Stu Walters/UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds men's soccer team are Canada West Champions for a second straight season following a 2-0 victory over the rival Trinity Western University Spartans in Sunday's gold medal final at Thunderbird Stadium.
The T-Birds who finished atop the Canada West regular season standings have continued their impressive form through the post season in scoring 12 goals while conceding none in their three contests en route to the CW title. Of course, it all gets ramped up even more later this week when UBC hosts the 2018 men's national men's soccer championship.
The T-Birds started on the front foot with a dangerous chance created just two minutes in when Victory Shumbusho sent in a low hard cross into the Spartans box that Kristian Yli-Hietanen got his foot to at the same time as a diving Trinity goalkeeper Sebastian Colyn who was also able to swallow up the ball.
The same T-Birds duo would join forces just a minute later on the opening goal of the game as Yli-Hietanen sent a lovely through ball down the right channel for Shumbusho to run onto into the Spartans box where he calmly placed the ball into the opposite left corner from 15 yards out to take a 1-0 advantage in the third minute.
The 'Birds just missed adding to their lead in the 19th minute when midfielder Nick Fussell got his head on the end of a cross and sent it just over the Spartans crossbar.
In minute 26 TWU would take it into T-Birds territory and generate their best chance to that point in the match as a cross was sent in from the right flank but directed six yards wide of the left post by forward Cody Fransen.
Four minutes later the hosts would add to their lead on a scramble deep in the Spartans box after an initial cross was sent in the ball was headed multiple times in the air from four yards and eventually headed in by UBC center back and captain Connor Guilherme. The ball just crossing the goal line before being cleared by yet another header, the T-Birds had a 2-0 lead in the 30th minute.
The first half would close out with two good chances on goal from the Spartans in minute 32 it was midfielder Joel Waterman redirecting a feed out of mid-air that cruised over the 'Birds crossbar. Just before the halftime whistle midfielder Aidan Moore would find himself with a great opportunity connecting on a volley from 14 yards out but he sent it well over the bar.
Coming out of halftime and trailing 2-0 it was the Spartans who carried a majority of the play for the first 15 minutes and it led to a dangerous free kick from forward Domenic Poletto who sent a searing shot just over the bar even though T-Birds keeper Jason Roberts was in good position underneath it.
The teams would trade chances in the 68th minute with substitute Caleb Clarke who replaced Yli-Hietanen in minute 57, got onto a ball in the left channel in TWU territory before putting a left footed attempt over the bar. The Spartans would respond with a cross from the right wing that Fransen met with his head and pushed just over the UBC crossbar.
In the dying minutes the Spartans would generate a couple more dangerous chances from crosses across the T-Bird goal mouth but were denied by 'Birds defenders at each opportunity as the hosts secured the 2-0 victory to defend their Canada West championship title.
"An early goal just settles everybody, it settles us it unnerves them it's huge," said UBC head coach Mike Mosher on yet another quick start for his squad. "The first half I thought we were good, the second half a little bit scrappy but sometimes that's the way as you're up 2-0 and the other teams going to come for a push but hey three playoff games we've scored 12 goals and given up zero goals against. I told these guys on day one that you got to keep it tight at the back at this time of the year and I thought our back four in the second half was terrific."
Mosher then explained how pleased he was to defend their CW title from last season.
"It feels great this is a very difficult conference to win so I'm super proud of our group," added Mosher. "Certainly, we want to win the big one next week but this is an important championship to win, it's something you're always going to have and also in the big picture it puts us in a good spot with the draw for nationals.
Meanwhile Spartans head coach Mike Shearon was pleased with his teams showing on the day.
"You know we went down two early on and battled back and that was one of the things we wanted to focus in on and make sure we didn't give up any more," said Shearon. "So, I was happy with our compete level today, first little bit I thought we were second to the ball a few times and I thought that was the difference in the game in the beginning there."
The Spartans who finished second in the Pacific Division this season behind the T-Birds will join UBC as two of eight teams that will be competing for the men's national soccer championship beginning Thursday, November 9th on the Point Grey campus.
The T-Birds will be looking to continue their longstanding tradition of excellence which sees the soccer program recognized as the most successful program in Canadian University history having won a total of 13 national championships which is eight more than any other school.
PHOTO: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds