Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Conceding three goals in a span of 11 minutes in the first half is never a recipe for success, no matter how well you play the other 79.
That will go down as the MacEwan Griffins' downfall in their final game of the season – a 4-0 defeat to the visiting Calgary Dinos at Jasper Place Bowl.
If the soccer gods were being fair, it would have been the Griffins walking off the field with a result instead of a lopsided loss as they carried more of the play throughout the afternoon. But scoring, not possession, is all that matters in the end.
"We fell victim to conceding early again and that kind of wrote the story for the game," said MacEwan head coach Adam Loga.
"It's just unfortunate that a couple times this year we keep getting these score-lines that aren't indicative of what actually happened."
Calgary, however, it may be argued could afford to sit back and let the play come to them after jumping out to an insurmountable lead.
In the 11th minute, Jorge Leon Gomez blasted a left-footed offering that squeaked through MacEwan keeper Dory Elliott to open the scoring.
The Dinos took a 2-0 lead just three minutes later by capitalizing on a free kick awarded for a hard foul on the top right corner of the box. Kellen Kuipers lobbed it in for a beautifully-executed header by Dominik Zuczek.
In the 22nd minute, Calgary pretty much put the game away when Zuczek beat Elliott by finding space under the bar from 30 yards out.
"We're pleased (with the start) because we had a tough game yesterday with the U of A," said Calgary head coach Brendan O'Connell, whose squad tied Alberta 2-2 on Saturday. "MacEwan gave us a tough game, lots of effort, but it's always good to get a three-goal start so we can control the game a little bit. We had that in our benefit, to be fair."
The Griffins woke up too little, too late after going down 3-0 and had numerous chances to get on the board.
Their best of the first half was a 29th minute blast by Brian Mayall that keeper Jake Ruschkowski stopped before Zi Moyo potted the rebound. But he was deemed to be offside, one of 12 such penalties levelled against MacEwan's offence on the day.
In the second half, the Griffins kept pressing. Moyo almost chipped it over Ruschkowski, but the keeper got a piece in the 58th minute. Mayall then bent it just over the bar in the 68th.
Finally, the Griffins had a glorious chance to score when Michael Ho was taken down in the box in the 70th minute by Calgary defender Sam Gagne. But Lahai Mansaray put the penalty kick over the bar.
Ruschkowski then flat-out robbed Christian Hernandez on an 80th minute left-footed blast that he got a hand on to tip over the net.
With nothing working, despite spending most of the half in Calgary's end of the field, the Griffins fell victim to a late counter-attack from the Dinos. Just before the final whistle, in the 89th, Calgary pressure forced a scramble in front of Elliott with the ball squirting loose to Bryce Connors, who scored into an empty cage from the right side.
The offensive explosion will certainly benefit the Dinos (7-6-2) heading into the opening round of the playoffs at Trinity Western (8-4-4) on Oct. 28.
"We're coming on a good streak," said O'Connell. "We're scoring three, six, nine odd goals in the last few games. We're finding the net, which is important, because we struggled with that early on."
For the Griffins, who will finish the Canada West campaign with a 2-10-2 record, they can at least take comfort in the fact they didn't finish in the league cellar. Although they had the same record as Lethbridge, they won the season series and will finish ahead of them.
"I'm proud of them," said Loga of his team. "Last year in the coaches' poll, we were anticipated to come dead last and we weren't. This year, in the conference without Winnipeg we were expected to come last and we aren't. We are exceeding, so to speak, the outside expectations.
"And there's a lot to be proud of," he continued. "Dory Elliott's back playing the game that two years ago he walked away from. Christian Hernandez is back playing the game he walked away from. We've got fourth years who've stuck with the rebuild, guys like Josh Samuel and Bennett Foster, who are here trying to help the program build instead of walking out the door like guys have done in the past.
"The next jump we have is a playoff spot. That's the next jump in the division. There's a lot to look forward to going into the winter season and the future."
FREE KICKS … Mayall and Calgary's Dondre Bailey picked up the game MVPs … Ruschkowski made eight saves for the shutout … MacEwan may have missed the playoffs but Mansaray will finish in the top 10 in Canada West scoring with eight points.