VANCOUVER, BC – After a long offseason filled with plenty of League1 BC action, the end of summer brings about the start of a new U SPORTS Canada West men’s soccer campaign. In one of the most competitive conferences in Canada comes one of the most competitive divisions. The Pacific once again shapes up to be a bloodbath, with no clear runaway champion from the first glance. Old champions are running with fresh blood, while other teams are looking to make their presence felt this year.
Here’s how the Pacific Division of Canada West men’s soccer is shaping up.
After a stunning run to the U SPORTS title including three straight penalty victories, the TRU Wolfpack look to build on the momentum they generated. Though they have lost some key figures from the squad, the Wolfpack have also replenished with some very intriguing recruiting additions.
Goalkeeper-turned-penalty hero-turned-dancing sensation Jackson Gardner departs TRU for the Australian second-tier side Glenorchy Knights FC, with teammates Daniel Sagno and Marco Favaro joining him down under at the end of their time in U SPORTS. The trio make up a major chunk of departures from Kamloops. But, they haven’t gone without replacements.
TRU has added plenty of intriguing talent from its recruiting class. CB Dylan Pauw, a Barnet FC youth product, will be linking up with fellow Englishman Harry Taylor on the backline, while former Guelph Gryphon standout Svyatik Artmenko will take up the number 1 shirt between the sticks, to hopefully continue on Gardner’s steady hands. Winnipeg-native LB Ebalo Amuri also joins the Wolfpack this year, adding an element of speed to help break the pitch open.
At the same time, Akwasi Agyekum returns after a stint in the Canadian Premier League with Atletico Ottawa, while striker Patrick Izett will hit the ground running coming off a League 1 BC championship with the Whitecaps Academy.
Can TRU prove that last season wasn’t just a fluke, and establish themselves as a big player in the Pacific Division?
After a disappointing, injury-riddled 2022 season, the TWU Spartans look to take a step forward in this fall’s campaign. With added reinforcements and a clean bill of health, there’s a lot going their way as they try to re-establish themselves at the top.
A glaring lack of Tristan Torresan on the 2023 roster is possibly TWU’s biggest loss. Often the engine in the midfield, the Spartans will be looking for Thomas Powell to step into those big shoes. It’s not without reason though – Powell’s creativity and ball-striking abilities have long made him a key member of TWU’s squad.
Hopefully aiding the resurgence in the midfield is the return of Christian Rossi. The former York United draft pick and 2021 U SPORTS rookie of the year spent just over a third of last season injured and didn’t manage to pick up much momentum in the games that he did feature in. Rossi has shown himself to be a quality player at the Canada West level in the past, which TWU will be hoping to get from him in spades.
With a strong recruiting class including the likes of MF Marcel Bona as a potential partner for 2022 Canada West All-Rookie Team member Jordan Low, it’s a Spartan team out in Langley looking to prove themselves again. Can they make a rebound back into the postseason?
The 2023 season marks a changing of the guard for UBC. Gone are the likes of Victory Shumbusho, Tommy Gardner, Daniel Kaiser and other mainstays of multiple Canada West titles and deep runs at U SPORTS nationals. It’ll be a tall task to defend their crown, but if anyone can, it’s this Thunderbird program.
Presumptuous number 1 goalkeeper Bennett McKay will return between the sticks as UBC’s primary keeper, after only making four appearances last season due to injury. He’ll be relied upon to command a talented backline including Pacific FC man Eric Lajeunesse. The ‘Birds are further reinforced by the return of former Whitecaps FC2 fullback Chris Lee, who rejoins UBC after a year in MLS NextGen.
UBC also pulled in a deep recruiting class from the Whitecaps academy system, picking up midfielders Eric Kim, Brennan Fuerst, Luke Norman, and Oliver Herbert to shore up the middle of the park, while defender Eric White might headline the young crew from the Caps, playing a full season with WFC2. Other interesting additions include FW Kurt Hymanyk and MF Josh Njongwe from Calgary Foothills FC, as well as GK Jack Garner from the Vancouver Island Wave.
All eyes will be on the Thunderbirds to see if they can repeat as Canada West champions, and perhaps try and improve on their silver medal at nationals from last year. With the loss of key veterans, can the youth movement step up in Point Grey?
The sibling campus to UBC will be looking to play Giant Killer this season. It’s another UBCO squad that sports a mix of plenty of youth and just enough experience, with intrigue to add to a competitive Pacific division.
There isn’t much to speak of in terms of significant departures, with the young Heat team having another year to gel together and challenge some of the best in Canada West. For the 2023 season, they’ve added forward Oliver Deveau, midfielders Rory Clements, Varun Kothary, Andrew Matsugu, and Cole Lutz-Charlton, defender Harvey Holland, as well as goalkeeper Mattias Ferraro. They might not be counted upon for immediate contributions, but don’t be surprised if one of these talented youngsters emerges as a key figure in their lineup.
Eyes will be on the Heat to see if they can build on a season’s best offensive output (20 goals in 15 games) led by strike pairing Malachi Emerson and Jacobo Saenz Ramos. They might not be overwhelming favourites to place in the top 4, but keep an eye out for this team to deliver some shock results.
A heartbreaking loss in the Canada West quarterfinals brought a bitter end to what was a stunning season for the UFV Cascades. After stumbling out of the gates, UFV clawed their way to a postseason berth through sheer grit and determination. This year, they’ll hope to paint a storybook ending in the playoffs.
The Cascades will need to replace a key group of departing veterans. Creative midfield forces Trevor Zanatta and Parman Minhas have moved on from Abbotsford, while UFV is hoping to find an offensive replacement for the clinical Taylor Richardson. The 6’4 striker potted in nine tallies in 14 appearances, the target man for most of their offensive attacks.
Attacking recruits to try and supplement this team’s offence include Coquitlam’s Roland Mansell as well as winger Kevin Mailand of Hannover, Germany. Mailand finished as HSC Hannover U19’s top scorer last season, and UFV is hoping he can translate that success over to the U SPORTS level. Other recruits for the Cascades include Daniel Ganief, Dylan Lee, Adam Szymanski, Kian Proctor, Kody Torrance, Gurnaj Sidhu, Harman Shergill, and Sebastian Insley.
UFV also saw a late-offseason departure from their program, and tantalizing winger Ivan Mejia put pen to paper with the CPL’s newest side, Vancouver FC.
While the team has the talent, experienced departures mean that the Cascades have their work cut out for them as they continue to establish themselves as a major player in Canada West. Can the young talent fill in the gaps?
The UNBC Timberwolves were the talk of Canada West last season. Years of good recruiting and development paid off as the Timberwolves shined during the 2022 campaign, racking up a 8-5-3 record. However, that shine wore off as UNBC was demolished by the Alberta Golden Bears 5-0 in the quarterfinals. With another strong team returning, UNBC will be out for revenge this year.
There are some key figures departing from the Timberwolves roster, key among them being midfielder Kensho Ando. The second-team Canada West midfielder leaves the north after featuring for many solid UNBC teams. His creativity and offensive vision will be missed, though it is something that the Timberwolves will hopefully have replacements for.
Returning however is Michael Henman, the reigning Canada West Player of the Year setting records with his 19 goals in 2022 to lead all players across the country. He’ll be joined Gregor Smith and Connor Lewis, while an intriguing recruiting class that possesses speed, smarts, and grit that give the Timberwolves plenty of talent to call upon in a pinch. Interestingly enough, Prince George might have themselves a set of pacey twins on the left side, with LB Theo Tate and LW Isaac Tate.
Buoying the group this season as well is their fine-tuned roster, coming off a regular season League 1 BC title as the Victoria Highlanders, with Henman earning league MVP honours. While the Highladers fell to the Whitecaps Academy in the final at BC Place, head coach Steve Simonson and the group have secured a Canadian Championship berth for 2024.
With the goals as the Highlanders already set, the group will look to raise the bar under the Timberwolces banner in Prince George as well.
It’ll be a tall task to follow up a 2022 season like the one UNBC had. They’ll know what it takes to get to where they want to be and the standard that they will have to uphold. Can the Timberwolves scale the mountain past the quarterfinals?
2022 was a rough season for the usually dominant Victoria Vikes. Their 3-8-5 record was far off of their usual standards, and hopefully with the 2023 season around the corner, they can restore their reputation as one of the best in the Pacific.
A couple of key departures for the Vikes mean that this season will see some fresh blood getting a chance to show themselves regularly. The starting lineup in Victoria boasts a mix of second and third-year squad players, all of whom have been chomping at the bit for larger roles. Look for fourth-year Javier Sagaste to play a key leadership role and continue to guide the Victoria squad.
There are some very young faces with some big roles to fill as well. Jack Napier-Ganley, a transfer from the UBC Thunderbirds without a single appearance, will be in his first season in Canada West. He’s been given the number 10 shirt and looks to play a key role within Victoria’s midfield. Prolific Pacific Coast Soccer League striker Kaelan Cooke dons the number 9 for the Vikes, potentially indicating the first year’s anticipated impact for the squad.
For the usual contenders in the Pacific, 2023 looks to bring better tidings than a rocking 2022. The question is if the Vikes did enough to truly launch themselves back into the postseason, or if this year is going to be another year of building for the future.
The U SPORTS Canada West men’s soccer season gets underway on Friday, Aug. 26.
49 SPORTS PREDICTIONS
- UBC Thunderbirds
- UNBC Timberwolves
- TRU Wolfpack
- TWU Spartans
- Victoria Vikes
- UFV Cascades
- UBCO Heat