Cameron Doherty, Huskie Athletics
Saskatoon – Nikolas Baikas curled in a beautiful free-kick goal to break what appeared to be a stalemate as the University of Saskatchewan Huskie men's soccer team rolled to a 2-1 victory over the visiting MacEwan Griffins on Field 7 inside Nutrien Park on Sept. 2.
Joining Baikas on the scoresheet was fifth-year forward Tyler Redl for the Huskies, with Stefan Gajic tallying the lone MacEwan goal.
Goalkeeper Greg Buckley made nine saves in the victory while Seth Johnstone recorded four for MacEwan.
The victory moves the Huskies to a record of 2-2-0, just ahead of the Griffins who now sit at 1-2-0 in the young Canada West season.
Coming in the 73rd minute, the wonder-strike from Baikas continued his outstanding start to the year. The first-year midfielder has one goal and five assists to his name through the first four games of his Huskie career.
"I still think we haven't seen the best of Nikolas, he's done well adapting to the Canada West and U SPORTS game and he's finding ways to influence and impact the game in different ways," said Huskie head coach Bryce Chapman.
The game was a back-and-forth affair throughout the 90 minutes, with the Huskies and Griffins taking turns controlling the ball and launching attacks into the opposition's penalty area.
"The guys are coming together and have shown a lot of character over the last weeks," said Griffins head coach Adam Loga. "We are a young side, but are maturing every time that we step on the pitch."
Redl got the scoring started just two minutes after the opening whistle. Mason Ogoke sent in a cross that bounced around the Griffins 18-yard box before Redl pounced on the opportunity, sending the ball past a helpless Johnstone.
"We started the game excellently, exactly how we set things up today," said Chapman. "We wanted to come out with a little more urgency than we did yesterday and were rewarded with an early goal."
MacEwan nearly responded right after that opening goal when Bryan Mayall got onto a loose ball in the Huskie penalty area and appeared to tie the scoreline before the referee called the goal back due to an offside call.
The Griffins continued to press for an equalizer and only a pair of fantastic back-to-back saves by Buckley denied Gajic and then Christian Hernandez from scoring in the 30th minute,
"Greg gives us some maturity being a fifth-year, we feel very confident with him at the back," said Chapman. "There's always going to be little slips in a game and when you know you have a goalkeeper that can bail you out of some bad situations, it makes the team a lot more confident."
The breakthrough for MacEwan came right at the end of the half when a high, looping cross played in by Sheldon Prasad fell to Gajc who was able to power the ball past Buckley to send the teams into the break tied 1-1.
MacEwan continued to hold sway for the beginning of the second half with Hernandez nearly putting the visitors in front after a long individual run, only to see his shot find the side-netting.
Clear-cut chances were at a premium for much of the half before it was the Huskies turn to ramp up the pressure in the latter stages of the game.
That pressure paid off when Baikas put the home team in the lead for good. Setting up the shot from well outside the 18-yard box, Baikas was able to find a miniscule gap and curl the ball between the near-post and a sprawling Johnstone.
"We took our foot off the gas as the first half went on and we knew MacEwan was a team that was not going to quit, we fell asleep on the goal they scored, but responded in the second half with a few guys coming off the bench making a big impact on the game," said Chapman.
Gajic nearly tied the game late, but his shot just ticked off the top of the cross bar and that was as close the Griffins would come with the Huskies able to maintain possession and ride out the end of the game to record the victory.
"We did well, executed the game plan well, we missed some chances, had a goal called back that could have gone either way," said Loga. "I have been telling the team that we have to learn how to close out games and learn how to win, this is just another example of that."
Next week will be a bye week for the Huskies with the team back in action on Saturday, Sept. 15 inside Nutrien Park against the UBC Thunderbirds. MacEwan meanwhile will return to Edmonton and get set for a home game against the Mount Royal Cougars on Sept. 8.