TORONTO, ON – Raeghan McCarthy controls the ball near the top of the penalty area and turns into space to fire a shot. Seconds later, the ball nestles in the net, and for the first time in over 600 days, celebrations ensue.
Student-athletes, family members, and fans alike had Sept. 4 circled on their calendar for several months, longing for the day they could pack bleachers and grass slopes for Canadian university soccer.
After months of waiting, the Central Division, featuring teams from Alberta, kicked off the U SPORTS Canada West season with a pair of rivalry games in the province’s two largest cities. In Calgary, the defending conference champion U of Calgary Dinos visited the Mount Royal Cougars, while U of Alberta made the short trip to MacEwan in Edmonton.
Throughout the season, 49 Sports will be providing coverage of U SPORTS soccer in every conference, with weekly takeaway articles and feature stories.
MacEwan Griffins 2-0 Alberta Pandas
With a very young team, 2021 is a transitional year for Alberta Pandas soccer. However, it was still disappointing to concede within three minutes of the return to play. With 18 returning players and 13 rookies, MacEwan came into the opening match with a perfect balance and an opportunity to build on a fantastic 2019 season.
The Griffins got a quick start, and the veteran core took charge of the season’s first goal. Fifth-year defender Samantha Gouveia dropped the ball to fourth-year forward McCarthy, whose blistering shot nestled into the corner to score the first U SPORTS goal since November 2019.
Freshman forward Grace Mwasalla doubled MacEwan’s lead in the 41st minute, just before halftime, with a goal that could claim Goal of the Season in just week one. Chatham, Ontario’s Mwasalla, took Meagan Lemoine’s throw-in on a volley, smashing the ball past Alberta goalkeeper Ashley Turner.
“It might be the goal of the year already,” said Griffins Head Coach Dean Cordeiro to MacEwan Athletics. “Grace Mwasalla, to hit that clean laces off a throw-in and go top bins … just world-class. She’s a special talent, and you’re going to be hearing her name a lot this season.”
The Pandas struggled to contain the MacEwan attack, only earning their first shot in the 40th minute, a handful of seconds before Mwasalla’s wonder-goal. Both teams had four shots on target by the end of the match, yet MacEwan stood above the Pandas with 14 total attempts.
MacEwan’s Bianca Castillo made four saves to earn the clean sheet for the home side and put them atop Canada West for at least an hour before the match in Edmonton finished.
The Griffins and Pandas are back in action next weekend, as they both take on the Calgary Dinos and the Griffins duel with Lethbridge.
Calgary Dinos 3-0 Mount Royal Cougars
The last Canada West game that the Calgary Dinos played ended with them hoisting a trophy. However, over 600 days later, they did not get a trophy but scored three goals and were awarded a little bit of luck.
Visiting their Calgarian rivals at Mount Royal, the Dinos defeated the MRU Cougars 3-0 with two well-worked goals and an error from the Cougars goalkeeper.
Like MacEwan’s opening marker, veterans led the way for Calgary, with all three Dinos goals coming from returning players. Senior Montana Leonard opened the scoring in the 16th minute, as she found space between MRU’s midfield and defence and timed a run to receive a pass into space.
After exploiting the space in the MRU final third, Leonard’s well-placed shot ruffled the netting to put the 2019 champions up a goal within 17 minutes.
The Dinos continued to pepper Katrina Greenley for the first half, posting 10 shots, despite entering the half-time break leading only Montana’s strike. However, it took until the 69th minute for the Dinos to pad their lead.
Calgary’s spatial awareness paid off on their second goal as well, leading to a clear-cut aerial chance for Rachel Barlow, who made no mistake on the finish. As seen below, Barlow is tight with the MRU defender before peeling off and creating space for herself to receive a pass and take the chance.
While Calgary’s first two goals were highlight-reel worthy, the third was a simple mistake from MRU’s Greenley, who had been stellar up to that point. Amy Mikuska’s light shot, which may have been a pass, ricocheted off Greenley’s hands, over her leg and into the goal to make it 3-0 in the 81st minute.
“It is good to get that one out of the way. I thought we did some good things going forward when we did. We certainly switched off for large moments, and we have to address that in training,” said Dinos head coach Troye Flannery to Dinos Athletics.
The Dinos, who sit top of Canada West on goal difference, return to action next week when they visit Edmonton to take on Alberta and Macewan, while the Cougars stay at home awaiting their Saturday date with Lethbridge.
Cover photo: Chris Piggott Photo