U Sports Soccer: Thunderbirds regroup, advance to 5th place match

Enclosed by the side of a mountain, with fingers biting cold, the U Sports men’s national soccer tournament entered it’s semi-final stage Friday morning. Although it was the semi-finals, it was not the main event, as the first two matches of the day presented the consolation semi-finals. With the four losers from Thursday’s opening matches facing off for a place in the fifth-place game.

UBC Thunderbirds vs ST. FX X-Men

2-0 UBC. UBC advance to the fifth-place match.

The UBC Thunderbirds expected to be playing a semi-final on Friday, but not the one they did. The team from Vancouver, British Columbia dropped a disheartening result against the UQTR Patriots on Thursday, forcing them into the early morning consolation rounds. Needless to say, this was not the match UBC wanted to play in. It’s also the second straight year that the T-birds found themselves in the consolation side of the national tournament.

For the St.FX X-men, it was a disappointment but not a surprise to end up in this match, as their quarter-final loss to the OUA champion Carleton Ravens was expected.

The first half of the match provided little to no flare, with neither team able to settle into the game in the frigid temperatures. While it was colder than Thursday, the field was in much better condition, with no snow affecting the play.

UBC’s head coach Mike Mosher opted to play a much younger lineup in the match, opting for rookie Andrew Metcalfe in net over the veteran Jason Roberts, as well as youngster Logan Chung on the right side of the midfield.

However, it was neither of them who stole the show in the first half. That was none other than former Pacific FC drafty pick Thomas Gardner, who provided constant energy at both ends of the pitch for the Vancouverites.

St.FX had the best chances early in the game, with three free-kick attempts in the first half, although it was the British Columbians who would put the first ball in the back of the net.

UBC’s Nicholas Fussel firmly redirected the ball of a corner kick from former Whitecaps FC 2 player Jordan Haynes, giving the T-Birds the lead in the 16th minute of action.

The second half offered very little in the way of offence, as UBC buckled down and did their best to secure their place in the fifth-place match. Despite the “park-the-bus” approach, the Thunderbirds extended their lead in the dying minutes, with Jordan Haynes firing a long-distance shot past the reaching arms of William Venoit.

Although his team advanced, UBC’s Mosher was evidently frustrated with the game, shouting ferociously as the final whistle blew in the background.

What was intriguing about this game was the corner kick scored in the first half. The marking on the set-piece was very poor by the X-Men, a common theme throughout all of U Sports.

Interestingly, the sub-par U Sports set-piece marking translates itself into the Canadian Premier League. If we are to look at the corner success rate of the Canadian Premier League, we can see that it is very high. Although the numbers sway to a larger percentage at the start of the season, the corner kick has been a constant weak point across the nation. With U Sports influencing the CPL, it is not surprising to see the consistently weak corner kick defending throughout Canadian soccer.

49 Player of the Match

Thomas Gardner

Thomas Gardner (UBC Athletics)

It would be easy to give the honours to Nicholas Fussel with his goal and assist, but thats not who gets this award. The player of the match goes to his midfield teammate, Thomas Gardner.

Gardner is finsishing up his second year as a Thunderbird and has only improved since joining the team last season. every game offers a similar, yet consistent specatacle from the Vancouver Native.

His style focuses on providing costant pressure and energy, something that is able to flow throughout hius team. when on the ball, his decisons are nearly perfect. That, comibined with his individual skill and agility make him a fantasic player all-around. Each of these charectersics were on full display Friday morning.

With the Canadian Premier League draft of Monday, I would not be surprised to see Gardner come off the board early, joining what could be his second CPL team after being drafted by Pacific FC in 2018.

UBC will now play for fifth place on Saturday, either the York University Lions in a cross-conference matchup or find themselves a rematch of last week’s Canada West Final against the Calgary Dino’s. That match is set for noon eastern time.

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