Down to 10 men for more than a third of the game, Gurmaan Jhaj and the University of the Fraser Valley men’s soccer team somehow managed a dramatic 1-0 home victory over the Saskatchewan Huskies.
On a Friday evening where the weather fluctuated between drizzle and downpour, the Cascades and Huskies largely kept each other at arm’s length until the 58th minute, when UFV forward Parman Minhas was shown a straight red card following a collision with Sask keeper Greg Buckley.
The Huskies took over for the ensuing 10 minutes but were unable to generate a goal. And slowly, the tide turned the Cascades’ way, culminating in the 89th minute when UFV’s Atle Koellmel was hauled down just outside the penalty area.
That set the table for Jhaj, who stepped up and sent his free kick around the Huskies’ wall and into the bottom right corner. It was his Canada West-leading seventh goal of the season – yet another moment of Gurmaagic for the Cascades, who improved to 4-2-1 on the season, tied for second on win percentage in the Pacific Division with the Trinity Western Spartans (both teams at .643).
The Huskies fell to 2-5-0, which leaves them fifth in the Prairie Division.
“We weren’t great for large portions of the game, but we found a way to battle through adversity, and that’s something this group has not faced a ton of,” Cascades head coach Tom Lowndes said afterward. “They (Sask) came and made it difficult for us. It’s not often we have to play against a back five, and they were tough to break down. We kind of cancelled each other out. Proud of the boys – they kept going to the last minute, and obviously a great goal.”
Scoring chances were few and far between during a scoreless first half. The Huskies best look came in the 11th minute when Mohamed Omar steered the ball off the crossbar; the Cascades had a good look late in the half, but Buckley came up with a diving save on Minhas.
The game pivoted in the 58th, when Buckley came racing out to scoop up a through ball and Minhas arrived a moment late. The two players clattered legs as Minhas rushed by, and the referee showed the UFV forward a red card.
“It’s a tough one,” Lowndes said. “It’s a foul, no doubt, and it’s probably a yellow card. I don’t think there was any malice involved, but the referee’s seen it that way and that’s the decision he’s made. We’ve got to roll with it, it’s happened, we can’t change it.”
Shortly after Minhas’s exit, Nikolas Baikas found some space at the right of the box, but his blast went high and wide. Later on, Baikas had his shot from the left wing parried by Cascades keeper David Hicks, and Mason Ogoke’s follow-up effort went high over the bar.
The Cascades, meanwhile, started to look dangerous on the counterattack, and Jhaj was able to capitalize with a picture-perfect free kick after Koellmel drew the foul.
“On the free kick, Tom actually pulled me over to the sideline, and he was thinking the same thing as me,” Jhaj related with a smile afterward. “He said, ‘Put it bottom right.’ I listened to the gaffer, and it worked out pretty well!
“The wall was set up on the left side, and usually the goalie tends to think you’re going over the wall or under the wall in this weather. He stepped the wrong way, and then he was beat right from the start.”
Lowndes acknowledged that going down to 10 men “unnerved us a little bit and rocked us,” but the Cascades were able to settle into a more defensive-minded formation and calm down.
“The boys responded really well,” he said. “We could have gone into our shell a little bit, but even at 0-0, we were the ones pushing forward with 10 men. It’s the sign of a good team that we weren’t happy to just get out of here with a point. We kept pushing to the end, and we got rewarded for it.
“It wasn’t pretty by any means. But three points is all that matters, and we’re happy to get that and move on.”
The Cascades men are off for the rest of the weekend before returning to action next Friday, Sept. 28, also against UBC Okanagan (6:30 p.m., MRC Sports Complex).