A record of 7-5-1 was enough to get the Memorial men’s Sea-Hawks soccer team into the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference playoffs this season, but a first round exit at the hands of the UPEI Panthers means there is still plenty of work to do this off-season for Coach Jake Stanford’s team.
An inspired campaign by sophomore Tyler Forsey that saw him net nine times with an incredible six game winning goals spurred MUN forward with belief that a championship was finally within reach for the beleaguered program, which had won just 6 games total over the past two seasons. The Sea-Hawks showed some early promise with big September wins against conference heavyweights UPEI and Cape Breton. However, the momentum was somewhat short-lived. After three consecutive mid-season blowouts that saw the Sea-Hawks lose 4-0, 6-2, and 6-1 respectively, Memorial would book their playoff spot by closing out the season on a conference-best four game winning streak, including three games won by nail-biting 1-0 finals. Forsey, who netted in three of the four games when it mattered most, was hailed by his teammates for his incredible resolve and abilities to put the ball in the back of the net in any circumstance. Despite Forsey’s heroics, and the emergence of future star Owen McAleese, the rookie midfielder and utility man named a first-team conference all-star, serious questions were raised over whether Memorial’s defensive unit and goalkeeping were good enough to win when it mattered. Memorial’s record of 23 goals allowed was the worst among playoff bound teams, and veteran goalkeeper David Hickey, who started eight games for the Sea-Hawks, was unseated partway through the season by upstart shot-stopper Braeden Sheppard after posting a middling 70 per cent save percentage.
Indeed, Memorial seemed a step behind for much of their quarterfinal match against the Panthers. The Sea-Hawks struggled to match the pace of their opposition’s play, and could not gain a sufficient foothold, constantly having cleared balls sent back into the area. After going behind shortly before the half hour mark, Memorial took risks to increase the width and supply to Forsey and striking partner Tyler Kirby. Unfortunately, there was no answer for Panther Brett Strba’s impeccable keeping performance, and the Sea-Hawks were turned away without a goal in the opening round of the AUS playoffs. The UNB Varsity Reds would go on to defeat the Cape Breton Capers 2-1 in the final to complete their AUS championship three-peat, and would also capture the national silver medal at the CIS Championships, finishing second to the York Lions.
To improve on last season’s results, it’s essential that Memorial take a long and hard look at their defending, and make adjustments in both personnel and tactics. Often caught flat by set pieces, and prone to giving up costly goals close to half and full time, the number of goals conceded by the Sea-Hawks is not indicative of a polished, championship level team. Building around the talents of Forsey and McAleese is also essential, putting them in a position to lead by example and play to their strengths. To this end, Coach Stanford has been eagerly as sessing talent on both the local and national stages–however, the Sea-Hawks are yet to make any recruitment moves or announcements. Fans and players alike will be monitoring the situation over the short off-season, hoping that the right pieces will make them serious contenders for the next year and many more to come.