Connor MacMillan’s goal in the 84th minute lifted the University of the Fraser Valley men’s soccer team to a 4-3 playoff win over the Alberta Golden Bears, and into the Canada West Final Four for the second time in program history.
Playing at Foote Field in Edmonton on Saturday afternoon, the Cascades didn’t do it the easy way – after building leads of 2-0 and 3-1 in the second half, the Golden Bears roared back to knot the score 3-3.
But MacMillan restored the UFV lead, blocking an Alberta clearing attempt and then poking the ball past Golden Bears keeper Connor James, and the Cascades hung on from there.
“I’ve aged about 10 years,” Cascades head coach Tom Lowndes joked afterward.
“We could have caved because of the goals we conceded and how unlucky we were, but we battled as a team. I couldn’t be more proud of their effort.”
UFV advances to the Canada West Final Four, hosted by the UBC Thunderbirds next weekend. They take on the host T-Birds in the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6. A victory would not only send the Cascades on to the conference gold medal game, it would also punch their ticket to the CIS national championship, hosted by York University in Toronto, Nov. 12-15.
The Final Four will be an all-Pacific Division affair, as UBC, the Victoria Vikes and the Trinity Western Spartans also defeated their Prairie Division counterparts in the conference quarter-finals. UVic and TWU face off in the earlier semi next Friday (5 p.m. kickoff).
On Saturday in Edmonton, the Cascades had the better of the play during a defensive-minded first half, registering three shots on target to Alberta’s zero. One of those found the back of the net – Mason Thompson slipped a slick pass through the Bears defence and into the path of fellow midfielder Kree Byrne, who beat James to the ball and chipped it over the Alberta keeper.
MacMillan made it 2-0 in the 67th minute, finishing from point-blank range after Justin Sekhon barged through the Bears defence and fed the ball over to him.
The Cascades’ lead seemed comfortable, but that goal was the first of six that the two teams would combine for during a wild 17-minute stretch.
Alberta’s Daniel Barker-Rothschild cut the UFV lead in half in the 69th minute, but less than a minute later, Cascades striker Elijah Sampson was sprung on a breakaway and hammered a rising shot under the crossbar to restore the two-goal cushion.
The Golden Bears kept coming, though, and got a fortunate bounce in the 71st minute when UFV defender Sukh Dhaliwal’s attempted clearance sliced into the top corner for an own goal. Alberta’s Tolu Esan leveled the score in the 81st minute, placing a shot just under the crossbar.
But MacMillan rescued UFV with his late-game heroics, and the Cascades weren’t about to let the lead slip away this time.
“We conceded two of the unluckiest goals,” Lowndes said. “We could have crumbled, but we kept fighting. Connor MacMillan, they say big players come through in big games, and he did. It was a well-earned victory, and we deserved nothing less.”