TORONTO, ON – While Ontario university soccer finally got underway this past weekend, the action in Canada West made sure that the conference did not go unnoticed. In just three days, Canada West has a new all-time men’s leading goalscorer in Alberta’s Ajeej Sarkara, featured the biggest comeback in a program’s history, and a goalkeeper who refused to beat.
Without further adieu, let’s get into the four things we learned from the last weekend of men’s and women’s soccer in Canada West.
MSOC: The UNBC Timberwolves make history
There is nothing more romantic in sports than an underdog story. However, when that underdog story features a miraculous comeback, it makes it even more special. For the UNBC Timberwolves, everything turned perfect in 10 minutes, as they stole a point off the UBC Thunderbirds, despite having trailed 3-0.
On Friday night, UBC star midfielder and FC Edmonton CPL-U SPORTS Draft pick Thomas Gardner went down with an apparent ankle injury, and Pacific FC selection Victory Shumboshu was forced off soon after. While the T-Birds scrounged their way to a 1-0 win in the first match, they lost two integral players and were looking at a difficult challenge with one win in three games.
With heavy squad rotation, the T-Birds soared to a fast start on Saturday, with rookie Sebastian Dzikowski scoring his second CanWest goal to lead things off. However, things turned ugly in the final 10 minutes, as the UNBC Timberwolves scored a trio of goals to tie the match.
“I’ve been in this game coaching university soccer for 25 years, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been involved in a game where we conceded three goals in the last 10 minutes of a game,” said the UBC Head Coach Mike Mosher.
The T-Birds now face an uphill battle, not only having to rebound from a disastrous collapse but to save their season after just a single win in four matches. The T-Birds visit the winless Fraser Valley Cascades next weekend for a pair of matches, and two wins are near crucial for them as the season reaches the midway point.
Despite the point claimed, the Timberwolves are six matches into their campaign without a victory. The Prince George-based school will be hard-pressed to finish in a Top 4 playoff spot with just half the season remaining.
MSOC: The Crowchild Classic is back and better than ever
With the divisional alignments operating independently of each other in 2021, this season offers more rivalry matches than in years past, despite being only 86% of the status-quo length. For the Mount Royal Cougars and Calgary Dinos, that means more of the Crowchild Classic and more animosity brewing between the two schools.
Through 180 minutes and two matches, neither school claimed three points, instead splitting the spoils and giving each of their playoff hopes a hit and a boost all at once. While Saturday afternoon’s 0-0 affair passed without much notice, the same can’t be said for the Friday showdown that ended 2-2.
The referee awarded a combined eight cards through 90 minutes, including one to Dinos Head Coach Brendan O’Connell in the 33rd minute. Students from both schools flocked to the field, surrounding the sidelines and overflowing from the slight metal bleachers that hold the usual capacity.
Match officials and organizers threatened to abandon the match, with fans too close to the sideline and debris flying onto the field. University of Calgary Campus Security was called, and the game finished without too much disturbance from supporters.
MRU’s Mohamed El-Gandour, a Cavalry FC CPL-U SPORTS Draft pick, opened the scoring from a penalty kick early in the first half and looked dynamic all match, alongside 49 Sports Preseason Player to Watch Dane Dominic, who had four shots and a goal.
Although the Crowchild Classic was filled with drama, the results don’t help the teams all too much as the CanWest Central hits the quarter-season mark. The Dinos take on a struggling Lethbridge Pronghorns side next week before taking on the 2-0 Saskcthewan Huskies; meanwhile, the Cougars host the Alberta Golden Bears.
WSOC: Trinity Western the favourites at the halfway mark
If there was a perfect way to play a season, the Trinity Western Spartans are coming pretty close to it. After six games, Head Coach Graham Roxburgh’s team has 18 points while scoring 22 goals compared to just two conceded.
In Week 4, the Langley-based program scored six goals, with a 1-0 and 5-0 victory against the visiting Fraser Valley Cascades. Led by Elizabeth Hicks and Anna Dunn, the Spartans look leaps and bounds ahead of their opponents.
They faced a challenge in the second Cascades match, but they shut down defensively and saw out a 1-0 win. The week before, they beat the UNBC Timberwolves by 5-0 and 6-0. Defence wins championships, or so they say, but what can a stingy defence and firing forward core do?
The Spartans visit Thompson Rivers next week, and they’ll most likely pick up six points in Kamloops, potentially setting up four massive matches against second-place UVic and third place UBC in the season’s final weeks.
WSOC: MacEwan throwing fire in the Central
When Megan Lemoine steps up to take a throw in the final third of the pitch, opposing teams have to watch out. The fourth-year forward is a throw-in specialist, being able to launch the ball into dangerous areas on a tactic seldom used to create havoc. But, aside from being a playmaker from the sideline, she’s got a knack for scoring herself.
The MacEwan Griffins are first place in the Canada West Central Division through six games and are looking down at the second-place Calgary Dinos, who have one draw compared to the Griffins 5-1-0 record.
While MacEwan put together a first-place season in 2019, they did not have to battle with the Dinos in their division. In 2021, as they jockey for position with the 2019 CanWest champions, they are showing no weakness.
Through 1-0 and 4-1 wins against the Alberta Pandas in Week 4, Lemoine tallied her first goal of the season, while rookie Grace Mwasalla continued to find Canada West success with his second goal of the season.
Unlike Calgary and UBC (BC Division), who often turn to Montana Leonard and Danielle Steer to score, the Griffins are scoring by committee, making it difficult for opposing defences to isolate one attacker. After six games, no Griffin has more than two goals, yet 10 different players have hit the back of the net.
Calgary and MacEwan do not meet until the season’s final weekend, making the Griffins next two weeks against Mount Royal and Lethbridge integral to their top-seed hopes.
- MSOC: For the first time since 1998, there is a new all-time leading goalscorer in Canada West men’s soccer. Alberta Golden Bear Ajeej Sarkaria scored a hat trick against MacEwan on Saturday, pushing him past UVic Vikes alumnus Simon Vickers, who had held the record for over 21 years. Sarkaria, who has pro experience with the CPL’s FC Edmonton, has now scored 41 goals in Canada West, compared to Vickers’ 39.
- WSOC: Although the UNBC women’s team could not pick up any points against UBC, they bravely defended for nearly 87 minutes before conceding to UBC’s offensive onslaught. Squamish-born goalkeeper Brooke Molby made 17 stops in one of the best performances of the weekend.
Cover Photo: David Moll/Calgary Dinos