Soccer

Staying alive: Men’s soccer fights for first post-season appearance

It was the twilight of the soccer gods on Friday, as the UFV men’s squad tried to end a winless streak dating back to September 27 and improve their chances of a playoff berth.

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By Paul Esau (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: October 23, 2013

Defender Colton O’Neill clears the ball out of harm’s way. Colton is one of the Cascades’ top players, and will be a significant component in any post-season run (Photos from Saturday game against Lethbridge).

It was the twilight of the soccer gods on Friday, as the UFV men’s squad tried to end a winless streak dating back to September 27 and improve their chances of a playoff berth. The possibility lay before them, beguiling, seductive. All they had to do was win.

The men’s team has suffered a stark inability to win big games over the past few seasons, dropping the ball time and time again in pivotal matches. Since joining the CIS, the team has never made it into the post-season, coming close (one point shy last season), but not close enough.

The Cascades took the field on Friday against the University of Calgary Dinos, a team ranked third in the CIS Prairie division. The game began with a number of promising opportunities for a UFV tally, but shockingly, it was Calgary that scored first on one of only two first half shots.

Facing down possible elimination, the Cascades played the last 45 minutes with an authority that has often been lacking this season. They pelted the Dinos goalie with an impressive 22 shots and attempted 15 corner kicks over 90 minutes, only rarely allowing Calgary to rally across the midfield line. Justin Sekhon and Connor MacMillan were especially impressive for the UFV side in its all-out attempt to avoid post-season obscurity.

The Dinos curled around their lead like they’d just found an Apatosaurus-sized shell to crawl into. Cascades strikers blasted shot after shot into the densely packed knot of defenders in front of the Calgary net, bruising limbs with impunity. One particularly promising strike eluded the Dinos goaltender only to slam into the butt of a retreating defender in a display of shocking dumb luck.

By the 60 minute mark, it was easy to understand why the dinosaurs had gone extinct; no species, no matter how tough, could withstand the punishment being served up by the UFV offense. 10 members of the Calgary squad spent significant portions of the second half deep within the 18-yard box, but despite their bodily sacrifice it was only a matter of time.

In the 70th minute, striker Ethan Clairbourne-Collins finally managed to blast one past the milling flock of Ceratopsians and into the Calgary net. 17 minutes later he banked another shot off the far post and in, putting the Cascades ahead with four minutes left in the game.

The second goal was a masterpiece of angled trigonometry and calculated trajectory, a triumph in its own right. After the game Clairbourne-Collins admitted the secret behind his laser-like precision.

“I closed my eyes, to be honest,” he said with a grin.

“They’re closed a lot of the time,” added a lurking Alan Errington, whose head coach façade looked significantly more relaxed then it had at halftime. “We’re still alive,” he added, “it was a must win. A tie would have killed us, it would have been the end of the season.”

Prior to Clairbourne-Collins’ first goal, the Cascades hadn’t scored in more than two-and-a-half games. To compensate the squad has been focusing on set plays and corner kicks in practice, but the relief after the 2-1 win was obvious. “The goals are there in training but you don’t see that, you don’t see all the hard work that happens in training,” Clairbourne-Collins said. “Once [goals] come, hopefully they come in waves. It’s a good time to get hot.”

For his part, Errington was satisfied with the day’s performance. “I thought the attitude, and the work rate, and the desire was there,” he said, “and at the end of the day that’s all you can ask. The league doesn’t lie, we are where we are. If we don’t make the playoffs that’s because we’re not good enough, and if we do make the playoffs it’s because we are.”

On Saturday, the Cascades defeated the University of Lethbridge 4-1, opening up a five point lead on the fourth-place TWU Spartans. TWU will play its final two games next weekend, and must win both to pass  the Cascades in the standings and deny UFV the final playoff spot.

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