The UNB Varsity Reds men’s soccer team met the UBC Thunderbirds in a snowy quarter-final match to kick off the USports National Championship, finishing with a score of 2-1 in favour of the T-Birds after overtime.
“Going into the game, UBC being the favourite, I kind of just put that past,” said Marcus Lees. “I wasn’t really thinking about them being the favourite, I kind of just wanted to encourage the boys. We had a few players out there who were at their first national championship, and we had half the team who had been to it three or four times, so our focus was to bring them up to speed and to make sure that we were going to put UBC under pressure and make them feel like they were the [underdog].”
UNB was knocked on their heels early by the fast-paced offense from the T-Birds. At the eleventh minute, V-Red keeper Evan Barker saved a crucial penalty kick to maintain the 0-0 score. From there on, UNB was able to absorb the constant pressure from UBC, with the shots on goal in the first half counting zero for the Reds and six for the T-Birds.
Starting with an even board for the second half, UBC came out of the gates quickly, gaining a shot on net within the first three minutes. UNB retaliated with two opportunities: one off of a corner kick and one from a breakaway. The two chances fell short, leaving the score at 0-0 by the 53rd minute. At the 56th minute, a card was given to UNB’s Joe Hamilton for a slide check against a UBC forward, giving the T-Birds yet another scoring opportunity.
At the 71st minute, UBC missed just outside the post. Back on their heels, the Reds struggled to keep possession of the ball and relied heavily on their defence heading into the game’s later stages. The 78th minute saw footwork from Walker and Lees that led to another UNB scoring chance that did not come to fruition.
UBC’s keeper stepped out of the 18 yard box at the 82nd minute to give the Reds their most direct opportunity of the day. The T-Bird’s wall was enough to stop the Reds in their tracks.
At the 78th minute, number 21, Dan Walker, buried a long ball from Alex O’Brien into the UBC net to give the Reds a lead late in the game.
“When the first goal was scored i knew that UBC was going to respond,” said Lees. “In the sense that they were going to try and step up and put the pressure on us, and my response was [to] hold them off and step up with them so we can handle their pressure.”
Number 6, Ben Gorringe, was taken down by the UBC keeper for a yellow card to give UNB another opportunity in the the last five minutes of the half.
In the 83rd minute the UBC Thunderbirds Ryan Arthur was able to capitalize on a collapsing UNB defense to tie the game with four minutes left in play. This goal was assisted by Zach Verhoven, UBC’s primary offensive generator.
The end of the half saw UNB defend against a UBC corner kick that was drawn wide of the UNB net. The teams then headed into 30 minutes of overtime kicked off by snowfall. The shots were 20-11 in favour of UBC. Despite exciting chances for both teams, the first frame of overtime led to no change on the scoreboard.
Early in the second overtime period, Barker was met with a flurry of shots that were led to UBC’s biggest scoring chance of overtime thus far. Barker then got his hands on a UBC chance at the 11th minute of second overtime, deflecting the potential goal far to the side.
At the 145th minute of play with five minutes to go in second overtime, T-Bird Rylan Sangha scored on the UNB net, just out of Barker’s reach. The Canada West champions won the match 2-1.
“This is my fifth year here, so I’m hoping to just be a leader and bring the boys up and hopefully they can see something that can inspire them in the next game—or in the next year that they play,” said Lees. “For the next game I hope to take the same approach, I hope to help be a leader for the younger guys that are on the field.”
UNB will meet Carleton in a consolation semifinal on Friday, Nov. 10. If they succeed, they have the opportunity to face off with the winner of the UQAM/York game for fifth place in the country.
The last time the UNB Varsity Reds won the USports title was in 1980. AUS teams have been eluded by the title since the Dalhousie Tigers won in 1995. Cape Breton won their match against UQAM, pushing them into the semi-finals for the second year in a row. They will be playing the home team, Thompson Rivers University, who won in their quarter-final 1-0 against York.