Originally published on CanadaSoccer.com

Ontario’s London Marconi became the first team to advance to the Challenge Trophy gold medal match after defeating Manitoba’s FC Winnipeg Lions 1:0.

It was a hard fought, physical semi-final. At this stage in the competition teams are going into their fourth match in five days and, as muscles tire, the winner is often the team that wants it more.

“It’s all mental at this points,” says Marconi midfielder Tyler Hemming. “I told the guys before the match, ‘we need to be mentally tough.’ Because physically, everybody is hurting and, really, at this level, the teams [in terms of conditioning] are equal, so if we can stay mentally stronger than anybody else we should be able to win.”

Marconi certainly showed hustle, pressuring Manitoba’s back line and closing down space along the wings. Striker Taso Bujouves looked particularly dangerous and nearly gave his team the lead, in the 22nd minute, after breaking in alone on Lion’s keeper Steve Sawatzky, who did well to get low and block the shot with his body.

“I give them credit,” says Lions coach Tony Nocita, “they pressed us well and when that happens you have to rely on getting through the first line of pressure – that’s the key to opening things up – but, there were moments in the game where we just needed to make a good decision but didn’t. And [as a result] we gave up possession, which, at times, left us chasing the game.”

Nevertheless, Manitoba proved a difficult team to break down. And only conceded a goal, half way through the match, after Hemming turned and smashed a ball towards net, “hoping someone would get on the end of it.”

That someone was Bujouves, who having run into the box, jabbed at the ball with his left foot. “It was kind of lucky, so if you’re going to report this, say it was a beautiful touch, pure finesse, you know, make it a sweet story, because the truth is I kind of just ran into it.”

While Manitoba would make a late flurry, in the dying minutes, the 1:0 score line would hold. And for the second year in a row, the Lions find themselves in the bronze medal match instead of the gold. “It’s tough,” says Nocita, “to get this far and fall short. But hats off to London, they played well.”

Tomorrow both teams are back in action. Starting with Manitoba vs Saskatchewan for the bronze at 11:00 ET / 08:00 PT. While Ontario’s Marconi will face Alberta’s Calgary Callies at 12:00 ET / 09:00 PT in the gold medal match, which will be streamed live at canadasoccer.com/nationals.

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