UBC men’s soccer won their fifth consecutive Canada West conference title and advanced to Nationals with a dramatic penalty shootout win over the University of Calgary Dinos on Sunday at Thunderbird Stadium.
Led by a league-best attack, the T-Birds came first in the Pacific division with a 9–3–3 record, earning the number one seed for the playoffs. Four players were also recognized with conference all-star honours.
First up in the Final Four for the T-Birds was Saturday’s semifinal against the Alberta Golden Bears. The first half was cagey, with the Golden Bears seemingly intent on frustrating UBC in a low block. The T-Birds eventually broke the deadlock in the 39th minute, when star striker Victory Shumbusho picked the pocket of an Alberta defender in the box and rifled in a shot at the far post to give his side the lead at the half.
The scrappy nature of the game continued into the second half, but UBC doubled their lead in the 60th minute after Nick Fussell got on the end of a Mihai Hodut cross to slot one in the bottom corner. UBC wrapped up the win in the 86th minute when Shumbusho scored a delightful chip after being played through on goal by Tristan Nkoghe.
The Golden Bears offered little in attack all game, but T-Birds goalkeeper Peter Whyte was solid when called upon and picked up the clean sheet as the match finished 3–0, booking the T-Birds a spot in the final.
“Sometimes you just have to grind teams down and as the game opens up our quality can shine through,“ said T-Birds head coach Mike Mosher. “They aren’t an easy team to play against … but we were ready for it.”
The T-Birds would face the Calgary Dinos in Sunday’s final, where both the Canada West title and the conference’s only spot at U Sports Nationals were at stake.
The final was a match with few clear-cut chances, as Calgary sat deep in a back five to limit UBC’s attacking opportunities. The best chance of the first half fell to UBC’s Fussell, who stung the palms of Dinos goalie Jake Ruschkowski after being teed up by Hodut
Ruschkowski held firm in the second half, saving shots from Fussell and Shumbusho, as UBC struggled to find space in and around the Calgary penalty box. Calgary’s best scoring opportunity of the match came in the 62nd minute when Decklin Mahmi redirected a cross toward the goal that was only denied by a great reaction save by Whyte. After 90 minutes, plus an additional 30 minutes of extra time, the match remained scoreless and would be decided by penalties.
After the Dinos scored their first penalty, Ruschkowski dived the right way to save Fussell’s penalty, giving the Dinos the early advantage. Both teams scored their next three kicks, which gave Calgary’s Koen Schoffner the chance to win the match with a goal. Whyte then produced a stunning save to keep UBC alive and extend the shootout.
“I just felt pure clarity. When he stepped up I knew he was going to go right,” said an ecstatic Whyte, when asked about his thought process on his clutch save.
Whyte repeated his heroics in the seventh round of kicks to deny Derek Brust, which gave Markus Kaiser the chance to win it for UBC. Kaiser sent Ruschkowski the wrong way to give the T-Birds the 6–5 shootout win and sparked wild celebrations among the players. Kaiser and Thomas Gardner hoisted the trophy aloft as the players celebrated the conference title and their punched ticket to Nationals.
⚽️ MSOC | Markus Kaiser scores the deciding PK marker in the 7th round of the shootout 0-0 (6-5) to get past @DinosMSOC & cement @ubcmsoc as @CanadaWest champions for a 5th straight season!#GoBirdsGo pic.twitter.com/tNgYD5HNps— UBC Thunderbirds (@ubctbirds) November 7, 2022
“Just been taking it one game at a time, it’s been a roller-coaster experience … I train hard, and that training just amplified on the field,” said Whyte, who started the season as the third goalkeeper, but climbed his way up the depth chart to earn the start for the playoffs.
UBC have now won 22 Canada West men’s soccer titles, and can now turn their sights toward winning the program’s 14th national title. The T-Birds will travel to Kamloops for Nationals, where they are the number three seed and open up with a quarterfinal against the Toronto Metropolitan University Bold on Thursday.