By Luke Galati
Ryerson’s men’s soccer team got the skeletons out of their closet after advancing to the Ontario University Athletics’ (OUA) Final Four after beating Toronto Blues 3-2 in overtime Sunday afternoon at Birchmount Stadium.
With the incredible last second win, this seasons’ undefeated Rams team are moving past the overtime playoff woes that have plagued them in years past.
In last year’s OUA quarter final playoff game against Carleton, Ryerson went into overtime, tied 3-3 and came out of overtime losing 6-3, but the soccer gods appear to have a new blue print for Ryerson this year.
After Ryerson’s win on Sunday, it’s crystal clear that things have changed since that fateful autumn day just over a year ago at the Ravens home turf in Ottawa, Ont.
“We saw everything,” said Ryerson forward, Armin Tankovic. “We were winning, we were tied, we were losing, we tied the game back up, we took the lead and then we won it at the end, every single emotion you could have in a game we had it in this one.”
The scoring popped off at the 20 minute mark with Ryerson’s Cedric Wong-Yin-Song intercepting a Blues through ball and sending Tankovic a perfectly placed one bounce cross that managed to make its way right onto Tankovic’s foot and into the back of the net to give Ryerson the early 1-0 edge.
But the Blues were quick to respond, scoring a gorgeous give-and-go passing play only 12 minutes later. Toronto scored after weaving through Ryerson’s defence from a passing play from Devon Bowyer to Kilian Elkinson and back to Bowyer for the equalizer, past the fingertips of Ryerson’s keeper Christian Maraldo.
With the momentum now in Toronto’s favour, just before half, two dangerous passes flew through Maraldo’s crease, making Ryerson fans nervous, while the Blues fans were feeding off the chances.
Midway through the second half, Ryerson fouled Toronto striker Mario Kovacevic on a rush just outside of the box. Kovacevic made the most of the free kick, placing the ball off of the bottom of the left post that just barely rolled along the line into the back of the net to give Toronto the 2-1 lead.
The game then started getting scrappy when Ryerson forward Luka Lee and Jason Cordeiro got into a pushing match and started shouting in each other’s grill after Cordeiro pulled Lee to the ground after a tackle.
“I felt like he did me dirty on the fowl, he pushed me down after the tackle and I didn’t like, so I let him know. I’d take it back if I could though, I’m not like that, but I got caught in the moment,” said Lee.
The pushing match seemed to have gotten Ryerson going. With plenty of opportunities to tie the game up and save their season, they were rallying, but couldn’t seem to tie it up.
Ryerson faltered on a mad scramble in Toronto’s crease that wasn’t put away and with a miss on a glorious chance from Tankovic to tie the game.
Going into the final minute before injury time, it seemed to be over for Ryerson.
But at the 89 minute mark, the OUA’s top goal scorer Alex Braletic powered his fourteenth goal of the season and his first playoff goal of the campaign at the most clutch time to save his teams undefeated season and send the game into overtime.
While Ryerson was celebrating, Toronto tried to quickly rush the ball to the midfield and tapped the ball forward and from half shot the ball into the back of the net while Maraldo was celebrating with his teammates and wasn’t ready.
With the Ryerson players stunned, the referee cleared up the matter, giving the Toronto player, Kovacevic, a yellow card and keeping the score at two apiece.
In overtime it was all Ryerson, with sustained pressure on Toronto before the remarkable happened.
First-year midfielder, Nick Lambis, who was subbed into the game in overtime came clutch for Ryerson, scoring his first career OUA goal at the 120 minute mark off of a corner kick from Martin Dabrowski, giving Ryerson the win.
“I saw a rookie, who played in a total of three games all season,” said Braletic about Lambis, “and I saw him step up and win the game for us. It speaks volumes to the type of character we have on this team.”
“I knew the guys were working hard all game and on the corner kick they left me open, I saw the opportunity and I got it in, which feels good,” said Lambis on the game-winner.
“These guys haven’t been to the Final Four for a long time, they’ve been good enough, but have got unlucky,” said head coach Ivan Joseph.
The undefeated Rams will be taking on Windsor at Birchmount stadium in their Final Four game next Saturday at 2 p.m.