The University of the Fraser Valley men’s soccer team needed a single point from Friday’s game with the UNBC Timberwolves to punch their Canada West playoff ticket for a fourth straight season, and that’s exactly what they got.
On a rain-soaked evening at MRC Sports Complex, the Cascades’ James Najman opened the scoring in the 13th minute and UNBC’s Cheona Edzerza replied in the 60th to account for all the offence in a 1-1 draw.
Not only did UFV (7-6-2) clinch a post-season berth, they locked up third place in the Pacific Division by virtue of the fact their closest pursuers, the Thompson Rivers WolfPack and UBC Okanagan Heat, lost their games on Friday.
The Timberwolves (4-9-2), meanwhile, are seventh in the Pacific and have been eliminated from playoff contention.
UFV and UNBC renew hostilities on Saturday (8 p.m., MRC Sports Complex) in the Canada West regular-season finale for both squads.
“Mixed feelings, really,” Cascades head coach Tom Lowndes said, reflecting on his team’s Friday performance. “First half, we were good – we moved the ball really, really well and caused them a lot of problems. We were probably a bit unlucky to only be up 1-0 at halftime.
“Second half, I thought we were poor. We came out with a sloppy mentality – we let them back into the game with a goal, and full credit to them. They passed the ball really well, they’re really well-coached. No problems in saying they were the better team in the second half. If they’d gone on to win it, you probably would have held your hands up and said it’s what they deserve. For us as a group, we’ve got to be better. We can’t come out and go through the motions – there’s no easy games.”
Najman has been red-hot of late – he’d scored three goals in his previous four games, and made it four in five in the early going. The fifth-year striker got on the end of Justin Sekhon’s shot, took a touch and pivoted to the net and poked the ball inside the far post behind UNBC keeper Mitch MacFarlane.
The T-Wolves had a strong start to the second half, and leveled the score on a tremendous individual effort from Edzerza. He took on a couple of Cascades defenders and made a run to the middle, where he unleashed a shot from the top of the 18-yard box that curled inside the far post past UFV keeper David Hicks. Hicks had come on in the 54th minute in relief of starter Alex Skrzeta, who departed with an injury.
“I don’t think that helped with the flow of the game,” Lowndes observed. “It’s obviously not great to have a goalkeeper having to come in off the bench. To be fair, I don’t think we did the best job of protecting him in front. Our shape wasn’t good in the back four and midfield in the second half. That’s got to improve.”
With the Cascades locked into the Pacific Division’s No. 3 seed, Lowndes said he’ll give some of his young players a look for Saturday’s rematch.
“We’ll rest a few players on yellow cards that may get themselves in trouble,” he explained. “It’ll be a good chance for our younger players to show what they can do. We’ll rotate things a little bit, freshen up the squad and see how we do.”