Ben Steiner, UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – The quest for the U SPORTS national championship and the Canada West Championship began for the Thunderbirds on a chilly Saturday night with a 3-0 win over the Mount Royal Cougars at Thunderbird Stadium.
Scoreless at the half, the 'Birds got a pair of goals from Kristian Yli-Hietanen and an insurance marker from Sean Einarsson to punch their ticket to the Canada West final four tournament next weekend while the Cougars' season has now drawn to a close.
Coming into the game, UBC was ranked first in Canada West and fourth nationally. Mount Royal on the other hand has also had a fairly successful season and hoped to spoil UBC's post-season party in the quarter finals. After getting a game off against Thompson Rivers last weekend, Jason Roberts was back between the pipes for UBC, while Kyran Valley was his counterpart for the Cougars.
The Thunderbirds began the match being incredibly offensive and would maintain that throughout the night and nearly scored the first goal three minutes in when Yli-Heitanen's header drifted wide of the far post. After the close call, UBC kept their attacking strategy and continued to wear down the Cougars defence. While weathering the storm, quite literally, along with UBC's attack, the Cougars were not able to get the ball into the opposition's half until the 15th minute.
Both teams ended the first half without a goal, but UBC came the closer of the two sides. In the 43rd minute, Yli-Hietanen would find himself in a prime position, this time just inches away from the goal but as fortunes had fallen so far on the night, his effort was blocked. The Thunderbirds were dominant throughout the first half, but MRU's stingy defence held firm to keep them alive despite giving up eight shots.
The sheets of rain continued as the second half began, and so did UBC's attacking prowess. Mackenzie Cole nearly scored for the T-Birds in the 50th minute when his shot trickled wide of the net, but the game remained tied for the time being. After the effort, Cole was subbed out in favour of forward Victory Shumbusho, a substitution that would prove fruitful mere moments later.
UBC eventually wore down the MRU defence in the 63rd minute after dominating for over an hour. Right midfielder Zach Verhoeven brought the ball down to the touchline and got around his defender with a sequence of stepovers. As the defender was beaten, Verhoeven slipped the ball in front of the goal where Yli-Hietanen made no mistake as he fired it into the bottom corner. The two would connect again in the 71st minute giving UBC a 2-0 lead with a nearly identical goal.
To add insult to injury and confirm their semi-final place, UBC scored a third and final goal in the 85th minute which came as a direct result of a good substitution. Shumbusho's run split the MRU defence, although his initial shot was stopped by the keeper. Einarsson, a fellow substitute, was there to finish the loose ball and secure the victory for the home side.