottetown last weekend.
After posting an undefeated regular season record of 11-0-2 and going 2-0 in the playoffs en route to their second consecutive Atlantic University Sport championship, the Varsity Reds hit a roadblock in their first game of nationals last Thursday against the McMaster Marauders.
McMaster’s Paterson Farrell opened the scoring in the seventh minute to put UNB in an early deficit. It took some time for the Varsity Reds to find their legs in the tournament opener, but eventually they did and managed to outshoot the Marauders 8-7 in the first 45 minutes.
“I wasn’t really pleased with the first half. I thought we played a little bit timid and I guess that’s to be expected in the first game of a national tournament,” said Varsity Reds head coach Miles Pinsent. “I thought with our experience that maybe the boys would have handled that first half a little bit better.”
The coach added that he felt his team had no flow in the early goings.
“Defensively I thought we were kind of frozen a little bit. We weren’t reading and reacting quickly enough and as a result [the Marauders] were getting a lot of the second balls. Offensively I just felt that the guys were in too much of a rush to make a play as opposed to just relaxing and waiting for the play to unfold.”
In the second half, UNB pressed hard to get the tying goal, but McMaster goalkeeper Angelo Cavalluzzo stood tall and made some big saves.
UNB would eventually tie things at 1-1 in dramatic fashion. Near the end of stoppage time, a long shot from Diego Padilha sailed in to tie things at 1-1. The goal was especially rewarding for the Reds after Steve Miller had to be helped off the field moments earlier with a head injury.
“To their credit — a much better second half,” said Pinsent. “I thought we really dominated. We had numerous chances and we left it to the last minute to get the tying one but I thought we definitely deserved at least that one goal in that second half.”
After a scoreless 30 minute overtime session, the game headed to penalty kicks. Both goalkeepers made some quality saves but ultimately it would be Cavalluzzo and the Marauders edging Aaron McMurray and the Varsity Reds 3-2.
It’s the second straight season that UNB’s hopes of a gold medal ended in penalty kicks. Last year, the Varsity Reds lost to the Laval Rouge et Or in a shootout in the semifinals.
The loss forced the Reds to play in Friday morning’s consolation game against the Alberta Golden Bears. Despite knowing they couldn’t finish higher than fifth at the tournament, UNB showed why they were one of the pre-tournament favourites and defeated Alberta 3-0.
“I’m proud of the boys,” said Pinsent after Friday’s game. “In those situations you aren’t sure how the guys are going to respond the next day. I let them lick their wounds for a bit last night and then we had a team meeting. There was a clear message from that meeting that the boys wanted to go for it and however many more games we have at nationals they wanted to make sure they were putting in their best performances and doing everything they could to get a [good] result.”
It was quite a physical first half, causing both sides to get frustrated with the officiating. Late in the half, the two sides got in a scrum at midfield but the officials were able to break things up.
The Varsity Reds exploded for three goals in a rainy second half. In the 69th minute, Marcus Lees beat Alberta goalkeeper Myles Grunling in close to make it 1-0. In the 81st minute, Patrick Cormier scored to make it 2-0 and then Kenneth Van Aarle connected less than two minutes later to make it 3-0.
UNB outshot Alberta 8-7 in the match. Brandon Eagle got the start in net for the Varsity Reds and made two saves in the shutout victory.
The win put the Varsity Reds into Saturday morning’s fifth place game against the Montreal Carabins. UNB put in a solid effort, outshooting Montreal 11-6 and defeating them 2-1 to clinch fifth.
Van Aarle opened the scoring in the 14th minute and then scored again in the 42nd to make it 2-0 Reds after the first quarter.
In the second, Montreal’s Vincent Perret scored in the 77th minute to make it a 2-1 game. But the Reds would hang for the victory.
McMurray and Eagle split goalkeeping duties and each made one save apiece.
This was the third straight nationals appearance for the Varsity Reds. Although they didn’t medal like last year when they won bronze, fifth place is a better finish than UNB’s 2012 tournament appearance when they didn’t win a game.
UNB’s last and only national championship in men’s soccer came in 1980. They are 6-11-1 all-time at the event.