VANCOUVER, BC – As the dog days of summer wear on, the student-athletes of Canada West schools are already returning to training, getting ready for the kickoff of U SPORTS competition this fall.
This is a year full of intrigue for the men’s soccer teams of the Pacific division. Unlike some previous campaigns, there are no clear front-runners. What that also means is that there will be another fun soccer season in store for Canada West fans.
What’s also been new is the League 1 BC season this summer, with many CanWest teams fielding their players in the fledgling club competition. It provided for additional development and game time, something that could prove invaluable as the season approaches.
Here’s our preview of the men’s soccer teams of the Pacific division.
Thompson Rivers WolfPack
A hard-fought campaign in which the Thompson Rivers WolfPack snagged the last playoff spot in the Pacific came to an end at the hands of eventual bronze-medalists MRU Cougars. This year, they’ll be looking to better than finish with some added reinforcements.
The WolfPack established themselves as a strong defensive team with counterattacking potential. Over the course of the entire 2021 season, TRU never conceded more than two goals in a game. Much of that young team is returning so expect much of the same style as last season. They’ll be looking to hit the back of the net a few more times though, and their additions in the offseason suggest just that.
Ante Grgic is a recent addition but one that provides plenty of intrigue. Spending time in both the Whitecaps FC and Dinamo Zagreb youth systems, the Surrey-native attacking midfielder should provide a creative spark in the middle of the pitch. As well, Kamloops native Alessandro Comita will also fill out the midfield. The Whitecaps U-19 product is known for his offensive flair, which should translate to the Canada West level after a good campaign in League 1 BC.
With their solid backline virtually untouched, eyes will fall onto the returning players up front to see if they can deliver run support for their team. Keep an eye on fourth-year midfielder Patrick Izett, who was one of Canada West’s leading shot takers. If he can find some clinical finishing ability, the WolfPack have a shot at the Pacific division title.
Trinity Western Spartans
It was relatively disappointing for the Spartans to miss out on the Canada West playoffs last season. With as much talent as there was on the roster, a string of poor form in October undid TWU at the worst possible moment. This season, they’ll want to avoid the same heartbreak.
The Spartans have one major loss heading into the fall. It will be the first season without netminder Sebastian Colyn since 2017, who was consistently among the best keepers in the division. New number one Alexander Cordeiro will have some big shoes to fill in commanding a very young backline.
However, TWU retained much of the talent that they had last season. Midfielder Tristan Torresan returns after dishing out the 5th most assists in CanWest competition. He’ll be looking to link up often with forward Christian Rossi, who was York United’s 5th overall selection in the 2022 CPL U SPORTS Draft. Rossi finished top 10 in conference scoring last year, and will look to improve on that tally for the Spartans to make some noise into the playoffs.
It’s been a quieter season on the recruiting front for the Langley-based team, with no major announcements thus far. Knowing the coaching and technical staff of the Spartans, there shouldn’t be any doubt for them to find a diamond in the rough. Look for Trinity Western to put up a strong challenge for a playoff spot this year.
Oh boy, where to start with this team. The Canada West champions defended their crown yet again, but did not look like the champions of old. At nationals, the Thunderbirds were unable to make it past the quarterfinals yet again, making it an 8 year drought for a national title.
One of the biggest undoings of the Thunderbirds last season was their poor game management and penchant to give up late equalizers. The 3-3 match against UNBC comes into mind, where the visitors scored thrice in the last 5 minutes to steal a point at Thunderbird Stadium.
But the power of a powerhouse program should not be underestimated. The core of the team is untouched by graduations, with key players like Thomas Gardner, Victory Shumbusho, Daniel Kaiser and Sebastian Dzikowski sticking around for another go around. An underrated departure comes in the form of Christopher Lee, however. Though the full-back still has years of eligibility left, it is uncertain if he will return after playing for Whitecaps FC 2 in MLS NEXT PRO. Both a creative force down the left and defensively responsible, Lee’s absence will have to be absorbed by the team.
It has also been a quiet recruiting window for the T-Birds in terms of announcements, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t active. Adam Lajeunesse and Brandon Momotani join from the Whitecaps youth system, while Jordano Pinto transferred from Thompson Rivers as well. It still waits to be seen how they fare in the blue and gold.
UBC will challenge to retain their Canada West crown. But, it’s not with the overwhelming superiority that was expected as before. That’s a good thing, because this team could use a resiliency test before nationals.
The Heat played the role of sister school very well, unfortunately. Dead last in the Pacific division with a record of 2-6-4 means that UBCO has nowhere to go but up from this point onwards. And, there’s definitely reason to be optimistic.
Fielding a relatively young roster previously means that this team had time to grow and gel with each other. With a year of experience, it’s allowed for the Heat to develop an understanding of what needs to be done to win at this level. After scoring only 8 goals over the course of last season, UBCO will need much more offensive production. Perhaps that will come from 3rd year forward Owen Spicker, who tallied three markers by himself.
It’s difficult to really make a solid image of this roster. With a squad coming up together at the same time, it’s hard not to see the potential that this team could have. However, it might be too soon to expect any massive improvements this coming year. The Heat will fight valiantly but just miss out on a playoff spot in the Pacific division.
The Cascades were the relevation of the 2021 CanWest season. After missing out on the playoffs in 2019, UFV stormed back after the pandemic to record a stirring season, one full of intrigue and storylines that cumulated in securing the 3rd seed in the conference. It wasn’t the storybook ending that they wanted, falling in the bronze medal game, but there’s plenty of positives to take into the fall of 2022.
UFV will retain the services of Trevor Zanatta, playing the regista role perfectly as the second leading assist man in Canada West. With him spraying passes and pinging balls out wide, the Cascade’s offensive machine will have their main playmaker calling the shots once again.
They do have to contend with the loss of forward Trevor Richardson, who was their leading scorer last year. But, on the bright side, UFV’s second leading scorers of Zanatta and Tobias Spiess will be reprising their roles with the potential of increasing their own offensive outputs.
There’s no news of an incoming recruiting class, but even so, UFV stands a good as chance of anyone to battle it out at the top of the Pacific division. The question now becomes, how high can the Cascades go?
While the Timberwolves might’ve finished outside of the playoff picture last season, they gave us quite a few incredible moments throughout the season, and made the playoff race that much more interesting. This team will very likely be going through some growing pains, but don’t ever count the Timberwolves out.
It’s a season of transition for UNBC as much of the old guard has graduated. 17 out of the 26 players listed on the roster are listed as first years going into their first full campaign of U SPORTS competition. But, key figures will be making their return, including CanWest leading assister Kensho Ando. Defender Mitchell Linley will be a key man to watch, being one of the most experienced players on the roster and probably commanding the young backline.
With their new recruits, UNBC prioritized pace, something that they’ve been able to use in previous years to keep playing at a high tempo especially deep into games. Vancouver Island Wave products like Max Muellerleile and Charlie Stewart underlines that point, and it will be interesting to see what sort of impact they’ll have in matches.
The Timberwolves will be hard pressed to make a strong challenge for first spot in the Pacific. But, if there’s one thing about UNBC, is that no matter what, don’t count them out. They’ll stand a very good chance to fight for a playoff spot even if they’re in a transition era.
The Vikes were the best team of the regular season in the Pacific before coming up just short in the Canada West finals against the Thunderbirds. At nationals, they too bowed out in the quarterfinals, losing on penalties to the Carabins. This year, they’ll hope to stand on the national stage again, though with plenty of fresh faces in the ranks.
Star man Isaac Koch will probably be the biggest absence for the Vikes. The 5th year forward won the golden boot last year, scoring 14 times in 19 appearances in his final season before graduation. Koch’s clinical finishing ability will be hard to replace, and Victoria will have to figure something out to replicate their success of last year.
On the other hand, the Vikes have plenty of experience and talent even despite the graduation losses. There’s a wealth of soccer talent on the island with new recruits filling out the ranks. Players like Ian Whibley and Mark Kaiser will be counted upon to take the next step in their own development to push Victoria to the next level.
The 2022 campaign for the Vikes probably won’t be as smooth as the 2021 edition. But, with history, pedigree, and talent to go with experience, Victoria will be amongst the top few teams in the division come the end of the year.
The Canada West men’s soccer season kicks off on August 26th. Trinity Western will take on UNBC, while Victoria faces off against UBCO. UBC matches up against TRU to wrap up the first day of action.