Soccer Universities

After heartbreaking U Sports title loss, Carleton soccer embraces roster turnover

Carleton goalkeeper Kyle Potter lies on the goalie of the Ravens’ Perch as Montreal players celebrate winning the U Sports championship. Photo: Spencer Colby/The Charlatan

By Ethan Diamandas

Kyle Potter collapsed onto the Ravens’ Perch turf while the Montreal Carabins rushed onto the field to celebrate their victory. At that very moment, a mash of emotions ran through the Carleton keeper’s head.

“The first thing that came over me is I felt like I was going to throw up,” Potter told the Ottawa Sports Pages weeks after the Ravens’ 3-2 loss in the U Sports soccer championship. “I was just so sick to my stomach, and then I just felt exhausted.”

Once the nausea subsided, the gravity of the moment sunk in. The soccer ball sat in the back of the net. The shootout was over. There were no more chances.

The Ravens, who just finished their third straight extra-time game, came so close to the first national championship in school history, but would now walk away with a silver medal.

READ MORE: Ravens’ national championship dreams crushed in dramatic shootout loss

“Then the emotion hit me that, yeah, we lost,” Potter said. “Tears started coming from my eyes. It was very emotional.”

The entire season built up to that moment. Carleton battled its way to the championship match, first with a come-from-behind victory over UBC in the quarterfinals, and then a thrilling overtime win over Cape Breton in the semis.

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It was devastating enough that the championship final loss to Montreal on Nov. 21 rudely interrupted Carleton’s quest for gold, but the tournament also represented the Ravens’ last chance to compete with its current core of players.

The Ravens soccer program is anticipating its biggest roster turnover since head coach Kwesi Loney took over in 2016. As many as 10 players – including captain Ricky Comba, star striker Gabriel Bitar and midfielder Dario Conte, who are all from Ottawa – are eligible to graduate and may not return for another season.

While the idea of a roster refresh can be unnerving, it also injects the program with all kinds of new energy.

“It’s exciting as a coach,” Loney said, “because now you’ve had an opportunity to kind of instill an infrastructure, a DNA, a culture with your first cycle of players, and now you get to yield, hopefully, the benefits and the fruits of that structure put in place.”

Part of keeping that winning infrastructure comes via some valuable lessons passed on from Carleton’s veteran players.

“(The veterans) just represent Carleton in such a good way,” said first-year defender Raphaël Garcia. “Coming every day at training and demanding perfection from everyone, that’s what I’ll keep from them.

“I think they mentor the younger guys very well. Also, they are players that could have bigger egos, but they don’t. Everyone on the team has the same amount of respect.”

It’s now up to the Ravens’ young stars to uphold that mentality – and the future of Carleton soccer is still very bright.

Garcia was named a U Sports First-Team All-Canadian, while rookie midfielder Matteo de Brienne won the OUA East Rookie of the Year award and was selected to U Sports’ All-Rookie Team.

Ravens midfielder Matteo de Brienne. Photo: Valerie Wutti

Garcia and de Brienne are now expected to assume positions of leadership as Carleton preps for its RSEQ indoor season, which runs from January until March. Some of the club’s younger players will also get their first cracks at playing time, too.

“I know that a lot of people here, day in, day out, are fighting for a playing spot, which I love about this group,” de Brienne said. “The competition was always so high, and so I’m excited to see what the some of the 2003 (-born) boys are going to bring to the table.”

Even with a new wave of talent coming up, Loney said recruitment is a process that “never stops.” And while he’s kept a largely Ottawa-based roster in years past, Carleton’s coach said he’s looking for players who embrace the team’s culture, no matter where they come from.

“The environment has now been created,” Loney said. “It’s so embedded in who we are.

“I credit our senior guys for creating that, obviously being from Ottawa. But now, I think it’s just a part of who we are, so I don’t think it matters if you’re from Ottawa, from out of province or out of country, I think you’re just gonna feel that type of compassion and brotherhood right away.”

When the Ravens take the pitch next fall, their roster might look a lot different, but their end goal remains the same, as does their method for achieving it – work as hard as possible, fight until the last whistle, and bring home a gold medal.

Yet, for the Ravens players who do return, the bitterness of losing to Montreal on that cold night in Ottawa won’t be a feeling that’s easily forgotten, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“We were so close to winning, and next year is a new year,” Potter said. “Coming 2022, when we start going up in January, I am just on a grind because I know how close we were, and I just want to get back there and win it this time.”

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