2018-11-05 VANCOUVER- For the second year in a row the UBC Thunderbirds are Canada West champions. The ‘Birds were crowned kings of the west following their 2-0 victory over lower mainland rivals Trinity Western University on sunday afternoon at Thunderbird stadium.
Although winning the conference is impressive and was an important goal for UBC, this season will be defined and remembered for what happens next weekend as the T-Birds prepare to host the U Sports national soccer championship at Thunderbird Stadium.
As nationals host this season, UBC was able to lure in many notable players; who otherwise may have opted to go to other schools. These players included a handful of former Whitecaps residency graduates in striker Caleb Clarke, alongside midfielders Thomas Gardner and Mitch Piraux. These additions came into a team which was already stock full of elite talent, and gave UBC an instant boost coming into the year. All of the editions helped tremendously despite Clarke and Piraux missing time with injury. Clarke finished the year tied for the team lead in points, while Gardener won rookie of the year and MVP of Canada West. The ‘Birds finished the season having only dropped points on three occasions with a record of 13-1-2. Their only loss came in their second last regular season matchup away at Thompson Rivers, a game which saw a heavily rotated lineup as the T-Birds had already clinched the pacific conference.
While their regular season record was impressive, the playoffs showed just how much space is between UBC and the rest of Canada West. in three playoff games the ‘Birds outscored their opponents 12-0. Following the championship win UBC head coach highlighted his team stingy defense and potent offence, “I told these guys on day one that you gotta keep it tight at the back at this time of the year and I thought our back four in the second half was terrific.”
With the win of the conference, it puts the hosts in a prime seeding position heading into the national tournament, and here at Van City Sport we will spend the week previewing some of the teams who will be competing throughout the weekend.
First off is the hosts.UBC qualified as the host of this tournament, but would have clinched a spot in the tournament by virtue of winning the West. While it’s already been mentioned that UBC has benefited greatly from it’s 2018 recruiting class, what has yet to be focused on is what some of the numbers they put up mean. Their 13 wins and two draws culminated in two tied records for both the most wins in Canada West history, as well as most points with 41. Other records set on the team include starting netminder Jason Robert’s 12 wins which set the school record, and Thomas Gardener was the first player to make both the all-rookie and all-star squad. UBC will hope that the records don’t stop there for this season, as they would love to set a few records at nationals.
The key to the ‘Birds success this tournament will undoubtedly come from their defense. The Thunderbirds boast the third best goals against of all teams at the tournament, only conceding an average on 0.63 goals per game. Their tight defense has been the product of good coaching and organization, and was solid enough to earn captain Connor Guilherme a spot on the Canada West all-star team. The defense will be extremely important if the home side hopes to capture the national title.
UBC’s offense is nothing to sniff at. They may be middle of the pack in terms of goals scored per game of the teams in the tournament, but strikers Kristian Yli-Heitanen and Caleb Clarke are two sizable forces which can bully and punish any backline they come up against. Their opponents will have to be weary of these two sizeable strikers, especially if shifty wingers like Zach Verhoeven can send them aerial balls.
The Thunderbirds have all the pieces to make a run at the title this year, and with their seeding they will be a force to be reckoned with. Their quarter final matchup pits them against the Carleton University Ravens and is set for 6:30pm on Thursday at Thunderbird Stadium.
Tomorrow Van City Sport will preview Canada West finalists Trinity Western University, as well as OUA schools Carleton and York.