Canada’s best descend on prairies  

U SPORTS Women's Soccer National Preview 

Bison women's soccer team during a game against Mount Royal on Sept. 24.Bison women's soccer team during a game against Mount Royal on Sept. 24.

With the soccer season winding down and conference titles doled out this weekend, it is time for soccer fans to turn their attention toward the U SPORTS National Championship. Bisons fans will have plenty to cheer about, as their team is hosting the 2017 tournament and get a shot at the title. However, they face stiff competition. Below is a breakdown of all the teams attending nationals in Winnipeg from Nov. 9 to 12.

University of Manitoba Bisons

Record: 4-7-3 (Sixth in Canada WestPrairie Division)

The host team has a large hill to climb to claim the national title. Despite a good October, in which the herd went 3-3-1, the club was bogged down by two major winless skids during the season. After snagging their first win of the year, 3-2 against Saskatchewan, the Bisons went 0-4-1 to finish September. Then, after back-to-back clean sheets against Lethbridge and Winnipeg to open October, they went 0-3-1 until their season finale win over Regina.

A major issue for the Bisons will be scoring. The team averaged 1.13 goals per game through the season, good for just eighth  in the conference. Manitoba was held off the scoresheet in seven of 14 games, including four of its seven  losses. The Bisons placed eighth in Canada West with a 1.50 team goals against average, something that must be rectified before facing the offensive powerhouses in the coming tournament.

Cape Breton University Capers

Record: 11-0-1 (First in AUS)

The first of many undefeated teams, the Cape Breton Capers are perhaps one of the most complete teams taking part in the national championship. They took off running early in the season, rattling off a perfect 10-0-0 record before being kept to a 2-2 draw by Dalhousie in their second-last game of the season.

The Capers are terrifying competition at both ends of the field. The team was never kept off the score sheet, registering a U SPORTS best of 50 goals on the year, including a 9-0 drubbing of the Saint Mary’s Huskies in their regular season finale, two weeks after beating Mount Allison 8-0.

Cape Breton was near perfect at the other end of the field, ranking third nationally, with a 0.33 goals against average. In the regular season, it took until October for a team to put anything in the Capers’ goal, as they outscored opponents 21-0 through the first month of the season. This fact alone should make the Cape Breton Capers the national championship favourites.

University of Montreal Carabins

Record: 10-0-4 (Second in RSEQ)

As another unbeaten squad heading into nationals, the Carabins will have plenty of eyes on them. Montreal ranked third nationally, scoring 2.70 goals per game. They possess a potent and balanced attack, with 13 separate players scoring throughout the year and only Emmanuelle Alcindor  pacing the group with four.

Montreal also has stout goaltending, allowing goals at a 0.40 clip – good for fourth in the country – while their keepers only had to make 29 saves during the season.

Laval University Rouge et Or

Record: 12-0-2 (First in RSEQ)

The third unbeaten team to punch a ticket to the U SPORTS National Championship, Laval opened the season by rattling off five straight wins while outscoring opponents 14-1 . Then – after being held to a 1-1 draw by the Montreal Carabins – the Rouge et Or went 7-0-1 the rest of the way.

Laval’s strongest point is its goaltending, putting up a U SPORTS best 0.29 goals against average. It is their play at the other end that is their Achilles’ heel. The Rouge et Or ranked 24th nationally in goals scored with 20, putting the ball in at a 2.50 goals per game clip.

Trinity Western Spartans

Record: 10-3-1 (First in Canada West Pacific Division)

The Trinity Western Spartans are a threat to win based on pedigree alone. The program is currently tied with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds for the most national titles, with five since the tournament began in 1987.  Add on the fact the Spartans have made the Canada West final six times in the past decade, winning the most recent championship against Victoria.

The 2017 Canada West champions are scoring at a 2.57 goals per game clip – good for fifth nationally – and are ranked 12th in Canada with a 0.64 goals against average. While the Spartans will look to Rachel Hutchinson and Danae Derksen  to lead the way offensively – scoring seven and six goals respectively – the team has considerable scoring depth, with 10 players registering at least a goal this season.

University of Victoria Vikes

Record: 9-1-4 (Second in Canada West Pacific Division)

The third and final Canada West team to qualify for the national championship, the Vikes are a team that has some interesting tools to challenge the big fish. Ranking fifth in the country with a 0.43 goals against average,  the Vikes’ defence will put the high-flying offences of their opponents to the test.

The only challenge may be their play near the opposing goal. The Vikes ranked 15th in the country with a 1.86 goals per game average, not bad but far behind the competition, as is their shooting percentage – 26th in U SPORTS at 0.127 per cent.

University of Guelph Gryphons

Record: 10-4-2 (Second in OUA West Division)

Somewhat of an underdog when compared to the other teams taking part in the national championship, the Gryphons sit lowest among their competitors in a few statistical categories. They rank 19th and 15th nationally in goals per game and goals against average – at 1.50 and 0.75, respectively – only edging out the Bisons.

The team will play stingy defence and look to play the spoiler while relying on depth to get the job done. 11  different Gryphons recorded a goal this season, led by Sydney Johnson  with four.

Western University Mustangs

Record: 14-1-1 (First in OUA Western Division)

Unlike their OUA counterpart, the Mustangs are far from an underdog. The Mustangs ranked second in the country in goals against average with 0.31, sitting just behind Laval,  although a problem may come by the way of goal scoring.

Western scored 36 goals this season, ranking fifth nationally. However they are outclassed in per game rate, sitting far behind Cape Breton, Montreal, Trinity Western, and Laval. Despite having two of the top scorers in the nation – Julia Crnjac  and Giulia Geraci, who potted  11 goals each – there is a significant drop off after that, with five other players only mustering a single goal.

The National Championship kicks off on Nov. 9 at 10:00 a.m. at the Subway Indoor Soccer Complex. The Bisons begin their tournament on Nov. 9 at 6:00 p.m.