Weekend soccer preview: Cascades host rivals in huge divisional match-ups

The University of the Fraser Valley soccer teams return to their home pitch, MRC Sports Complex, for a series of Canada West conference games with major playoff implications.

MSOC: Rival T-Birds, Vikes set to visit

Friday: Cascades (3-4-1, 4th in Pacific Division) vs. UBC Thunderbirds (5-1-4, 2nd in Pacific), 8 p.m.

Saturday: Cascades vs. Victoria Vikes (3-5-0, 6th in Pacific), 8 p.m.

MRC Sports Complex, Field 4

Webcast (pay-per-view): ufv.canadawest.tv

The Cascades men’s soccer team sits squarely on the playoff bubble at the midway point of the season, occupying the fourth and final Pacific Division post-season slot.

They host a pair of high-profile provincial rivals on Friday and Saturday, and are looking for a spark from their offence after going goalless in a pair of road losses to the Winnipeg Wesmen and Saskatchewan Huskies last weekend.

insta-sked-graphic-2-rectangles-msoc“We’re looking forward to testing ourselves against two of the biggest schools in Canada West and CIS,” Cascades head coach Tom Lowndes said. “We’re excited for the opportunity to play them at home. In order to be successful, we need to frustrate them and we need to work hard, and we’ve got to find a way to put the ball in the back of the net. That’s something that we’ve needed to improve upon in the last couple games.”

The CIS No. 9-ranked Thunderbirds are the reigning Canada West champs, but the Cascades earned a result against them on the road earlier this season, fashioning a scoreless draw on Sept. 10. UBC is coming off its first loss of the season, a 3-2 decision last Sunday at Lethbridge.

UFV dropped its prior meeting with the Vikes this season, 2-1 in Victoria on Sept. 9. With UVic in hot pursuit of the Cascades in the standings, Saturday’s game has significant playoff implications.

Players to watch: Cascades centre back Tammer Byrne has earned three game MVP awards through eight games, and he sets the pace for a sturdy defensive squad which ranks fifth in Canada West in goals against per game and has posted four clean sheets already this season. Byrne and his fellow UFV backliners will be challenged by the likes of UBC’s Kerman Pannu and UVic’s Paolo Dait. Both midfielders lead their respective teams with four goals and have registered two assists apiece. Dait made life difficult for the Cascades in their last meeting, notching a goal and an assist.

WSOC: Showdown with Pandas looms large

Friday: Cascades (4-1-2, 3rd in Pacific Division) vs. UNBC Timberwolves (0-6-0, 8th in Pacific), 5:30 p.m.

Saturday: Cascades vs. Alberta Pandas (4-0-2, 2nd in Pacific), 5:30 p.m.

MRC Sports Complex, Field 4

Webcast (pay-per-view): ufv.canadawest.tv

Saturday’s clash between the Cascades women’s soccer team and the Alberta Pandas is a fascinating match-up between two teams who are neck-and-neck in the Pacific Division standings. Both squads are on 14 points, but the Pandas occupy second place in the division ahead of UFV by virtue of the fact they have a game in hand and no losses on the ledger.

Cascades head coach Rob Giesbrecht knows, though, that it’s important for his team not to look past Friday’s match-up with a UNBC squad in search of its first win of the regular season.

insta-sked-graphic-2-rectangles-wsoc“There’s six points available this weekend, and UNBC has proven this year that they can put scares into teams,” Giesbrecht said. “They’ve got a new coach (Neil Sedgwick) who has the team organized, and we’re anticipating a tough team to break down. We want to keep our success against them going, but we know it’s not going to be easy.”

Giesbrecht noted that playing the CIS No. 8-ranked Pandas is “always a tough game.”

“They have a good blend of athletic ability and technical quality to them,” he said. “Historically they’re a strong team, and they’re always tactically tough to break down and to deal with. But we showed last year that we can go up there and be successful (winning 2-0 in Edmonton on Sept. 25, 2015). They’ve done a great job this year working their way up the table, and it’s a massive three points up for grabs.”

Players to watch: Monika Levarsky opened the Canada West regular season on a rare goal-scoring drought, but her five assists through the first six games were indicative of her offensive impact. The third-year forward from Surrey, B.C. got her first goal of the campaign last Sunday in a 3-0 win at the Thompson Rivers WolfPack, and she’ll be looking to carry that momentum into this weekend. Goals have been tough to come by for UNBC, but senior midfielder Tianna Pius (one goal and a team-high nine shots) has been their offensive leader. The Pandas have impressed defensively, having surrendered just two goals through six games thus far. Keeper Cassie Bazzarelli’s five shutouts are tied for tops in Canada West, and her 0.33 goals against average is second-best in the conference.

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