VANCOUVER, BC- When the Alberta golden Bears captured the 2016 U SPORTS National Championship, few people would have expected that teams from Canada West would be left off that list for three straight seasons.
UBC hosted the 2018 tournament but failed to lift the trophy in front of their own supporters, and other teams have not pushed themselves to the top of the national podium. With 2021’s men’s soccer season kicking off on Friday, Sept. 10, Canada West teams will look to end that drought.
49 Sports looked at the Prarie Division for men’s soccer, but could the next national champion come from the Pacific?
The top four teams in the division qualify for the playoffs and will play the Prarie division teams in an eight-team seeded bracket.
Thompson Rivers Wolfpack
For one of the conference’s smaller schools, the TRU Wolfpack have punched above their weight for several seasons and even had players from their program selected by Canadian Premier League clubs.
After finishing fourth in the division in 2019, the Wolfpack, led by Head Coach John Antulov, will look towards an underdog Canada West title in 2021. The Wolfpack host the potential powerhouse UBC Thunderbirds in their conference first match on Sept. 10 but could very well cause the T-Birds and other top-teams some trouble.
TRU won the Fraser Valley Soccer League City Cup as part of their preseason and posted a dominant win over the collegiate-level Capilano Blues. With tournament preparation and competitive matchplay, the group could have an advantage to start the campaign.
Forward James Fraser is the lone fifth-year player on the roster and will lead the offence after scoring eight goals in just eight games in 2019. At the back, fourth-year defender Jan Pirretas Glasmacher will attempt to rekindle the form that drew Pacific FC’s eye in the 2019 CPL-U SPORTS Draft.
Player to watch: Jan Pirretas Glasmacher
Trinity Western Spartans
The Trinity Western Spartans have been at the party. They’ve locked eyes with the Canada West championship trophy but never reached out a hand to ask it to dance. They have finished second in two of the last three seasons, with both finals losses at the claws of the UBC Thunderbirds. Despite a disappointing defeat against the Calgary Dinos in the 2019 conference quarterfinals, the Spartans are still a contender.
Missing the 2020 season hit the Spartans hard, and Head Coach Mike Sheron thinks that the 2020 roster might have been one of the program’s best teams ever. After a veteran core received their degrees and left the school in 2020, Shearon is left with a young group of Spartans to challenge for the title.
One experienced and returning player is goalkeeper Sebastien Colyn, the older brother of Whitecaps FC academy product Simon Colyn. After winning nine games with seven shutouts in 2019, expectations are high for the veteran goalkeeper; however, he is likely to be tested more with an extremely fresh-faced lineup.
Another veteran, Jacob Low, is the player to watch. He scored five goals in 2019 as an attacking midfielder and will orchestrate the inexperienced forward group in 2021. Although the forward group of Christian Rossi, Jackson Thomson, Xander Roxburgh, Pedro Paz Duarte and Luca Alberti is very young, their success hinges on Low’s distribution.
If you take in a TWU Spartans match this season, remember some of the names. The program has been a stepping stone for Canadian international Joel Waterman and CPL player Jake Ruby, among other pro players.
Player to watch: Jacob Low
The UBC Thunderbirds are the Pacific Division’s best shot at a U SPORTS Championship. As three-time defending conference champions, the Mike Mosher-led T-Birds will look for the quadruple in 2021.
Fullback Chris Lee and midfielder Thomas Gardner both proved to be exceptional players in their Canadian Premier League stints with Pacific FC and FC Edmonton this summer, as they got a taste of the pro game on U SPORTS contracts. In just a few preseason matches, that quality is shining through. Both are exceptional in open play, but will punish teams from set-pieces quite often.
Forward Victory Shubusho and centreback Jackson Farmer also attended CPL camps after being selected by Pacific and Edmonton, but neither found their way into league matches. Nevertheless, the two are experienced and are bound to be elite players in U SPORTS.
In the midfield, the T-Birds have veteran and former Whitecaps FC 2 player Mitch Piraux, while they also welcome 2018 AUS Rookie of the Year and U SPORTS All-Canadian Tristan Nokoghe to the fold, as he departs UNB.
Go up and down the T-Birds lineup, and they have quality at every position. Rookie striker Sebastien Dzikowski and winger Nicolas Momontai will be names for the future, but the veteran core could very well win the T-Birds a U SPORTS title.
Player to watch: Chris Lee
UBC Okanagan Heat
Dante Zanatta returns for an 11th season to coach the UBCO Heat. After a season at .500, he will hope to build towards a finish higher than last years’ 5th in the Pacific division. However, those hopes will rest on a defence that allowed the 4th fewest number of goals last season.
Leading the defensive efforts will be goalkeeper Nicholas Rietsma, who comes off a season with no less than six shutouts. In his final year of eligibility, he is a goalkeeper to keep an eye on this season. At the other end of the spectrum, the UBC O welcomes 16 players who will be in their first year of eligibility. While a certain transition will be inevitable this year, Rietsma’s leadership could be vital to ensuring success on the field this season.
Player to watch: Sam McDonald
Fraser Valley Cascades
The UFV Cascades ended last season in sixth in the Pacific Division, to improve on that, they have turned to, among others, two experienced players from elsewhere in BC. Nikhil Reddy, coming from UBC Okanagan, and Taylor Richardson from Douglas College, come in to strengthen the midfield and front line, respectively.
The defensive line, however, will be lead by Surrey’s Ryan Donald. If Fraser Valley’s backline can allow less than last year’s 22 goals, the experienced left-back should be an essential part in doing so.
Player to watch: Trevor Zanatta
Northern BC Timberwolves
The UNBCTimberwolves will rely on the likes of Owen Stewart, a Prince George native in his last year of eligibility, on the front line, as well as Daniel Zadravec in goal. However, the returning players will be joined by an incoming crop of players with an international flavour. Maarten Grombein from Germany, Dominic Parris of Jamaica, and Toranosuke Omori of Japan will provide reinforcements across all areas of the pitch.
These are elements of what head coach Steve Simonson hopes will be a team that improves on its four wins last season, which left them in 7th in the Pacific division. Essential to a better finish this season will be a more vigorous defence this season, which leaked 24 goals last year. The losses of a couple senior defenders, Jonah Smith and Aidan Way, will add to this defensive challenge.
Player to watch: Maarten Grombein
The UVic Vikes are always an exciting team. Often caught in the cross-hairs of the USL’s Victoria Highlanders, the Vikes can sometimes have a group of players that spent the summer together. Unfortunately, with the Highlanders league status in flux this year, they don’t have that advantage.
Led by Canadian soccer legend and former FIFA World up player Bruce Wilson, the Vikes will look to improve on their disappointing quarterfinal exit from 2019, and fifth-year forward Isaac Koch could pave the way.
Koch scored nine goals in 2019, and as an older, more experienced player, he could take advantage of the several backlines in the conference that lack experience at the U SPORTS level.
An intriguing addition to the team is New Westminster’s Dusan Mitrovic, who played in the Whitecaps FC Pre-Reseidecy programs before staring in the BCSPL. While he may not play an exceptional amount in 2021, Mitrovic will be a key player for years to come.
Player to watch: Isaac Koch
- UBC Thunderbirds
- TWU Spartans
- UVIC Vikes
- TRU Wolfpack
- UFV Cascades
- UNBC Timberwolves
- UBCO Heat