Lions look to defend the Blackwood Cup this weekend at the OUA Men's Soccer Final Four

Lions look to defend the Blackwood Cup this weekend at the OUA Men's Soccer Final Four

BURLINGTON, Ont. – The top teams from across the province will travel to Birchmount Park in Toronto this weekend for the 2016 Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Men's Soccer Final Four Championships, hosted by the Ryerson Rams.

Semifinal action is scheduled to take place on Saturday beginning at 12pm with the York Lions against their cross-town rivals, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, followed by the Rams taking on the Guelph Gryphons at 3pm.  The winners will advance to the gold-medal game, while the losers will battle in the bronze-medal game with a potential CIS national championship berth on the line. 

Fans can watch all four games streaming live this weekend on OUA.tv.

Coming off an undefeated season and having hoisted the Blackwood Cup in each of the past three years, the York Lions enter the tournament as the No. 1 seed in the West and are considered by many to be a favourite heading into the weekend.  The Lions are looking to become the first team to win four straight OUA titles since the Western Mustangs accomplished the feat from 1996-99.

York is led by midfielder Jonathan Lao (Unionville, Ont.), who was recently named OUA West Division MVP and a first-team all-star after he scored four goals and added three assists in 12 games this season for the York Lions.  However, with a roster that features six OUA first- and second-team all-stars, Lao isn't the only Lion the opposition will have to be on the lookout for.

This will be the third straight semifinal meeting between the Lions, who are ranked No. 1 in the most recent U Sports Top 10 rankings, and the rival No. 5 University of Toronto Varsity Blues.  York holds the upper hand recently over the Blues having defeated them 2-0 in 2014 and by a score of 1-0 last year.

After a 12-2-2 regular season record, the Blues advanced to the semis following a 2-1 win over the Carleton Ravens in the quarterfinals, while the Lions cruised to a 3-0 victory over the Western Mustangs to punch their ticket

Midfielder Lukas MacNaughton (Brussels, Belgium) is the man in the middle for the Blues and as he goes so too does U of T's high-powered offence.  Since joining the league, MacNaughton has been named an OUA first-team all-star three times in four seasons and this year he led Toronto with seven goals in 16 games.

Toronto hopes to have the Lions singing the Blues on Saturday as a victory by Varsity would also be only the Lions second loss in three seasons.

The Rams are hoping that the hometown crowd will help them shake their semifinal spell as Ryerson has been upset in that round in back-to-back seasons.  It was a fourth straight first place finish a top the OUA East Division for Ryerson this year, but it will be Blackwood or bust for the boys in blue this weekend as the Rams are still chasing that elusive first OUA championship in program history.

For a second (and arguably third) straight year the Rams were led by midfielder Raheem Rose (Toronto, Ont.) who was recently named OUA East Division Most Valuable Player and a first-team all-star for a second straight season.  Rose has taken the league by storm since being named OUA Rookie of the Year in 2014 and this year was no different.  Representing the 6 for his hometown Rams, Rose finished third on the Rams with eight goals, including five game-winning goals.

However, the task might be easier said than done on Saturday for Ryerson, as the Rams haven't faced an offence quite like the Gryphons yet this season.  Saturday's matchup will be a true test of offence versus defence as the Gryphons scored the most goals (57), while the Rams allowed the least amount of goals against (8).

The Gryphons have a dual threat in the form of forwards Jace Kotsopoulos (Burlington, Ont.) and Tomasz Skublak (Hamilton, Ont.).  The pair scored 47 percent of Guelph's goals this season with Kotsopoulos finding the back of the net 17 times to lead the league, while Skublak finished fifth with 10 goals in 14 games.

The Rams reached the semifinals with a thrilling 1-0 overtime win over Queen's, while the Gryphons bounced the two-time defending OUA silver medallist McMaster Marauders in their quarter-final matchup.

If Guelph can upset the host Rams and eliminate them in the semifinals for a third straight year, the Gryphons would be one step away from hoisting the Blackwood Cup for the first time since 1990.     

In addition to the OUA title, York, Ryerson and Toronto are all competing for a berth in the CIS Men's Soccer Championship, which will be hosted by Guelph from Nov. 10-13.

The winners of the two semifinals on Saturday will earn the spots at the national tournament, but as hosts the Gryphons have already secured their spot.  Should they reach the OUA final, the third berth will go to the winner of Sunday's bronze-medal match.

Be sure to check out OUA.ca and follow @OUASport on Twitter for championship updates throughout the weekend.