The York University Lions men’s soccer team is on the hunt for its third straight national title this weekend as the CIS championships kick off at the University of Guelph on Thursday morning (Nov. 10).
The eight-team competition, hosted in Guelph, Ont., for the first time since 1992 and the third time ever, runs from Thursday to Sunday, with the gold-medal final set for 2pm at Alumni Stadium. All 11 games will be webcast live on SportsCanada.tv.
The Lions are the two-time defending national champions, defeating the UNB Varsity Reds 2-0 on home turf last year and the rival McMaster Marauders in Charlottetown in 2014. York is looking for a rare three-peat this weekend, a feat that has only been accomplished twice since men’s soccer competition began in 1970, both times by the UBC Thunderbirds. They won three titles in a row from 1984-86 and four straight from 1989-92.
The Lions, who saw their run of three straight OUA championships come to an end on Sunday with a loss to the Guelph Gryphons in the conference final, will begin the title hunt in the first quarter-final on Thursday morning at 11am against the Canada West champion Alberta Golden Bears.
“We are preparing for this championship the way we do for every game, by focusing only on what we have to do to beat our next opponent,” said head coach Carmine Isacco. “The best eight teams are here this week and we have a challenging first round matchup, but by the time you get to nationals every opponent is tough. We need to play the way I know we are capable of and if we do that, hopefully we can be there again on Sunday.”
Their quarter-final match will be followed by the AUS champion Cape Breton Capers against the Toronto Varsity Blues, who won the OUA bronze medal, the RSEQ champion UQAM Citadins against the Canada West silver medal-winning Thunderbirds and the host Gryphons versus the AUS finalist Acadia Axemen.
In addition to the Lions, who have won five national banners in program history, three other participating teams have hoisted the Sam Davidson Memorial Trophy before. UBC leads the way with 13 championships, including back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013; Alberta has won four, most recently in 2006; and the Varsity Blues captured their lone national title in 1988.
Arguably the two best teams in the tournament have to face each other in the first round when the Lions take on the Golden Bears on Thursday morning. The two squads took turns being ranked No. 1 in the country throughout the season, with the Lions holding down the top spot for seven weeks and the Golden Bears for the other three weeks. The two teams have never met at the national tournament.
The Lions went undefeated in the regular season for the third time in five years with a 14-0-2 record and, including Sunday’s defeat to Guelph, have lost just twice in three seasons. They finished atop the OUA West Division for the 10th straight year, have won medals at seven straight OUA Final Four Championships and have reached the national tournament seven times since 2007, including their current run of four consecutive appearances.
The winner of Thursday’s first quarter-final will advance to the championship semifinal on Saturday morning at 11am against either Cape Breton or Toronto, while the loser will fall to the consolation side of the draw and will play again on Friday.