TORONTO, ON – Playoffs. They’re a very North American thing nearly required in every aspect of sporting life west of the Atlantic. Still, despite a regular-season showing the best team over a prolonged period, the playoffs offer a breath of new life to teams who just managed to squeak into the picture.
Sport is the best reality show ever seen, and ‘Cinderella’ upsets make it even better. Yes, teams are seeded, but there is a chance, however slim, that an underdog team makes it all the way.
In 2021, the Canada West Men’s Soccer season sets up a playoff bracket primed for upsets. However, with parity galore, and teams saving their seasons at the last possible moment, morale and momentum could push underdogs over heavy favourites.
UFV Cascades vs Alberta Golden Bears
The Alberta Golden Bears will host the UFV Cascades on Friday, Oct. 29, to open the Canada West men’s soccer playoffs, as the West Division’s third-seeded Cascades visit second-place Alberta.
The UFV Cascades were one of the teams this season that encapsulated the excitement of the year. The Abbotsford -based school has often been under regarded, but they have had successful campaigns in the past. In 2021, however, the team led by Head Coach Tom Lowndes trampled the three-time defending champion UBC Thunderbirds 5-1 and forced themselves into the playoff picture on the season’s final day with a win over UBCO.
Alberta this season has been led by senior striker Ajeej SArkaria, who became the leading goalscorer in Canada West men’s soccer history with a hat trick against the MacEwan Griffins. However, while Sarkaria’s offensive success has continued this season, his teammates have not chipped in. The Golden Bears have scored 12 goals, with seven from their main forward. Fortunately for Alberta, their stingy defence allowed a conference low four goals through 10 matches.
The key for the UFV Cascades will be to harness some of the energy they showed in their big wins against UBCO and UBC and hopefully get an early goal. “They [Cascades student-athletes] have been great all year, stay positive, stay confident, we know we will get chances, we just have to take them and be solid at the back,” said UFV’s Lowndes. “Fight for each other, and we never give up.”
The Golden Bears and Cascades kick-off on Friday at 2:00 pm MT at Foote Field in Edmonton, Alberta.
49 Prediction: Alberta 2-1 UFV
Thompson Rivers Wolfpack vs Mount Royal Cougars
The Mount Royal Cougars are the team to beat this season in Canada West, but the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack know a thing or two about upsets from this regular season. The Wolfpack head to Calgary to face the Cougars on Saturday, Oct 30.
After topping the Central Division, the Cougars finished the Canada West season as the only Canada West team ranked Top-10 in U SPORTS, making them the far gone favourites in this matchup.
Riding a five-match win streak, the Cougars will hope that they can ride the hot play of Moe El-Gandour, Justin Anderson-Louch, among others, all the way to the U SPORTS title. El-Gandour led the team this season with eight goals and three assists through 9 matches, while Anderson-Louch scored two goals from 40+ yards.
The Wolfpack will be hard-pressed to advance, despite solid performances this season. However, if they do, it will come down to the play of former Pacific FC CPL-U SPORTS Draft pick Jan Pirretas Glasmacher and a stingy defensive core that allowed just ten goals through 12 matches. The Wolfpack and UBC Thunderbirds are the only two teams to make the Canada West playoffs in the last four seasons.
The match kicks off from Calgary’s MRU Stadium field on Saturday, Oct. 30 at 1:00 pm MT.
49 Prediction: MRU 3-1 Thompson Rivers
MacEwan Griffins vs Victoria Vikes
For the first time since entering Canada West in 2014, the MacEwan Griffins will play a playoff game. Unfortunately, while just making it to the dance is an excellent step for the Edmonton school, they don’t have a friendly partner in Victoria, one of the top teams in U SPORTS, despite no Top-10 rankings.
It is not often that you see the worst defensive team make the playoffs, but that defines MacEwan in 2021, having conceded 29 goals through just ten matches. The only positive from their dismal defensive record is that many of the goals came in just a few games, inflating the number beyond consequence; however, that won’t help them very much against a star-studded Victoria forward group.
The Vikes have been incredible this season, and it would take an Edmonton Miracle for the Griffins to knock them off. Selected as the U SPORTS Athlete of the Week at points this season, striker Isaac Koch is one of the conference’s most threatening attackers, firing 35 shots through 11 matches; there is no doubt he will torment MacEwan’s defenders.
Victoria also comes into this match rested, with Head Coach and former Canadian World Cup player Bruce Wilson resting top players in a 5-0 loss to UBC on the season’s final day. The Vikes welcome the Griffins to the Island on Oct. 30 for a 6:00 pm PT kickoff.
49 Prediction: Victoria Vikes 5-1 MacEwan Griffins
Calgary Dinos vs UBC Thunderbirds
Somehow, someway, everything has worked out for the UBC Thunderbirds, who find themselves hosting a playoff match as a higher seed after one of their worst regular seasons since the turn of the millennium. Second in the West, the T-Birds welcome the Calgary Dinos, who slipped to the Central’s third spot on the final day.
Led by Head Coach Mike Mosher, the T-Birds had a tough season, with a common theme throughout, conceding late goals. While getting trampled 5-1 by UFV is not an easy pill to swallow, it stings less than surrendering a 3-0 lead in six minutes to draw 3-3 or losing a 3-2 lead to draw 3-3 with TWU in the final moment. It’s not been easy for UBC, but they have a chance to save their season in the playoffs.
The Calgary Dinos did not want to be playing in this game, and until the season’s final weekend, they weren’t going to be. After winning four of five matches midseason, the Dinos are limping into the playoffs off a final stretch that saw them claim just one point from three matches without scoring a goal. The Calgary side, despite having exhilarating games against local rivals MRU, has struggled to score this season, with the last time they scored two in a match back on Oct. 9
UBC will have to mentally approach this game from whistle to whistle, not just for 90 minutes. They have the home advantage, but Thunderbird Stadium is where they’ve faced the most trouble. After winning against a ‘B’ UVic side on the final weekend, the T-Birds have some much-needed confidence, which could push them into the semifinals.
49 Prediction: UBC Thunderbirds 3-2 Calgary Dinos