VANCOUVER, BC – It was almost as if the weather wasn’t ready for Canada West soccer. While the rain stayed away for most matches, summer storms ripped through the prairie provinces, forcing lengthy delays in Regina and Saskatchewan’s opening matches.
However, amid the prairie storms wreaking havoc on the opening weekend, U SPORTS soccer returned to Canada West, with records coming within reach and teams showing that they might not be dark horses after all.
Back for season two, it’s The Weekly Kickabout o 49 Sports; let’s get kicking.
WOMEN’S: UBC score 10 in two wins as Danielle Steer creeps closer to record
If there were any doubts about the UBC Thunderbirds, those are gone after Week 1.
In their opening match, the 2019 U SPORTS champions swiftly took down the UFV Cascades 8-0, their biggest win since 2013. Then, on Saturday, they kept a clean sheet in a 2-0 victory over rivals and championship contenders Trinity Western.
Head coach Jesse Symons often turns to veterans in his lineup choices while sprinkling in some youth, and that is the precise plan he followed this week, with Taiya Denehy being the only rookie to contribute to the ten goals with an assist.
UBC came out full force against UFV, with Danielle Steer scoring a hat trick and Nisa Reehal adding a brace. It took only seven minutes for them to find the breakthrough through Steer.
With many of their players in form from high-stakes League 1 Canada games with Varsity FC, the Thunderbirds were filled with intensity from the start and didn’t let up until the final whistle against UFV.
“What energy we possessed to start the game and continued through the full 90 minutes,” Symons told UBC Athletics post-UFV win. “Our attacking players showed their personality and quality.”
On Saturday, the Thunderbirds made a statement with a 2-0 win over TWU in Langley, where they’ve seldom found success in recent seasons. Steer, and Reehal scored the goals, but fourth-year goalkeeper Sarah Johns stole the show with a career-high eight saves for the shutout.
Johns ended the weekend with a 135-minute shutout streak after relieving Dakota Beckett at halftime against UFV on Friday.
While the win against UFV was expected, the victory at TWU showed that this year’s UBC team might be stronger than past seasons, especially with the depth of experienced players such as Sophia Ferriera, who scored her first U SPORTS goal, Katalin Tolnai and Sophie Damian.
However, the strong start isn’t just good for the T-Birds as a whole, but the biggest story in Canada West soccer this season, as Steer chases down the conference’s all-time points record, now sitting just ten away from that achievement.
UBC opens at home next weekend when they face the UVic Vikes in a rare single-game weekend.
WOMEN’S: MacEwan get a wake-up call in thrashing by Alberta
If you include preseason and last season, the MacEwan Griffins had only lost once in their previous 24 matches — it’s fair to say they were getting used to it. That is, until a stunning defeat at the paws of the Alberta Pandas on Sunday afternoon.
While MacEwan began the season strong with a 3-1 win against the Pandas, Sunday’s result sent shockwaves across U SPORTS soccer, as the defending National Champions fell behind 4-0 within the first half against an Alberta side that has not enjoyed much success in recent years.
Alberta opened the scoring through Cara Lang in the 7th minute, before McKayla Brault, Adrienne Poulin, and Kelli Haffie scored before the break to send the match to halftime with a 4-0 Pandas lead.
From first kick on Sunday, Alberta was the better team, playing with intensity in every pass and challenge. With head coach Kristyn Shapka fielding an attacking 3-5-2, Alberta dominated possession and kept the ball out wide, avoiding any sort of pressure falling on their centrebacks — quick and fast out of the gate, it worked.
While the win is admirable for Alberta, it doesn’t do enough to put them in the National Championship conversation. However, for MacEwan, the wake-up call could be a blessing in disguise.
Firstly, goalkeeper Breanna Truscott retired to competitive U SPORTS action after suffering an injury in last year’s U SPORTS final. Additionally, the Griffins showed an intense fight, with Erin Van Dolder scoring her third of the season to make it 4-1 and Grace Mwasalla bringing the match close at 4-2.
Their second-half effort showed they could play with purpose, even down a seemingly insurmountable deficit.
“It wasn’t the start we had hoped to have,” MacEwan head coach Dean Cordeiro told MacEwan Athletics. “Whoever scores a goal early in a match like that can kind of set the tone. Unfortunately, they beat us to it, scoring in the seventh minute. It kind of kick-started things for them.”
The loss is certainly a wake-up call for the Griffins, while the Pandas get a boost of confidence heading into next week. However, the big challenge lies on MacEwan and how they will respond with tough matchups against Victoria and UBC on the horizon.
MEN’S: The TRU Wolfpack are the real deal in 2022
The TRU Wolfpack already have a spot at Nationals this year as hosts, but it looks as though they want to earn their way there too. With a tough test on opening night against the UBC Thunderbirds, the Wolfpack stormed to a 2-0 win before picking up their second win in a 3-0 victory against the Victoria Vikes.
Among the positives for the team in the two clean sheets was the play of goalkeeper Jackson Gardner, who made three saves on Friday and another two on Saturday, ensuring the Wolfpack’s shutout weekend. Additionally, his punt in the final moments against the T-Birds forced defender Chris Fisher into an own goal, effectively scoring a goalie goal.
Although UBC came out strong to start the opening match, the Wolfpack held tight defensively and attacked in spurts, as Ante Grigic, Josh Banton and Ryan Lewis found attempts in the first half. Marc Favaro eventually forced a turnover and fired a cross to Lewis’ head to open the scoring in the 62nd minute, before Gardner forced the second goal in the waning moments.
TRU never gave UBC’s midfield much space to orchestrate, and the backline anchored by Banton and Jan Pirretas Glasmacher neutralized a UBC attack that has been among the best the last several seasons.
While the first match showed the Wolfpack could play with the defending Canada West champions, the second showcased their consistency, as they continued their stingy defence before Patrick Izett, Ryan Lewis, and Josh Banton scored in the second half to push their side to the 3-0 win. Izett’s goal in particular, was one of the weekend’s top-strikes.
Throughout the weekend, TRU’s attack appeared invigorated and purposeful, something that had lacked in moments in 2021. So far, so good this year.
Despite the enlarged scoreline, the Victoria match was more of a stalemate. Still, TRU did well to go head-to-head with the Vikes, continuing to push their tenacious game while also keeping pace with Victoria’s creative stars in Jose Sagaste and Nick Park.
“I’m a defensive guy, so for me, clean sheets are fantastic,” TRU head coach John Antulov told TRU Athletics. “Our backline and goalkeeping has been solid, and we also have huge depth in our backline as well, so to be able to get those clean sheets is huge; it builds confidence. We know we have a really strong defensive team, and we just have to continue to build on that, and as long as we’re scoring goals, then hopefully, more weekends like this come.”
TRU used 18 players this weekend, showing their depth and ability to adapt to two relatively different opponents. They will look to continue next weekend when they face last year’s upstart team, the UFV Cascades and the Trinity Western Spartans.
The opening weekend couldn’t have gone better for the 2022 U SPORTS hosts; now, they just have to maintain it before peaking at the right time in November when they welcome the nation’s best.
MEN’S: Moe El Gandour hasn’t missed a step and looks better with Mowbray Beghin
The MRU Cougars have been one of the league’s most entertaining attacking teams in the last few seasons, and they continued that trend to kick off 202, a year they are set to contend for the national championship.
Their talisman, Moe El Gandour, was the highlight of attacking play in Canada West men’s soccer this week, with ten shots on target, and two goals, as the Cougars picked up a 3-0 win against MacEwan and a 1-1 draw with the Alberta Golden Bears.
Although MRU was the favoured side in both matches, El Gandour took control of the games and forced other backlines into defensive errors.
In the MacEwan match, the veteran’s high-press forced a turnover before he linked up with French rookie midfielder Mowbray Beghin to open the scoring. The duo found their way through again later in the match, with El Gandour grabbing his first of the season. El Gandour added another in the late stages.
While the duo linked up for four shots against Alberta on Sunday, a curled free-kick from David Schaffer earned MRU the point. However, the consistent threat that Moe and Mow provided is enticing for the rest of the season.
CANADA WEST SOCCER RESULTS
- TWU 0-0 UNBC
- UBCO 1-1 VICTORIA
- TRU 2-0 UBC
- CALGARY 1-1 ALBERTA
- MRU 3-0 MACEWAN
- UBC 4-1 OKANAGAN
- TRU 3-0 VICTORIA
- SASKATCHEWAN 4-0 LETHBRIDGE
- TWU 3-1 UNBC
- CALGARY 1-1 MACEWAN
- MRU 1-1 ABERTA
- MACEWAN 3-1 ALBERTA
- TWU 3-0 VICTORIA
- UBC 8-0 UFV
- MANITOBA 3-1 REGINA
- SASKATCHEWAN 3-1 WINNIPEG
- MRU 6-2 LETHBRIDGE
- MANITOBA 1-0 SASKATCHEWAN
- UFV 0-0 VICTORIA
- UBC 2-0 TWU
- WINNIPEG 0-0 REGINA
- ALBERTA 5-2 MACEWAN