Gryphon soccer men return to league final
GUELPH – The Guelph Gryphons are back in the OUA men’s soccer league’s championship match for the first time since they won the title in 2016.
The Gryphs gained their berth in the championship game with a 1-0 semifinal win over the Carleton Ravens Saturday at the Gryphon Soccer Complex.
Guelph Gryphons 1 Carleton 0
“I turned 60 last week and they’re trying to kill me already,” Gryphon coach Keith Mason said of the pressure of the game. “We don’t do anything easy, but we were playing one of the best teams in the country right now. They’re ranked third in Canada and they were just above us. We’re ranked fourth. They’re in that position for a reason. They’re reigning OUA champions. They beat us in the semis last time around, two years ago, and it feels bittersweet that we’ve literally battled and fought to get one back on them this time around.”
Owen McKee’s tip-in of a cross by Evan Dick with less than five minutes to go in the opening half stood up as the lone goal of Saturday’s game.
“It was a great ball from our right wing back, Evan,” McKee said. “He swung it behind, right behind their close side centre back and I managed to get a left foot on it right in front of the keeper and it was just a surreal moment. It was lovely seeing I was onside and celebrating with the teammates and fans was just an unreal atmosphere. I loved it.”
For McKee, scoring with his left foot isn’t a regular thing as he usually kicks with his right foot.
“I’m usually right-footed, but to score a goal like that you’ve got to get anything and everything on the line,” he said. “It was just amazing.”
That goal, a save by Guelph keeper Svyatoslav Artemenko on a penalty shot by Carleton’s Scott Mazzotta with about a minute left in second-half stoppage time and, most of all, the final whistle sent the Gryphon crowd into a frenzy as they celebrated with the players.
For Artemenko, being in a high-pressure situation at the end of a game has become the norm in the last week. He was involved in game-deciding penalty kicks in a Guelph United semifinal a week earlier and in a Gryphon quarterfinal Wednesday.
A little preparation at practice Friday paid dividends.
“We went over all their players and where they shoot (penalty kicks),” Artemenko said. “I looked at his number and I remembered he’s going bottom right and, again, a bit of luck. We studied him and that’s where he went, thankfully. What an ending to a game.”
So if Mazzotta had changed and he’d shot the other direction, he would’ve scored.
“Yes, 100 percent,” Artemenko agreed.
The Gryphs played a fairly defensive game throughout, calling on Artemenko to make a few key saves. Most of the second half was played in the Gryphon end as could be seen by shots as Carleton took all six attempted during the half.
“Champions don’t want to give up their trophy too easily so we knew they were going to throw everything at us,” Mason said. “We got where we are today being solid. We don’t have the prolific one or two goal scorers like we’ve had in the past with Robbie Murphy and Jace Kotsopoulos and some others. We have a team that everybody contributes and everybody pitches in with a goal. Everybody defends. Everybody fights. They did that to a man in the second half.
“The wind played a factor, it was stronger than it seems. We had it in the first half and it helped us and it definitely helped them second half. But the natural flow of the game and how they were coming at us, it did get more defensive in the second half and with 30 minutes to go I went even more defensive with my changes because at that point, it was literally about holding on. If we get a chance to break and get another one, great, but the main thing was can we get a clean sheet because we knew with a clean sheet at that point we’d host somebody next Saturday.”
In all, Carleton outshot the locals 11-3, including an 8-3 margin in shots on target.
Other aspects of the game were pretty even with the Gryphs taking eight corner kicks, one more than the Ravens, and also getting called for 10 fouls, two more than Carleton.
As the top seeds in the playoffs, the Gryphs get to host the OUA final for the first time. They’re to play the York Lions Saturday and the game is to be played at Alumni Stadium.
“It’s very nice just to be able to relax and not have to travel,” McKee said of having the final in Guelph. “It’s honestly a very big advantage to have our hometown fans that are just amazing coming out and supporting us and bringing an atmosphere that just makes us want to run and put everything on the line. The energy from them just inspires us and it’s going to be great to be able to play at the stadium.”
The Gryphs defeated York 3-1 to win the 2016 title at Scarborough’s Birchmount Stadium.
York gained its spot in this year’s final with a 3-2 victory in overtime over the Ryerson Rams in the other semifinal Saturday.
Game time next Saturday is 1 p.m.
- Guelph Sports Journal