VANCOUVER BC – The 2022 U SPORTS season only started this week in the AUS, but Canada West is well into midseason, as some teams have already played five games. After week three, only the Calgary Dinos and UBC Thunderbirds remain undefeated on the women’s side, while the MRU Cougars have yet to lose on the men’s table.
With electrifying attacking performances in both leagues and intriguing tactical shifts, Canada West continued to showcase some of Candian university soccer’s best this past weekend, as 49 Sports looks at four takeaways from Week 3.
WOMEN: UBC wins twice as Katalin Tolnai steals the show
It was just a year ago that Calgary Dinos forward Monata Leonard set the record for the most goals scored in a regular season with 17. Yet, UBC attacking midfielder Katalin Tolnai looks as though she’s making a case to steal the record, potting four goals this weekend, improving her total to seven on the season.
Tolnai, traditionally either playing as an outright forward or midfielder, played a more transitionary role this weekend, dropping back from the outright forward position, allowing her to find pockets in front of the backlines with shooting lanes.
Although Danielle Steer often leads the way attacking-wise for the Thunderbirds, Tolnai continuously dominated while on the ball and scored four well-taken goals; UBC’s only four of the weekend as they beat Alberta 2-0 and MacEwan 2-1.
“I think Kat has the potential, along with Danielle [Steer], to be one of the best players in the country,” head coach Jesse Symons told UBC Athletics. “Kat right now is getting into very good spaces, and she’s very confident with her turning and facing forward. We’ve asked her to dribble a bit more and get to the goal, she has that quality, and she’s sure showing it.”
With Tolnai scoring a hat trick last week and a pair of braces this weekend, the Thunderbirds have scored 19 goals while only conceding once in their five wins. At the same time, the Hungarian-Canadian forward has nine games left to score 10 goals and match Leonard’s tally from a year ago.
While she may only be in her third year of U SPORTS eligibility, Tolnai is proving to be a dynamic lynchpin in UBC’s success as they strive towards a Canada West and U SPORTS Championship.
WOMEN: TWU’s new faces and tactical shifts show promise
When centreback Tilly James appeared as a deep-lying striker for Unity FC in League 1 BC, many raised their eyebrows at the defensive switch in Graham Roxburgh’s side. However, as she has moved into a more attacking role, not quite as a forward, this season, that summer shift is paying dividends.
Over the weekend, she lined up alongside rookie Sophie Crowther in the midfield, and the pairing worked swiftly to control the games, finding forwards Makenna Dietrich and Charis Wardrope throughout the evening. On Saturday against Mount Royal, James scored on a linkup with Crowther, while Wardrope scored her fourth goal in five appearances.
With James’ shift to a more attacking role and the seamless addition of Crowther and Wadrop o the roster, the Spartans haven’t taken a step back this season, and performances seemingly grow each match.
Although there isn’t much to be taken from Friday’s 8-0 victory over the Lethbridge Pronghorns, Wardrop and James scored twice to start their three-goal weekends.
After four games, only a loss to UBC stands out, but there have been many positives to outweigh the loss in the other three games. With 10 games remaining in the regular season, including the reverse fixture against UBC, there are many reasons to believe in the TWU Spartans making another run towards the national championship.
MEN: Izett, Lewis, and the Wolfpack entertain to two wins
The TRU Wolfpack are in fine form to start the season, sitting atop the Pacific Division after three weeks, as they rebounded from their loss to Trinity Western with a pair of entertaining 2-1 wins against the UNBC Timberwolves at home.
With five wins in their opening six matches, it’s a best-ever start for the Kamloops, BC program as they look ahead to hosting the U SPORTS National Championships at the beginning of November.
Forward Ryan Lewis added his fourth and fifth of the season this past weekend, while Patrick Izett, Elijah Dos Santos also got on the scoresheet with well-taken goals. In particular, Izett’s goal in the Friday matchup came from outside the box, as he chipped an out-of-position UNBC goalkeeper, leaving Connor Lewis to watch the ball trickle into his net.
UNBC’s Michael Henman extended his conference-leading goalscoring tally to eight, the Wolfpack isolated many attacks and ensured that goalkeeper Jackson Gardner wasn’t forced to stop many high-danger opportunities.
Although UNBC may not be among the titans of U SPORTS, the Wolfpack played an organized and entertaining brand of soccer, with a high tempo and quick attack powered by the forward and midfielders Alessandro Comita ad Marco Favaro.
There is still a long way to go before any trophies are on the line, but the TRU Wolfpack is proving to be one of the best stories in Canada while also providing an intriguing entertainment option to the over 2,000 fas that have regularly made their way to Hillside Stadium this season.
“The first three weekends were really tough, there’s no question,” WolfPack head coach John Antulov told TRU Athletics.
“If you would have asked me at the start of the year if we would be 5-1 after the first six games, I might have thought you were a little crazy. At the end of the day, the guys have shown their resolve, their battle, and I’m just super happy about where we are at right now, and we just have to keep going.”
With the UNBC wins secured, the Wolfpack head out of BC next week to face Saskatchewan before welcoming the Calgary Dinos to Kamloops the week after.
MEN: El Gandour finds form and top-15 all-time
There was never a doubt that Moe El Gandour would get on a scoring run, but it just took a little longer than expected. The prolific forward scored four times this weekend as the MRU Cougars topped the Lethbridge Pronghorns and Saskatchewan Huskies to lift themselves to 4-0-1 and the top spot in the Canada West Prarie Division.
Although the strong season in 2021 didn’t end up with a berth at U SPORTS nationals, it has been another idyllic start for the Calgary program, and El Gandour finally found his breakthrough this weekend as he returned to familiar form.
El Gandour, now a fourth year, tormented Lethbirdge’s backline on Friday night with a brace and an assist in the 5-0 win before stepping up his intensity to push the Cougars past the Saskatchewan Huskies on Sunday afternoon.
“They’re a good team; they battled and made this game a tough one,” El Gandour told Cougars Athletics after the Saskatchewan win. “But we were resilient and came back to win it 4-2.”
Now up to six goals on the season, El Gandour is tied with former Victoria Vike Isaac Koch for the 15th most goals all-time in Canada West with 25., as he hits a string of good form ahead of next week’s challenging matches against UBC and Trinity Western.
Upcoming games to watch:
WOMEN: Sunday, Sept. 18 – Calgary Dinos @ MacEwan Griffins
MEN: Saturday, Sept. 17 – UBC Thunderbirds @ MRU Cougars