VANCOUVER, BC – It has been a long wait, but the three-time defending Canada West champions will be returning to the pitch to defend their throne. The UBC Thunderbirds take on the Thompson Rivers WolfPack in their season opener this year. With much of the team returning, it looks like a bright year ahead for the T-Birds.
Here’s a preview of how things stack up out at Thunderbird Stadium in Point Grey.
The Thunderbirds will be without their stalwart keeper in Jason Roberts. The Richmond, BC native completed his fifth year in Arts and graduated from UBC. He appeared in all but one game during the 2019-20 season, backstopping the T-Birds to their Canada West title. One of the best keepers in conference history, his veteran presence will be sorely missed as the three-time defending champs return to action.
Another face that bid farewell was Sean Einarsson, an applied science student and UBC’s number 10. It will mark the first year since 2012-13 that Einarsson hasn’t featured in the blue-and-gold. Always a dependable force in the midfield, Einarsson tallied 2 goals and 3 assists in 13 games during the 2019-20 campaign.
One of the biggest names that the Thunderbirds welcomed in 2020 was Chris Lee. A product of the Whitecaps Academy, the defender made his professional debut with the Canadian Premier League’s Pacific FC this past June. Lee has already impressed at that level, not finding himself out of place at all with the professional side. He returns to UBC with more experience and looks to make a splash in his Canada West debut.
Tristan Nkoghe of the University of New Brunswick Reds recently announced his transfer to the west coast. The forward has been a solid goal-scoring presence with the Atlantic University Sport side, potting in 12 goals and adding 5 assists in 24 career games. He looks to provide more of the same to supplement the Thunderbirds’ already potent offense.
In terms of new recruits, defender Manmeet Jhutty headlined a good rookie class as usual. Having played for Surrey United, Jhutty’s play is versatile and effective on the back end. He was a key cog in the Panorama Ridge Secondary team that claimed the Provincial AAA title.
Most of the 2019 Canada West title-winning team has returned for another year with the Thunderbirds this season. Tommy Gardner, the first overall selection in the CPL-U SPORTS Draft, returns to UBC after spending time with FC Edmonton. He looks to retain his role as the lynchpin in the midfield, adding creativity and a dead ball threat to this eleven.
Also coming back is Victory Shumbusho, a name that strikes fear into every U SPORTS defender. The prolific striker has been terrorizing CanWest with his goal-scoring abilities, tallying 11 in 20 appearances. Shumbusho was also selected in the CPL draft by Pacific FC, though he did not end up signing a contract with the Vancouver Island side.
What to Expect This Year
The Thunderbirds team has retained much of what gave it the best offense in CanWest and the second best defense to boot. They’ve added defensive prospects that give versatility and some offensive spice. Look at this goal from Lee, for example:
It’s really no wonder why that the coaches poll firmly pegged UBC to repeat as Canada West champions. The question is now, can they finally string together the results needed to challenge for the national title? It has been a couple of disappointing runs for the T-Birds as of late, falling to York to finish 5th in 2019 and a consolation round loss to UQAM l in 2018.
However, with the team looking better than ever and hungry for action, it would be wise to peg them as a contender. Certainly, I’ve been having a blast watching their practices and friendlies before football practice. The Thunderbirds will be aiming to lift that U SPORTS banner once more this year, to say the least.
Oh, Canada West Soccer, it’s good to be back.