Vancouver, BC – And then there were four.
The Canada West men’s soccer crown is up for grabs as the Final Four rolls into Thunderbird Stadium this weekend. After a season that’s finally seen some normalcy, the best four teams in the conference are ready to take to the pitch to lay claim to a spot at nationals.
Here’s our preview of the weekend’s action and each of the teams involved.
The Dinos enter the final four having clipped the wings of U SPORTS nationals host Thompson Rivers WolfPack. Since TRU gets automatic qualification due to their host status, if Calgary wants to repeat an upset it’ll have to be after winning the Canada West title. With the squad they have, the Dinos will have a shot at just that.
This team has established itself as a side that is hard to play against. Though Calgary might not be offensive dynamos, the backend led by Sam Gagne has proven to be quite the stingy group, conceding only 19 goals across the regular season. The Dinos will hope to get more of that during this weekend, facing off against some very offensively gifted teams in the conference.
First-year defender William Omoreniye has been the offensive leader of this team, potting 5 goals and dishing out 3 assists to lead his team in both categories. It’s a remarkable achievement for the rookie, who will be counted upon to keep doing much of the same as his team plays the biggest game of the season. That being said, the Dinos will be hoping that the rest of their team can step up offensively to match Omoreniye’s contributions. They’ll need all hands on deck to win a berth to nationals.
Keep an eye on Derek Brust, Decklin Mahmi, and Gianmarco Plenzik to step up their contributions on the attacking end. Brust in particular has been a playoff performer in the past, and with Calgary needing much more of that, look for the striker to become a target man against Mount Royal.
Mount Royal Cougars
Facing off against the Calgary Dinos is the cream of the Prarie Divison. The Mount Royal Cougars have been rampant during the regular season, finishing an undefeated season with 8 wins and 6 losses. It’s a team that’s driven to avenge their bitter semi-final loss from a year ago. The Cougars will be the favourites in their match against the Dinos, and for good reason.
If the Dinos could be considered stingy, then the Cougars would be a brick wall. They conceded the least goals in Canada West, coming in at 11 on the season. With a balance of experience and young talent on the back line, its no wonder that Mount Royal has no trouble in coordinating its defence. The ever reliable nature of this unit shouldn’t be tested heavily in the semi-finals, unless Calgary can strike them on the counter.
But Mount Royal isn’t just a defensive juggernaut, scoring the third-most goals in the conference. Up front, they possess one of the finest talents in Canada West in the form of Mohamed El Gandour. The forward continues to be dynamite this season, putting up a CanWest high 48 shots during the regular season along with 8 goals in 13 appearances. He, along with strike partner David Schaefer (6 goals in 13 games), should be two forces to be reckoned with offensively. It gives the Cougars weapons, ones they are more than happy to use with Mowbray Beghin (5 assists) spraying out passes.
The number 5 ranked team in the country is heading into the final four with the wind at their backs. MRU should be taking the win against their in-city foes, but anything can happen in the rough-and-tumble Canada West. Their match kicks off at 11:00 am on Saturday, November 5th.
Alberta Golden Bears
Alberta trounced the UNBC Timberwolves 5-0 to reach the final four in Vancouver, a result that stunned most observers. However, the Golden Bears have shown that they belong, and will be looking to scrap out a result against possibly the toughest team in the entire conference. They’ve already improved on their 2021 quarterfinal exit, and the challenge now is to see just how far they can go.
This Golden Bears entered the season with a healthy blend of youth and experience, and it’s paid off in their consistency throughout the campaign. Alberta finished as the third-best team in goals against (14) and the fourth-best team in goals for (27). 5th-year defender Janko Vong provides a solid foundation on which the Golden Bears build their game upon, and if they want to perform a giant-killing, that steadiness will do wonders in helping their chances.
Individually, first-year striker Habib Assem finished fourth in Canada West scoring, potting 8 goals in 15 appearances to lead the Golden Bears. Third-year midfielder David Chung isn’t far away himself, with 5 goals in 14 matches himself. It’s the sort of combination that shows this Alberta team has the ability to put the ball in the back of the net, regardless of the opponent. With regista Jake Bosch laying out the passes, don’t be surprised if the Golden Bears strike on the counter-attack.
This group is an exciting one to watch, with pace and talent that isn’t easily matched. Unfortunately for Alberta however, they drew the short end of the straw in the team that matches up against them in the Canada West semi-final.
The T-Birds have done everything – except make it past the quarterfinals at nationals. This is the season that they hope to change that narrative, but first, the challenge will be to qualify for it. The 4th ranked team in the country is favoured to take their semifinal matchup against Alberta, with things clicking at the right moment for this group.
UBC rolls into the semifinals having come off a string of high-scoring affairs, customary for this team. The Thunderbirds led Canada West in team goals by some margin (41) while yielding the second-least goals against (14). This group has been coalescing together for quite some time now, and look to make this last dance a memorable one. What’s especially impressive is that the Thunderbirds have achieved this without their number one goalie, Bennett McKay, who spent much of the year injured.
It’s the usual suspects doing the work offensively for this team. Coming off an injury-riddled 2021 season, Victory Shumbusho has returned as one of the most lethal strikers in the conference, potting in 14 goals in 16 matches for the T-Birds. Logan Chung, Sebastian Dzikowski, and Asvin Chauhan all find themselves in the top 20 in scoring as well, spoiled for riches up front. As for the middle of the park, Mihai Hodut and Thomas Gardner continue to be creative forces, while Daniel and Markus Kaiser pitch in both assists and defensive ability.
The UBC Thunderbirds will be disappointed with anything except for another Canada West title, with a group that’s possibly stronger than any squad they’ve had in years. With the experience that they have in claiming championships, there’s no question that the final four hosts will be the heavy favourites not only against Alberta, but to win another consecutive banner.
UBC kicks off against Alberta at 2:00 PM PST on Saturday, with the championship game set for 1:30 PM on Sunday. Catch all the action live on Canada West TV.