No. 8-ranked Bears rally to edge Cascades men’s soccer team 3-2

The University of the Fraser Valley men’s soccer team had the Alberta Golden Bears on the ropes on Sunday afternoon, but the nation’s No. 8-ranked team managed to get up off the mat.

On a cold, rainy day at Foote Field in Edmonton, the Cascades built a 2-0 lead on goals from Trevor Zanatta and Gurmaan Jhaj.

But the undefeated Bears (6-0-1) mounted a rally, getting goals from Matthew Miki and Easton Ongaro to draw even prior to halftime. They got the winner in the 81st minute when Ajeej Sarkaria’s corner kick found its way into the net, dropping UFV to 3-2-1 in Canada West play.

“Nothing but proud of my players’ effort, their attitude, and the way that they played,” Cascades head coach Tom Lowndes said afterward.

“We’ve gone punch for punch with one of the top teams in the country for 90 minutes, and we just ran out of gas a bit at the end.”

The Cascades broke the ice in the 17th minute, as rookie midfielder Zanatta notched his first career Canada West goal. Brady Weir swung a corner kick into the box, and Anthony Vega got his head on it at the far post and sent it back across for Zanatta, who nodded it home.

Jhaj doubled the Cascades’ lead in highlight-reel fashion in the 33rd minute. The fourth-year forward spotted Bears keeper Connor James off his line and launched a missile from the 41-yard line. It was a flawless strike, arcing just over the fingertips of James and under the crossbar.

Jhaj’s sixth goal of the season gives him a share of the Canada West goal-scoring lead with UBC’s Caleb Clarke, and his eight points are also tied for tops in the conference with Clarke and Alberta’s Ongaro.

“Great strike,” said Lowndes, marveling at Jhaj’s latest goal. “He pinged a good one – it was Beckham-esque in the way that he did it. Also very pleased for Trevor Zanatta to get his first goal for us.”

The Bears stymied UFV’s momentum in short order, though. In the 36th, Ongaro launched a shot from the right wing that Cascades keeper David Hicks stopped, but Miki was there to clean up the rebound.

Then, in first-half injury time, Ongaro netted the equalizer, chasing down Noah Cunningham’s cross along the end line, venturing toward the goal, and slotting a shot past Hicks. The Cascades felt Ongaro had been offside on the play, but the officials didn’t see it that way, and the two teams went to the locker rooms knotted at 2-2.

The Bears continued to press in the second half, but Hicks stood tall, making a series of outstanding stops to keep the score level. Most notably, he stoned Sarkaria on a penalty kick in the 80th minute, diving to his right to parry the Alberta forward’s low drive.

But on the ensuing corner, the Bears found the go-ahead goal. The ball from Sarkaria swung in on goal, and Hicks tried to punch it away. But the ball went off the underside of the crossbar and into the net.

“For us to come to one of the top teams in the nation with such a young team and make them work that hard to beat us, there’s nothing but good things to come for this group,” Lowndes said.

The Cascades return home to host the Saskatchewan Huskies next Friday (8 p.m., MRC Sports Complex).

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Indigenizing at UFV

The University of the Fraser Valley is situated on the unceded traditional territory of the Stó:lō peoples. The Stó:lō have an intrinsic relationship with what they refer to as S’olh Temexw (Our Sacred Land); therefore, we express our gratitude and respect for the honour of living and working in this territory.

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