Cascades fall to T-Birds in Canada West men’s soccer semis

Colton O'Neill and the Cascades fell 3-0 to the UBC Thunderbirds on Friday in the Canada West semifinals. (UFV Athletics file photo)

Colton O’Neill and the Cascades fell 3-0 to the UBC Thunderbirds on Friday in the Canada West semifinals. (UFV Athletics file photo)

The University of the Fraser Valley men’s soccer team fell 3-0 to the CIS No. 1-ranked UBC Thunderbirds in the Canada West semifinals on a rainy Friday night at Thunderbird Stadium.

It appeared after the first 45 minutes that those in attendance were in for a defensive battle as both teams locked down their opponents’ attack, but the host T-Birds broke through in the second half.

The Cascades meet their local rivals, the Trinity Western Spartans, in the Canada West bronze medal game on Saturday (5 p.m., Thunderbird Stadium).

“It’s not often you come off the pitch (down) 3-0 and hold your heads up,” UFV head coach Tom Lowndes said after Friday’s game. “We were fantastic.

“We kept our composure, we battled to the end. I had 11 lions on the pitch tonight – 11 absolute Braveheart lions who were willing to do anything for each other. I couldn’t be more proud to be the coach of this team right now.”

The Cascades encountered some adversity midway through the first half when Canada West second team all-star Tammer Byrne was forced to the leave the game after a collision with UBC’s Milad Mehrabi in the 28th minute. The sophomore midfielder was unable to return.

The first half was tightly contested as both teams seemed intent on suppressing scoring chances. Cascades goalkeeper Alex Skrzeta wasn’t really tested on his two saves, while UFV launched three shots towards the Thunderbird goal but failed to find the target.

Each squad entered their respective locker room at halftime soggy and scoreless.

The Thunderbirds would open the scoring early in the second half, however, when Adriano Clemente found the netting behind Skrzeta in the 47th minute off a set piece taken by Justin Wallace.

In the 60th minute, T-Bird midfielder Sean Einarsson was the beneficiary of the slick conditions after the ball was crossed into UFV’s box. A pair of Cascade defenders tried to clear it away from danger but instead saw it skip into Einarsson’s path, and he finished from close range.

Mehrabi tacked on UBC’s third goal in the 69th minute on a quick counterattack. Wallace picked up his second assist of the game when he found Mehrabi streaking to his right, where he settled the pass before striking the ball past Skrzeta from distance.

UFV had an opportunity to answer back in the 74th minute. Dylan McCrindle drew a UBC foul in the box, giving Cascades captain Colton O’Neill a chance from the spot. O’Neill drove the ball down the center of goal, but UBC keeper Chad Bush managed to drag his left leg long enough to toe the shot away.

Bush was again called into action in the 77th minute. UFV’s leading goal-scorer, Connor MacMillan, drilled a rising shot on net from the right side, but Bush leapt up and tipped the ball over the bar to preserve his clean sheet.

“We played really well in the first half,” Lowndes analyzed. “We stuck to the game plan very well, and we frustrated them and couldn’t break us down. We switched off on a set piece and they get a goal . . .

“The players deserved so much better. They were fantastic tonight.”

With the win, UBC moves into the Canada West gold medal game (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.) against the Victoria Vikes, who won their semifinal match against Trinity Western 2-1 earlier in the evening. UBC and UVic will be Canada West’s two representatives at the CIS national tournament.

Lowndes’s side has a chance to come home from the Final Four with some hardware if they can defeat the Spartans on Saturday.

“I know we’ll be ready tomorrow,” he said. “Making the No. 1 team in the nation go to their maximum to beat us, it shows how far we’ve come as a program.”

– by Russell Arbuthnot, UFV Cascades communications staff

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