In a highly anticipated matchup in the quarterfinals of the Canada West men’s soccer playoffs, the UBC Okanagan Heat would eventually fall short to their sister-school in the No. 3 UBC Thunderbirds 3-0, who advance to the Final Four following victory in Vancouver.
In a match where the Thunderbirds were billed as heavy favourites, the Heat held their own, particularly in a first half where both teams were playing on par with each other. The Heat’s third-year defender Brandon McCallum (Yorkton, SK), had the team’s first shot 13 minutes in that was just high of the crossbar.
The Thunderbirds responded with a great curved shot by Chris Serban in the 27th minute, but second-year Heat keeper Christopher Cuthill (Delta, BC) displayed his netminder prowess to try and set a tone for UBC’s forwards.
It would take until the 37th minute for the offensively-talented No.3 Thunderbirds to finally get on the board for a 1-0 lead that would stand into the half. The Thunderbirds broke through with a mishandled Navid Mashinchi corner kick. Cuthill fumbled the ball and midfielder Einarsson capitalized on that error to easily put the ball in the net making it 1-0 in the 38th minute.
“For the vast majority of the time, especially in the first half, we were the better team,” said Heat coach Dante Zanatta following the match. “Give them credit—they capitalized on a mistake. [But] I thought that if we would have got one in the first half … it could have been a different game.”
Resolved to not go away easily, the Heat continued to fight until their persistence was broken by UBC’s star striker Navid Mashinchi who took matters into his own hands and scored back-to-back goals in the 47th(assisted by Niall Cousens) and 53rd (unassisted) minutes to give a commanding 3-0 cushion to the Thunderbirds early in the second half.
Despite the mountain to climb, the Heat continued their pursuit, taking a total of nine shots with two on target. Their best chance to get back in the game was a 74th minute one-on-one look by second-year striker Logan Abbott (Salmon Arm, BC) with Thunderbirds keeper Luke O’Shea, with the latter too solid to let one past him for the eventual shutout.
“Our guys played very well,” Zanatta reiterated. “And even late in the game I was very happy and impressed that they continued to try and play and go forward. At three-nothing in the game they could have packed it in, but they had better scoring chances later in the game.”
Even with his three scores against, Cuthill made a total of 5 stops, ending his remarkable season still on a high. Along with the injury embattled Paal, Cuthill was an instrumental figure in the Heat’s road to the playoffs.
Keeping in mind that this was the Heat’s first season in the major league, making it to the dance was a notable achievement. With a young but talented squad at his disposal, head coach Dante Zanatta was definitely pleased with his boys for making it so far in the league.
“The future is bright,” he said simply in conversation after the match. He noted the promising growth of a number of younger players, particularly his large and impressive rookie class.
Zanatta also went on to recount how he had belief from the beginning that his squad was capable of making it as far as they did, crediting the work ethic of the players and of the rest of his coaching and training staff. “As disappointing as it is—I think everyone is a bit gutted— I said to the players that I was very proud of the way they played the whole season, the way they handled themselves.”
The Thunderbirds advance to the next round of playoffs, the Canada West Final Four, while UBC Okanagan will regroup and train for the next season with determination and promise, because the cohesive, talented, and reasonably young squad head coach Zanatta has put together look to go further in the post season in 2015.