Stu Walters/UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – Zach Verhoven was the man of the match producing two goals and an assist to help power the UBC Thunderbirds men's soccer team to a convincing 7-0 win over the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades to open Canada West final four action Friday at Thunderbird Stadium.
The T-Birds who finished atop the Canada West regular season standings and are ranked No.4 in the country scored early and often against the Cascades to secure a spot in Sunday's gold medal final against the Trinity Western University Spartans. It's familiar territory for the T-Birds who advanced to the Canada West final for a fourth straight season and for an eighth time in the last nine years
The Spartans advanced to the championship game after getting past Thompson Rivers University 3-0 in the earlier contest late Friday afternoon. UFV will face TRU Saturday, night in the bronze medal match at Ken Woods Field at 7:00 p.m.
It didn't take long for the 'Birds to make their mark in this one as they opened the scoring in the fourth minute. First-year midfielder Nick Fussell fed a pass to fourth-year forward Kristian Yli-Hietanen at the top of the right box who then proceeded to get past his defender and drill a turf burning shot into the bottom left corner passed the outstretched arms of Cascades goalkeeper David Hicks for the 1-0 lead. Hietanen continuing his regular season form that saw him lead the T-Birds with 10 goals.
UFV would answer back with a dangerous chance of their own just a minute later when a surging cross was swung in from the right flank and dangerously cruised across UBC goal about seven yards out at head height but the visitors failed to get a head on the other end of it.
In the 14th minute Verhoven would begin to make his presence felt which would be a common theme for the rest of the half, the third-year forward made space at the left side of the box and launched a line drive at net but Hicks was in good position to make a diving save.
Two minutes later it was Verhoven causing more problems down the left flank making a slashing run through defenders deep into the Cascades box before cutting the ball back across goal where second-year forward Victory Shumbusho connected on a one timer from 13 yards out to take a 2-0 advantage in the 19th minute.
Another two minutes later the crafty playmaker out of Surrey, B.C. collected the ball near the top of the box and took a quick step to his left before sending a shot through traffic that found the back-right corner of the net and a 3-0 lead for the hosts in minute 21.
In the 30th minute Verhoven would be heard from again after a feed from dual award winner Thomas Gardner who earlier this week won both the Canada West player and rookie of the year. At the top of the box Verhoven made a slick turn and drilled a left footed strike into the right side of the net for 4-0 lead heading into halftime.
"It was a really good performance tonight all around," commented Verhoven following his influential outing. "The back line was really good, the guys were giving me some good balls and the movement up front and chemistry has just been getting better and better and it's been so fun to play with these guys."
Verhoven also touched on his ability to find the back of the net.
"I've been encouraged to make my move and not overthink my decision," added Verhoven. "Fortunately, on my first goal I just placed it and on my second one I just wanted to get some pace on it through traffic and it found its way in, so I'm just happy to help the team win. We're really confident as a team, everything is coming together really well and that was a great performance by us but we have the final on Sunday and it's a completely new game and we'll focus on that."
Coming out of the break the 'Birds kept the offence coming as second half substitute Caleb Clarke who replaced Yli-Hietanen at forward got in on the act. Clarke, who was second in team goal scoring during the regular season with eight markers got on the end of a Gardner feed deep in Cascades territory and deposited into the net from six yards out for a 5-0 lead in minute 55.
The Cascades nearly netted their lone goal on the night in the 67th minute from a free kick delivered from deep in UBC territory that second-year midfielder Gurshaan Jhaj headed just wide of the far post from three yards out.
In minute 71 the T-Birds would extend their lead thanks to some poise and quality displayed by Caleb Clarke who lifted a short cross to the on waiting Shumbusho who connected on the header from six yards out for his second tally of the night and a 6-0 lead.
The T-Birds would round out the scoring courtesy of fourth-year midfielder Mackenzie Cole who found the back of the net in the 89th minute securing a 7-0 win and booking their ticket to Sundays final.
Longtime T-Birds head coach Mike Mosher was pleased with his squads execution from the start.
"In a semifinal game there, you want to get off on the right foot. Zach was unbelievable and basically singlehandedly won the game in the first 20 minutes. Well done to Zach, well done to the boys, very good."
Mosher is also pleased that many of his top performers are in form at the most important time of the season.
"We want to be peaking at the right time here and I think we've managed to get everybody healthy at the right times. The squad is super deep and it seems like whatever changes we make overall it's been quite good. Things are headed in the right direction."
Meanwhile UFV head coach Tommy Lowndes was disappointed with his team's uneven start.
"They're a very good team, and they were clinical tonight," commented Lowndes. "They punished us and made us look below dead-average. It really rattled us conceding that early goal. We'd talked about being really good defensively and getting through the first 20 minutes, and that didn't happen. And the first goal's gone in, and our age and inexperience has shown. Instead of steadying the ship for 15 or 20 minutes and just getting through, we made bad decisions and a few errors. And we've just compounded the issue by conceding another poor goal, and you're up against it. Could have done better on quite a few of the goals, but taking nothing away from them, they bossed the game tonight, they blitzed us. We were second-best 95 per cent of the game. It's a tough one, but it's experience for your younger players to see that's the level and that's the standard. We'll have to put it in perspective, but obviously that takes time and it's tough to do right now."
It should make for a very entertaining final with the rival T-Birds meeting the Spartans who finished second in the Pacific Division standings behind UBC. The team's met twice in the regular season with the 'Birds besting the Spartans 3-0 on home turf in early September and their last matchup saw the T-Birds top TWU 3-2 on the road in mid-October.
Mosher concluded by sizing up Sunday's competition.
"They're a good team, a hungry team," continued Mosher. "They're motivated and coming off that classic Canada west final last year, they have a lot of fifth years and they'll be motivated to go and get themselves a banner but we want to be going in as a top seed."
Aside from hosting Canada West final four play this weekend, the T-Birds are also welcoming the 2018 U SPORTS men's soccer National Championships to the Point Grey campus next week from November 8-11.
First things first however and next up for the T-Birds is the gold medal match against the Spartans Sunday, November 4th at Thunderbird Stadium with kickoff set for 2:00 p.m.
PHOTO: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds