MSOC: Canada West Final Four preview

MSOC: Canada West Final Four preview

Brian Swane, Special to Canada West

VANCOUVER, B.C. – The defending champion UBC Thunderbirds host three Pacific Division rivals in pursuit of gold at the 2018 Canada West Men's Soccer Final Four Friday through Sunday in Vancouver.

The Fraser Valley Cascades, Thompson Rivers Wolfpack and Trinity Western Spartans round out the quartet of teams that are left standing after an exciting regular season schedule and opening round of the playoffs.

The teams roll into this weekend with tremendous momentum from their quarter-final victories last weekend, when UBC blanked Mount Royal 3-0, UFV edged Saskatchewan 2-1, Thompson Rivers out-scored Alberta 3-1, and Trinity Western prevailed in a shootout against Calgary.

They are looking to continue to the 2018 U SPORTS Men's Soccer Championship, Nov. 8-11 in Vancouver. UBC will host the eight-team tournament of the nation's best, with one other Canada West team also earning a berth.

After last season, when they won the 18th Canada West title in program history and hoisted the championship trophy for a fifth time since 2010, the T-Birds soared through their 2018 schedule to place atop the Pacific Division standings with a 13-1-2 record.

Fourth-year UBC forward and 10-goal scorer Kristian Yli-Hietanen leads the Pacific Division's top offence, with 43 goals in 16 matches, against midfielder Gurmaan Jhaj, who scored 13 times to rank second in Canada West, and the Cascades in what promises to be a competitive semifinal contest.

UBC and UFV went head-to-head twice in the regular season, playing to a 1-1 draw in Abbotsford on Aug. 31, with UBC winning the rematch on 2-0 home turf back on Oct. 12. Fraser Valley, which finished the season with a 7-6-2 record, allowed just 1.20 goals per match, third best in the conference, behind the second-ranked T-Birds, who boast a tidy 0.63 goals against average.

The WolfPack clinched the last playoff spot in the Pacific after going unbeaten over the last five fixtures on their schedule, including a 2-1 victory over TWU in the Spartans' regular season finale on Oct. 21. That result evened the teams' regular season series, as the Spartans had previously bested TRU 3-2 in Langley on Sept. 28.

The three-time Canada West champion Spartans had the Pacific Division's second-best record, 8-3-4, two spots ahead of fourth-place Thompson Rivers, who went 6-6-3. Each side features balanced goal-scoring and a goalkeeper that ranked top five in the conference goals-against-average, TRU's rookie sensation Jackson Gardner (1.22) and Sebastian Colyn (1.47), who is in his second season at Trinity Western.

This is the second consecutive Canada West Men's Soccer Final Four that UBC has hosted. Last year's edition saw the T-Birds defeat Trinity Western 3-2 in double overtime to claim gold, while Thompson Rivers defeated Alberta 2-0 for bronze.

 

TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE

Friday, Nov. 2 (T-Bird Stadium)

  • SF1: TRU vs. TWU - 4 p.m.
  • SF2: UFV vs. UBC - 7 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 3 (Ken Woods Field)

  • Bronze: 7 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 4 (T-Bird Stadium)

  • Gold: 2 p.m.

NOTE: All game times are PDT. Every game can be seen live on Canada West TV.

 

TEAM PREVIEWS

2018 CW regular season record: 13-1-2, 1st in Pacific

2018 record vs. Final Four teams: 1-0-1 vs. UFV, 2-0-0 vs. TWU, 1-1-0 vs. TRU 

Last CW Final Four appearance: 2017 / CW champion

Last CW championship / total CW championships: 2017 / 18

Last U SPORTS championship / total U SPORTS championships: 2013 / 13

2018 CW regular season ranks:

  • Offence: 43 goals, 1st
  • Defence: 10 goals against, 2nd 

2018 CW regular season leaders:

  • Goals: 10 – Kristian Yli-Hietanen, F
  • Assists: 5 – Zach Verhoven, F
  • Points: 10 – Caleb Clarke / Kristian Yli-Hietanen, F
  • Wins: 12 – Jason Roberts, G
  • Shutouts: 7.5 – Jason Roberts, G 

Key performer:

  • Thomas Gardner
  • Midfielder
  • 1st-year
  • North Vancouver, BC

In just his first season with the Thunderbirds, North Vancouver's Thomas Gardner lived up to his billing as one of the most dynamic midfielders in the Canada West. The first-year Arts student scored six times in just 12 regular season games, and his eight points had him third in team scoring. Three of his six goals stood up as game winners. The product of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC2 program was a machine on set pieces, scoring five of his six goals off free kicks, including a streak of four consecutive home games with a free kick tally.

 

2018 CW regular season record: 8-3-4, 2nd in Pacific Division

2018 record vs. Final Four teams: 2-0 vs. UFV, 1-1 vs. TRU, 0-2 vs. UBC, 

Last CW Final Four appearance: 2017 / 2nd

Last CW championship / total CW championships: 2007 / 3

Last U SPORTS championship / total U SPORTS championships: None

2018 CW regular season ranks:

  • Offence: 34 goals, 2nd
  • Defence: 22 goals against, 6th

2018 CW regular season leaders:

  • Goals: 7 – Domenic Poletto & Jacob Low, M
  • Assists: 4 – Josh Hardy, M
  • Points: 9 – Domenic Poletto & Jacob Low, M
  • Wins: 8 – Sebastian Colyn, G
  • Shutouts: 2 – Sebastian Colyn, G

Key performer:

  • Joel Waterman
  • Midfielder
  • 5th-year
  • Aldergrove, B.C.

The fifth-year Joel Waterman was the Spartans only Canada West all-star and is the man in the middle of the park leading the Spartans at both ends of the field. As captain, he's been the team's leader throughout the season as TWU put together an 8-3-4 season and a second-place finish in the Pacific Division. With Waterman directing traffic, the Spartans have been one of the top teams in Canada West from start to finish this year. Coming off a summer in which he helped Calgary Foothills FC U23 team to a PDL championship, Waterman is keen on earning more hardware, as the Spartans aim for their first conference title since 2007.

 

2018 CW regular season record: 7-6-2, 3rd in Pacific Division

2018 record vs. Final Four teams: 0-1-1 vs. UBC,  0-2-0 vs. TWU, 2-0-0 vs. TRU

Last CW Final Four appearance: 2015 / 3rd

Last CW championship / total CW championships: None

Last U SPORTS championship / total U SPORTS championships: None

2018 CW regular season ranks:

  • Offence: 27 goals, T-4th
  • Defence: 18 goals against, 3rd 

2018 CW regular season leaders:

  • Goals: 13 – Gurmaan Jhaj, F
  • Assists: 3 – Brady Weir, M; Andrew Peat, F
  • Points: 15 – Gurmaan Jhaj, F
  • Wins: 6 – David Hicks, G
  • Shutouts: 4 – David Hicks, G 

Key performer:

  • Gurmaan Jhaj
  • Forward
  • 4th-year
  • Aldergrove, B.C.

Gurmaan Jhaj had a breakout year for the Cascades, finishing second in Canada West goal-scoring with 13. After spending much of his UFV career as a defensive midfielder, the versatile performer showed his scoring touch after a move up front. He notched the game-winner in five of UFV's seven victories this season, and was named the Canada West male athlete of the month for September.

 

2018 CW regular season record: 6-6-3, 4th in Pacific Division

2018 record vs. Final Four teams: 1-1-0 vs. UBC, 1-1-0 vs. Trinity Western, 0-2-0 vs. UFV 

Last CW Final Four appearance: 2017 / 3rd

Last CW championship / total CW championships: None

Last U SPORTS championship / total U SPORTS championships: None

2018 CW regular season ranks:

  • Offence: 27 goals for, 4th 
  • Defence: 20  goals against, 4th  

2018 CW regular season leaders:

  • Goals: 5 - Thomas Lantmeeters, M; James Fraser, F
  • Assists: 9 - Mitchell Popadynetz, M
  • Points: 11 - Mitchell Popadynetz, M
  • Wins: 5 - Jackson Gardner, G
  • Shutouts: 2 - Alex Ram & Jackson Gardner, G

Key performer:

  • Mitchell Popadynetz
  • Midfield
  • 5th-year
  • Nelson, BC

 

The defending Canada West player of the year has been 'on fire' since returning from injury. He has three goals and five assists in his last four matches.  Mitchell had the second most assists in Canada West (9) and was fifth in league scoring (11) despite only playing 11 matches. Surprisingly, he was left of the Canada West all-star team despite those totals.