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2015 Title-Holders' Durham United Reinvent Themselves Ahead Of 2018 Championship Final

08/29/2018, 11:45am EDT
By Jonathan Cheng

In his first full year with the team, Head Coach Mohammadi credited his squad for their selflessness as he implemented new philosophies that catered to Durham's growing maturity.

Durham United FA 2015 - Opening day at Tim Hortons Stadium, Hamilton (Photo: Martin Bazyl)

Durham United FA 2018 - Opening weekend v De Ro United (Photo: Martin Bazyl Photography)

In the 73rd minute of the playoff semifinal, Durham United FA had to weather the storm as they defended their 2-1 lead over back-to-back defending champions FC London.

The underdogs from Pickering had gone ahead only two minutes prior, and London surged forward in retaliation to get an equalizer.

Hollie Babut, the holding midfielder protecting the Durham defence, shut a chance down with a sublime slide tackle, effectively cutting off service to the potent London attack spearheaded by two-time women's division MVP, Jade Kovacevic.

Babut, 2015's third-place leader in goal-scoring, had never played in the defensive third in her career, but she rose to the challenge of dictating the pace of the game from deep, dethroning the back-to-back champions in the process.

The Durham captain credited her teammates and long-time assistant coach Paul Deabreau in helping her get comfortable in the new role.

"Paul gave me a few pointers and said, 'Try to disrupt anything going forward and to their striker,'" Babut told League1 Ontario.

"I had a lot of help from Tamara [Brown] and Briana [De Souza], our centre-backs, so they were able to guide me through the position."

Three years after winning the inaugural League1 Ontario Women's Championship in 2015, Durham have flipped the script to reinvent themselves, exemplified by Babut's new role in the playoffs.

2015 Durham United FA: Tamara Brown (L); Brianna De Souza (R)

Brianna De Souza 2016 (Photo: Martin Bazyl)

2016 Durham United FA: Tamara Brown

2016 Durham United FA: Hollie Babut (Photo: Martin Bazyl)

Gone are the swashbuckling scorers of 2015 that netted 69 goals in 18 games. In their place, structure reigns supreme as the Pickering-based club only conceded nine goals in 12 games, tied with FC London and Woodbridge Strikers for best defensive record in the league in 2018.

An organized defence made Kinsmen Park a fortress this year, as they outscored their opponents 18-0 on their main field. Durham went undefeated at home, earning clean sheets in five of those wins while conceding a single goal in a 1-1 home draw with Aurora FC at the Pickering Soccer Centre.

The solid back-line helped on both sides of the ball. Opponents were left frustrated as they squandered possession after their chances were smothered, allowing Durham to control the game under their terms.

"It allowed us to keep the goals out obviously and deny those opportunities for the opposition, but I think it also translated into a better attack," Babut said.

Despite not matching the extraordinary scoring output of past seasons, Durham have kept up with the best of the league, remaining in the top-five for most goals scored to complement their defensive gains.

Durham entered 2018 with a core group of players that have been with the team since the beginning, while adding some new faces that were familiar with head coach Ramin Mohammadi from past league and university teams.

In his first full year with the team, Mohammadi credited his squad for their selflessness as he implemented new philosophies that catered to Durham's growing maturity.

2015 Durham United (Photo: Martin Bazyl)

2015 League1 Ontario Champions: Durham United FA (Photo: Martin Bazyl)

2018 Women's Championship Semi-Final v FC London (Photo: Martin Bazyl)

2018 Women's Championship Semi-Final v FC London (Photo: Martin Bazyl)

"We want our players to be team players," Mohammadi said. "If you have a team player—even if they're less technical—you can get a lot from them."

"These players that stayed with us, they are team players. They do whatever it takes for the team to be successful."

The technical staff's forward-thinking ideas led to the end of FC London's 28-game winning streak in the league. Mohammadi is trusting his players to put on a repeat performance in hopes of lifting their second league title.

"As a coach, you just give the players tools," Mohammadi said. "In the end, it's the players' game. Players go on the field and do what they think they have to do at that moment."

Babut is relishing the next opportunity to play as a holding midfielder, potentially on the biggest stage of 2018 in the Championship Final against the Woodbridge Strikers.

"I hope I get to play it!" Babut said. "I'd like to continue on with the challenge."

"I hope being in that position helps the team be successful. I'd like to have the opportunity to, but I'll play wherever the coach needs me."

Check out the 2018 League1 Ontario Women's Championship Final featuring Durham United FA vs Woodbridge Strikers on September 1 (3 p.m.) at the Ontario Soccer Centre (7601 Martin Grove Rd.). 

Live broadcast:

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