The provincial championship once again belongs to George Brown College.
Friday, March 22 saw the George Brown Huskies defeat the Fanshawe Falcons 1-0 in the 2019 Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) Men's Indoor Soccer Championships gold-medal game. The victory continues what has been an incredible half decade for the men's program, marking its second gold medal in three years, and fifth straight season with a medal result.
"We were confident going in, even from yesterday," said Huskies athlete Mathew Da Silva after the tournament. "The whole team was well prepared, and we came here having the mindset of nothing but gold. We worked hard, everyone did their role and it turned out well."
While Friday's result is but the latest in GBC's stellar run, success certainly wasn't guaranteed. Following a 2-1 record in the previous day's round robin play, a semi-final match-up against the UTM Eagles awaited George Brown in the morning, the same Eagles squad which had humbled the Huskies at regionals.
"For sure," GBC forward Shaquille Agard said of whether there was a chip on George Brown's shoulders heading into the tilt. "We were saying in the huddle that this team beat us in regionals, that we're not going to take that type of disrespect again, and this was the time to do it, the perfect time, semi-finals and we got it done."
Much of the semi-final's first half was defined by an abundance of caution, with each side feeling out the other, wary of making a mistake in light of their opponent's lethality. As the half progressed, the game began to open up, allowing George Brown to flex its transition prowess.
Though it took until the second half, GBC was rewarded for their composure and defensive shape. A quick transition sprung Agard, who made no mistake in putting the Huskies up 1-0 with nine minutes remaining, a score it would carry to the final whistle.
As luck would have it, the soccer gods weren't through with providing George Brown opportunities at redemption. In booking their trip to the finals, GBC lined itself up for a rematch against the Fanshawe Falcons, who had defeated the Huskies the previous day by a score of 3-1.
There's a lot to be said for training, talent and lessons learned from lumps taken all coming together at the right time. The Huskies did just that, making the stars align through sheer force of will, hard work and dedication to defence.
Facing a potent offence in Fanshawe, the Huskies put on a defensive masterclass, cutting off lanes and denying looks with aplomb. Far from simply being a safeguarding shell, George Brown's neutralizing of the Falcons' attack saw the offensive tide turn the other way. Though the score remained 0-0, by time the first half ended, heavy pressure from GBC had seen the Huskies rack up quality scoring chances one after another.
"We knew they couldn't break us down defensively," said Huskies head coach John Williams. "… Given that we defensively prepared for this game by dropping back, they weren't able to get any crucial shots on net. I would say we stuck to our game plan, and I don't think they knew how to deal with it, hence we got that W."
In many ways, the Huskies' gold-medal performance, featuring sturdy, committed defence and a transition game second to none, was a fulfillment of the promise shown in fits and spurts throughout the indoor season.
Just as with their earlier match against UTM, the Huskies didn't allow halftime to hinder their momentum, and they were rewarded for it. Five minutes into the second half, Agard once again found twine to put George Brown ahead, 1-0.
Up until that point, while the gold-medal game had featured scoring chances, it had been a relatively ho-hum affair emotionally. From there however, the temperature on the pitch rose significantly.
Looking for the equalizer, the Falcons needed to press and did just that, as tensions ran high and challenges for the ball gained an extra oomph.
With onlookers packing the Ontario Soccer Centre's second floor overhang, the game's dying minutes featured a prolonged Fanshawe siege of the Huskies' final third. George Brown held fast, allowing the Falcons possession but little in the way of meaningful looks, and Agard's tally held up as the championship-winning goal.
Named tournament MVP for his efforts, George Brown's gold-medal finish caps what has been an illustrious collegiate career for Agard. Praising Williams for the confidence and belief the coach had in him, the team co-captain also spoke of a vow he'd made to his fellow Huskies.
"It's very emotional, because it's your last year, and you go out on a bang," said Agard. "I wouldn't have it any other way.
"I told my teammates two weeks ago that, if we got here, 'I'll take you guys to the championship, just help me get there.' And we did it."
Honours were also earned by Da Silva and Huskies goalkeeper Yanic Stambolich, both of whom were named tournament all-stars.
"I'm privileged to be an all-star, it's something you dream about," said Da Silva, who made a point of highlighting the jobs done by Stambolich and Agard both.
In his first year as a George Brown varsity athlete, and like Agard before him, the Etobicoke native had a clear idea of what that meant.
"It means everything to be a Husky," said Da Silva. "There's no better feeling than winning with your team. The guys that you love, you play every day for and work hard with every single day. It's for moments like this."