VANCOUVER, BC – There is no doubt that the 2021 Canada West soccer season is the best in the last decade, potentially ever. With two classes of recruits, altered playoff formats and a points-based standings system, soccer’s return from the COVID-19 off-year could not have been better in the western-most U SPORTS conference.
As the regular season winds down, the drama reaches new heights. Playoff races. Record watching. Late goals. Canada West has showcased everything a soccer fan could hope for this season, and it is only getting better as the teams strive towards playoffs and the U SPORTS National Championships.
Four takeaways from Canada West’s penultimate weekend. Let’s get kicking.
MSOC: West Division playoff race coming down to the wire
U SPORTS soccer has been an exceptionally unpredictable season from coast to coast, yet when you narrow down the tightest races, none are closer than in Canada West. UBC and Trinity Western, two traditional conference powerhouses, are at risk of missing the playoffs, while underdog stories at Thompson Rivers, UFV and UNBC are stealing the headlines. Yet, at the same time, the UVic Vikes have pushed their way to the top of the table.
Throughout this season, we’ve seen the UFV Cascades trounce the UBC Thunderbirds 5-1, we’ve witnessed TRU take points off of nearly every team, and UNBC scores a flurry of goals when they need to. Just this past weekend, we saw UBC and TWU play to an exceptional 3-3 draw, with two goals scored in second-half stoppage time.
In a reduced length season, every game is crucial, and every team has found that out at some point this season, bringing the playoff hunt down to the final weekend.
One of the critical factors this season is the shift from winning percentage to a points-based system for the standings. Not only does it make the math easier for fans, but it gives teams a better idea of where they stand.
This final weekend is quite simple; five teams are competing for three playoff berths. As it stands, UBC, TWU and TRU will take spots 2-4; however, that is no guarantee. UFV is close to squeaking in, and UNBC could grab a spot if everything goes their way.
TWU has finished their entire schedule and will stay at 15 points. Meanwhile, UBC has 15 but two games remaining, and TRU holds the final playoff spot with 14 points and two matches to go. Still following along? Cool, this is where it gets complicated.
- For TWU and UBC, the “magic number” is three. One of either UFV or UBCO must drop three of six points in two matches next weekend. They play each other, so this happens by anything other than one side winning both games. Three points dropped qualify UBC and TWU while likely pushing TRU into the playoffs as well. UBC could also find their way into the playoffs with a win in one of their two matches vs UVic.
- UNBC, who sit last in the division, could also bounce back into the playoffs but would have to have a lot go their way. UBC would have to lose both games to UVic, with UFV and UBCO tying both games. Both of those solutions only help IF UNBC WIN both matches vs TRU.
If you’re not totally lost yet, congrats. If you are, well, just wait a week, and we will know the playoff picture. Either way, it’s incredibly close and exciting, unlike anything U SPORTS has seen in past years.
MSOC: Late match chaos keeps MacEwan’s playoff hopes alive and more drama for UBC
While nearly every spot in the West division is up for grabs, there is also a playoff battle in the Central. The MacEwan Griffins picked up four points against Lethbridge, bringing them within two points of the final playoff spot held by the Saskatchewan Huskies.
The Griffins will need at least a win and a Huskies defeat next weekend to surpass the Huskies, and then would be able to match the result of the second match. MacEwan plays second-place Calgary, while Saskatchewan faces third-place Alberta.
If Saskatchewan beats Alberta twice and MacEwan beats Calgary twice, the Alberta Golden Bears would fall out of the playoff picture on the final weekend.
It was almost not like this. The Griffins dropped points unexpectedly this weekend to a dismal Lethbridge Pronghorns side, playing to a 2-2 draw on a windy Sunday in Edmonton. MacEwan opened the scoring and led 2-1 in the 72nd minute, yet the Pronghorns tied the match up in the 76th minute.
MacEwan midfielder Abass Ajibade barrelled in a ball off a corner kick in second-half stoppage time, a tally that would have given the Griffins all three points; however, the referee called the goal offside, leaving the match at 2-2 and a tougher playoff outlook for the Griffins.
“We’re still in good shape,” said Griffins Head Coach Adam Loga to MacEwan Athletics. “We gave ourselves a pretty good opportunity to get three points, but we just couldn’t close it out.”
Late thrills were the theme of the weekend in Canada West. While MacEwan had a goal called back, the UBC Thunderbirds and TWU Spartans made sure to keep things exciting, stealing points from each other in the dying moments of stoppage time.
T-Birds winger Brad Richardson celebrated like he had won the championship when he put his side up 3-2 in the 92nd minute, only to have TWU’s Brandon Torresan tie the game at 3-3 on the last play.
It was an eerie result for UBC, who had let a similar collapse happen weeks earlier against UNBC, in another eventual 3-3 draw. “We should never have had a draw,” said UBC Head Coach Mike Mosher. “It’s totally ridiculous. But it’s been a ridiculous season; it’s a ridiculous game. If nothing else, we have to expect the unexpected every single game.”
Late match chaos is exciting but not easy on coaches or players; nevertheless, the drama unfolding this past weekend sets the stage for a brilliant final showdown in both of Canada West’s divisions.
WSOC: TWU likely hosting final four
The Trinity Western Spartans came exceptionally close to a perfect season, which would have been a program-best; however, with a 0-0 draw with UBC in their final match, they could not hit the elusive 100% winning percentage.
For Head Coach Graham Roxburgh’s group, this was the weekend that they all had their eyes on. After trouncing their way past every divisional opponent, they finally met their match in UBC, the defending U SPORTS Champions.
The T-Birds dominated the first half on Friday night, but TWU defender Tilly James scored the only goal, putting an end to UBC’s perfect season hopes and keeping Trinity Western’s intact.
Amidst sheets of rain, the Spartans played to a 0-0 draw with the T-Birds on Saturday, as they dropped points for the first time this season. However, by not letting UBC win, the Spartans clinched first in the division, putting them in prime position to host the Canada West Final Four, as long as they win their quarterfinal matchup.
TWU senior striker Anna Dunn missed the first match of the weekend but returned for a brief spell in the second match, the last of TWU’s season. With a bye week to end off the regular-season schedule, Dunn and the Spartans have a chance to rest and reload before playoff time.
WSOC: All eyes on the central division with playoffs and records
The 2022 Canada West season might be shortened, but that has not stopped audacious Calgary Dinos striker Montana Leonard from attempting history. The senior has been an exceptional player throughout her Calgary career; however, in 2021, she is approaching the record for most goals scored in a single season.
Calgary won both of their matches against Alberta this past weekend, and Leonard led with four goals, bringing her to 16 goals on the season, level with Jannine Frazao’s 2011 campaign for UBC.
With two matches to go, both against MacEwan, Leonard needs just one more goal to set the record. However, it won’t be an easy task against a first-place MacEwan side that has only conceded six times in 10 games.
While history is on the line for Leonard next weekend, so is first place in the division. The MacEwan Griffins hold the upper hand with 27 points so far, compared to Calgary’s 25, but one Calgary win and a draw could flip that. Both have clinched their playoff spot, locking up the two guaranteed berths in the division.
As for a potential playoff battle for fellow Central teams, Alberta or Mount Royal will likely have to win two games and get help from a combination of UBCO, UFV and UVIC. With a wildcard spot going to either the West’s 4th seed or Central’s 3rd, it will be a very complicated final weekend, with effectively four schools battling for one spot in two divisions.
Last Kick: Mount Royal’s Anderson-Louch scores with style
Every goal is worth the same, but Mount Royal Cougars senior Justin Anderson-Louch probably wouldn’t mind if soccer had a three-point line. He has scored two outrageous long-range goals over the last two weekends, one a screaming strike from forty yards out and another from well inside the Cougar’s defensive half.
Just take a look at this from last weekend.
Oh, you thought that was good? Watch this.
Despite the highlight reel goals, the Cougars have not locked up the top spot in the division, with Alberta and Calgary within reach. However, the Cougars have one match remaining against Lethbridge, a near-certain three points.