The University of the Fraser Valley men’s soccer team wrapped up its 2017 season with a 3-1 loss to the UBC Thunderbirds at MRC Sports Complex on Saturday evening.
The visiting T-Birds got goals from Mihai Hodut, Brian Im and Sam Fletcher, while the Cascades’ marker came off the boot of Gurmaan Jhaj on a second-half penalty kick.
It was the regular-season finale for both teams – UBC (10-4-1) advances to the playoffs as the No. 1 seed out of Canada West’s Pacific Division, while the Cascades (4-9-3, seventh in the Pacific) finish outside the post-season picture for the first time since 2012.
While the result didn’t go UFV’s way on Saturday, the performance – particularly in the second half – was pleasing to head coach Tom Lowndes. The Cascades dominated possession after the break, but the T-Birds were able to put the game away with a pair of goals against the run of play.
“We did a fantastic job of limiting their chances, and I don’t think we deserved to concede three goals, really,” Lowndes said. “But they’re a clinical team, and good teams take their chances. That’s been something we’ve been lacking this season.
“I’m really proud of the effort from the boys. If that’s the starting point, with 95 per cent of the squad returning next year, I’m really excited for the future of this team.”
The T-Birds opened the scoring in the 22nd minute – Patrick Metcalfe sent a long ball across to Hodut on the left wing, and he cut to the middle before unleashing a perfectly placed low shot that went in off the far post, just out of the reach of Cascades keeper Alex Skrzeta.
The hosts were an inspired group out of halftime – Atle Koellmel had a good look from the right wing in the 60th minute, but sent his shot over the bar.
Just two minutes later, UBC struck on the counterattack. Kristian Yli-Hietane fed the ball over to Im, and he lunged to fire a shot into the top corner.
The Cascades continued to press, and were rewarded with a penalty kick after a T-Birds defender handled the ball in the box. Jhaj stepped to the spot and blasted a rising shot inside the post to the right of UBC keeper Mitchell Whittla.
Fletcher rounded out the scoring in the 83rd, firing a low free kick that found its way inside the far post.
“I’m really pleased with the overall performance, considering we had six players in their first year of eligibility on at the start of the game,” Lowndes said. “We’re by far the youngest team in Canada West, and I’d probably go as far as to say the youngest in the whole of U SPORTS.
“Our record doesn’t necessarily reflect how we played in some games,” Lowndes added, reflecting on the season as a whole. “If we put a few chances away, we have a few more wins and a few more points, and maybe we’re where we want to be. I think that’s maybe our only grievance when we look at the league table and we’re on the outside looking in for the playoffs.
“But the boys have worked hard all year – I’ve seen them take steps and build. There’s a fantastic team atmosphere, a family atmosphere among them. With a very large percentage of them coming back, I’m really excited about where we can go in the spring and where we can progress in the next couple years.”