Print Edition: November 13, 2013
There are three Canada West playoff spots available in the Pacific Division. Historically, those spots are claimed by some combination of UBC, UVic, and TWU, with UFV finishing a competitive, but unrewarded, fourth. Last year, UFV missed that final playoff spot by only a single point, yet, as the sports gods will affirm, “close” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
Eight seasons in, eight years of mentoring and sacrifice behind him, men’s soccer head coach Allan Errington had never taken his team into the post-season. Every year he has attended the CIS nationals at various locations around the country to watch other teams compete for glory, never his own locked in a postseason struggle.
That narrative didn’t change for much of the 2013 season. A promising start culminated in a shocking 1-0 upset of UBC on September 8, but was followed by a stagnant mid-season stretch. Once again, UFV had to pull off a string of late victories to remain in contention for that third playoff spot, and once again they seemed about to end up just short. All TWU had to do to pass UFV in the final weekend’s rankings was win twice against Canada West bottom-feeder UNBC…
Which, shockingly, they failed to do.[pullquote]
“I think we all bought into the system at the right time … everyone kind of saw us as underdogs so there was a lot of fuel added to the fire, and it caused us to defend better … we knew we were playing against the best teams in our league so we wanted to stifle anything [they] were doing. ”
– Ryan Liddiard[/pullquote]
For the first time ever, the Cascades were in the playoffs. “We were coming in as underdogs, heavy underdogs,” said fourth-year defender Ryan Liddiard. “I mean we went to the Canada West banquet and no member of our team won any wards, whereas every other team had award-winners. We saw [our opportunity] as a big step for our program, our men’s soccer program at UFV. We were already creating history as it was, and we figured ‘what do we have to lose?’”
The UFV squad that competed in the following three games was nothing like their regular-season selves. Something elemental had changed, like an adolescent grizzly transitioning from cute to dangerous. In their first playoff match against the University of Alberta on Halloween, the Cascades played spoiler in a 1-0 defeat of the larger, more established program. It was a game they were not supposed to win, a game which revealed a tougher, more disciplined squad.
Errington remembers the shift, something he and UFV sports psychologist Roger Friesen have been attempting for years. “Our first game, the mood in the dressing room was different,” he said. “There was more focus, they were preparing better, they were concentrating on what they were going to do in the game. It was a different atmosphere.”
The win catapulted UFV into the semifinals and pitted them against the best team in Canada: UBC. The T-Birds would go on to win Canada West gold, and eventually CIS gold as well, yet UFV gave them a game that recalled their earlier upset.
“They don’t like playing against us in all honesty,” said Errington. “We give them good games every game we’ve played. We played them three times [this season], beat them one-nil, lost three-nil but actually played well against them, and we lost two-nil in the semifinals for Canada West. They don’t want to see much of us again.”
Although the linesman failed to acknowledge it, UFV actually scored first in the match on a dropped save that a UBC defender volleyed away from within his own net. Although the T-Birds went on to take the match two-nil, their insurance goal not coming until the 92nd minute of an extremely competitive match.
UBC went on to trounce the University of Saskatchewan in the gold medal game by a score of 6-1, allowing UFV players and fans alike to wonder if the Huskies were indeed the best recipient of that second Canada West nationals berth. Admittedly, it would have been a crime to upset UBC in the semi-finals after their stellar season, but the eventual situation was, as Liddiard put it, “heart-wrenching.”[pullquote]
“We tried to play the game properly. We didn’t smash the ball down the field, but we tried to play football … You’re really only as good as your weakest player on your squad, and everybody worked hard.”
– Coach Alan Errington[/pullquote]
The November 3 consolation final for Canada West bronze was a meeting of yearly rivals. UVic has always been a key opponent for UFV, and one that the Cascades seem to fall to more often than conquer. On October 6, UFV had blown a 1-0 first-half lead in spectacular style to lose the game 5-2, but this time there was to be no mid-game collapse. After falling behind by a goal, UFV scored two second-half tallies to take the game, the consolation final, and the Canada West bronze.
With a first playoff appearance, two playoff wins, and a conference medal all within a single season, Errington is obviously pleased with his team, and is looking ahead to more good things to come.
“It is big; it’s big for the university … And I think for the program to grow and develop we’ve got to be a regular in the playoffs and have that mental toughness to grow and compete and make sure we get there every year.”
Errington also hopes his team’s accomplishments will help bring UFV’s soccer program more recognition, and perhaps even start the push toward permanent facilities. Both UFV soccer teams currently play at Exhibition Park in Chilliwack.
“We’ve definitely got someone on-side with us in Rocky Olfert as athletic director, and Jody Gordon [as VP students]. Both are fully supportive of what we do, so that’s positive. We need a facility of our own, and that’s the biggest problem, because recruiting is paramount in a university program and it’s hard to compete with the UVics and the UBCs with the facilities they have, and even the Trinity Westerns with the facilities they have.”
For his part, Liddiard is already looking forward to his fifth and final year next season, his appetite whetted for playoff success.
“My time is ticking,” he said, “so I want to get to those nationals if I can next year. Having got to the playoffs this year, it seems like a logical next step. We won the bronze this year, and since we’re not losing any players to eligibility or other things, it’s all shaping up for next year to be the year when we put a huge stamp on Canada West soccer and Canadian soccer!”
Photos Courtesy Blake McGuire, Jess Wind, Wilson Wong (UBC), University of the Fraser Valley