Men’s soccer loses Nationals final in shootout

UBC men’s soccer had to settle for silver at the U Sports national championship after losing the final in penalty kicks to hosts Thompson Rivers University (TRU) WolfPack in Kamloops on Sunday.

Thursday’s quarter-final saw the number three seed UBC matched up against the Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) Bold. In an entertaining match, it was TMU who struck first in the eighth minute, when Faisal Ghaffur’s glancing header found the bottom corner. Undeterred by the early deficit, the T-Birds settled into the match and scored three unanswered goals. Daniel Kaiser grabbed an equalizer for UBC when he got on the end of an Eric Lajeunesse free kick in the 15th minute before Nick Fussell pounced on a poor clearance to fire into the bottom corner to give UBC the lead in the 28th minute.

The T-Birds would score their third two minutes later with a brilliant goal. Logan Chung showed great skill to free himself from three TMU defenders and tee up Victory Shumbusho, who slotted one in through the goalkeeper’s legs to give UBC a 3–1 halftime lead.

Chung hit the post in the 70th minute with the first clear chance of the second half; two minutes later, a handball in the box led to a penalty from TMU’s Justin Santos to make it a one-goal game. This was as close as TMU would get, as Tristan Nkoghe iced the game with a composed finish in the 80th minute, sealing a 4–2 win for the T-Birds.

Tristan Nkoghe's 80th minute goal in the U Sports quarter-final match versus TMU.
Tristan Nkoghe's 80th minute goal in the U Sports quarter-final match versus TMU. Andrew Snucins / Thompson Rivers WolfPack

The T-Birds faced the defending champions, the Université de Montréal Carabins, in Friday’s semifinal. UBC took an early lead in the 11th minute when Thomas Gardner curled a sublime freekick into the top corner from 25 yards out. The T-Birds added a second in the 29th minute, as Chung fired into the bottom corner following a great tackle and feed from Markus Kaiser.

Down two goals at halftime, the Carabins ramped up the pressure in the second half, enjoying more possession and chances, the best coming in stoppage time when Émile Legault deflected a corner onto the post. UBC goalkeeper Peter Whyte was equal to Montréal’s five shots on target and picked up the clean sheet as the final whistle confirmed a 2–0 win for UBC and a place in Sunday’s final.

T-Bird Mihai Hodut pursues the ball in the U Sports semifinal.
T-Bird Mihai Hodut pursues the ball in the U Sports semifinal. Andrew Snucins / Thompson Rivers WolfPack

The T-Birds’ final opponents were the tournament hosts, the TRU WolfPack, whom UBC failed to beat in the teams’ two Canada West meetings in the regular season. In front of a crowd of 2,000 at Hillside Stadium, both teams came close to scoring in a first half which saw the majority of the chances in the match. Mikkel Rosenlund and Akwasi Agyekum both hit the post for the WolfPack inside 15 minutes, while Nick Fussell also struck the woodwork just before halftime. TRU goalie Jackson Gardner made five saves in the first half as the score remained 0–0 heading into halftime.

After halftime, the match became much more combative and defensive. The key moment of the second half came in the 70th minute when TRU were reduced to ten men; already on a booking, Marco Favaro chopped down Daniel Kaiser with a reckless tackle and was shown a red card.

A scoreless 90 minutes sent the match into extra time. Despite being a man down, TRU struck in the 101st minute when Alesandro Comita met a Jost Hausendorf cross into the box to slide one home and give the WolfPack the lead. With their backs against the wall, the T-Birds responded with five minutes to go; Daniel Kaiser met a Gardner freekick with a glancing header to silence the crowd and tie up the match, ultimately sending the final to penalties.

Both teams were well-versed in the lottery of spot kicks, as UBC won the Canada West title in a shootout, while TRU had made the national final through two shootout victories.

After both teams scored their first three shots from the penalty spot, Noah Hrdlicka hit the post to give TRU the advantage. By the fifth round of penalty kicks, the WolfPack were one score away from clinching the title. Patrick Izett stepped up and fired over the crossbar to keep the T-Birds alive and send the shootout to sudden death. UBC’s luck ran out in the seventh round; Connor Mrazek was denied by Gardner before Domenico Comita sent Whyte the wrong way to score and set off a pitch invasion as the WolfPack clinched their first U Sports national title in program history.