Host Lions to battle for fourth OUA title in five years this weekend

It has been an impressive reign amidst the soccer elite for the York University Lions men’s squad, and despite falling last year in the gold medal game, the host Lions will be looking to regain top spot at the 2017 Men’s Soccer Final Four Championships this weekend amidst a loaded field.

The four-team event will take place at Alumni Field, with the semifinals scheduled for Friday and the gold- and bronze-medal games to be played on Saturday. All four games can be seen live online on OUA.tv.

This year’s championship promises to be a thriller as all four teams are ranked among the top 10 in the U SPORTS national rankings. The No. 5 Lions (13-2-1) will battle their cross-town rivals, the No. 10 Ryerson Rams (9-6-1), in the first semifinal at 3pm, while the No. 4 Carleton Ravens (13-1-2) will follow against the No. 8 McMaster Marauders (12-3-1) at 6pm. There will be a new champion crowned after the Guelph Gryphons were eliminated in the quarter-finals.

The last meeting between the Lions and Rams came in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) final in 2013, a match the Lions won 1-0 to claim their first of three conference banners. The Marauders last met the Ravens in 2012 when the two teams battled for the OUA championship and again in the U SPORTS fifth-place game.

The Lions have won five OUA titles in program history, including three in a row from 2013-15 and four total since 2007 under head coach Carmine Isacco. The Marauders have also won three recent conference banners, in 2009 and back-to-back in 2011-12, as part of six total for the program. The Ravens are looking to win their third Blackwood Cup and first since 2005, while the Rams have never won the OUA championship but were silver medallists in 2013.

Continuing their impressive streak of success, the Lions finished this season atop the West Division for the 11th straight year and are appearing in the Final Four for the eighth consecutive time and 10th in the last 11 seasons. After an uncharacteristically slow start to the year in which they lost two of their first three contests, the Lions have gone unbeaten in 14 contests, including 13 victories, while once again dominating their opponents. For the fourth year in a row they allowed the fewest goals in the OUA West, giving up just 11 in 16 regular-season games, and they also scored more goals than the rest of the teams with 50.

York’s leading scorer this season was Cristian Cavallini with 15 goals in only 12 games, one of four Lions in the conference’s top 15. Milan Beader finished tied for ninth with eight goals, while Dylan Carreiro and Steve Kloutsouniotis were tied for 11th with seven each.

The Rams come into the tournament as the third seeds from the OUA East after an ineligible player early in the season cost them wins. They bounced back and are making their fifth straight appearance in the semifinals. They have struggled in recent years to live up to their usual top-seeded billing, failing to qualify for the national championships in three straight seasons, and will look to turn that around against the Lions this year.

Like the Lions, the Rams are a strong defensive team and allowed only 13 goals this season. They were also the lowest scoring team of the four, putting up only 27. They earned their spot in the semis with a thrilling penalty kicks win over the Toronto Varsity Blues, while the Lions got past the Western Mustangs 2-1.

Ryerson’s top scorer was Nick Lambis, who ranked eighth in the OUA with nine goals.

The Marauders and Ravens will do battle in the other semifinal. Similar to the Lions, the Ravens led the OUA East in goals for (57) and goals against (seven) and will look to continue to dominate when they come up against a McMaster squad that plays a tough, physical style. The Marauders are no strangers to scoring as they were second in the West with 42 goals, while their 20 goals allowed was the most of all four teams remaining.

McMaster reached the semis with a 1-0 victory over the Gryphons, while the Ravens crushed the UOIT Ridgebacks 7-0 in their quarter-final match.

Carleton boasts the OUA leading scorer in rookie Gabriel Bitar, who tallied 16 goals in 15 games, as well as fellow rookie Stefan Karajovanovic, who was tied for second with 15 tallies. The Marauders’ top scorer was Dusan Kovacevic with 11 goals, good for the fifth-best total in the OUA.

In addition to the OUA title, the four teams are also competing for a berth at the U SPORTS Men’s Soccer Championship, which will be hosted by Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C., Nov. 9-12, and the winners from the two semifinals on Friday will represent the OUA.io

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