Comeback kings UBC Thunderbirds crowned Canada West champions
UBC Thunderbirds staged a dramatic comeback at Thunderbird Stadium on Saturday night, fighting back from two goals down to take Trinity Western Spartans into extra time before running out 3-2 winners in a fantastic advertisement for college football here in Canada.
It was looking dire for UBC who trailed by two with 31 minutes remaining, but a Victory Shumbusho goal and a brace from Connor Guilherme gave the Birds a 17th Canada West men’s soccer championship and booked their place at next week’s nationals in Kamloops.
“We always said there was enough time,” UBC head coach Mike Mosher said after the match. “At 2-0 there was like 30 minutes to go. I kept shouting one goal changes it, one goal changes it. I’ve seen a lot in this game. It looked pretty dire at 2-0 down. It was good that we scored early enough to have enough time to get the pressure. But yeah, I’ve seen a lot in this game and that’s a new chapter for sure.”
Trinity Western were in dreamland when Leighton Johnson’s deft finish put the Spartans two up in the 59th minute, having taken the lead through a Vito Poletto goal with the last kick of the first half.
“We’ve come back from deficits quite a few times this year,” Mosher said. “We mentioned that to the group at half time. They were gutted. They were disappointed. To give up a goal right before half when we were starting to get on top that last 10, 15 minutes of the first half.
“So the group was pretty disappointed but we reminded them again of the number of times that we’ve been down and come back. We made it a little harder for ourselves, but good for the spectators.”
Having shocked defending U Sport champions Alberta in the semi-finals, it looked like Trinity Western were well on their way to claiming a fourth Canada West title, and their first since 2007, but UBC had other ideas, and Mosher paid credit to his management team for coming up with the gameplan that saw the Thunderbirds storm back into the match.
“I have to give massive credit to my two assistant coaches, David Hendry and Dave Partridge, because they said we’ve got to go for it,” Mosher added. “We’ve got to go three at the back. We’ve got to change it. We’ve got to have our impact players that can score goals for us in spots. So they sketched something up and we went for it. Three at the back and three up front.”
UBC’s dynamic new look took the game to Trinity Western and it suddenly felt like just a matter of time before the Thunderbirds would pull one back as they lay siege to the Spartans goal.
Leading scorer, Whitecaps Residency alumni Victory Shumbusho, fired UBC to within one in the 69th minute, before Guilherme showed some nice footwork for a centre back to hit home the equaliser with ten minutes remaining.
Trinity Western looked shellshocked, unsure just what had hit them, and you felt UBC could now go on and win it in the closing minutes. But Mosher took a gamble, one that certainly paid off, deciding to sub off Shumbusho and the dangerous Patrick Izett to rest them for extra time if needed. And while both teams had chances to win it in a frantic final few minutes, the teams did indeed head for another 30 minutes of action.
“Those two guys were tired,” Mosher said. “We felt we needed a little bit more freshness. They were tired as well. We also felt that if we went to extra time it favoured us because they had gone to extra time the day before. I was okay with going to extra time, so that was part of it as well.”
It only took UBC seven minutes of the extra period to go ahead for the first time in the match. Guilherme rose unchallenged to powerfully head home a Zach Verhoeven corner, for his second of the night and what proved to be the championship winner.
It capped off an excellent performance and season from the UBC Junior defender, who has fought back from injuries to become a pivotal member of the Thunderbirds backline.
“I’m so happy for that player,” Mosher said of Guilherme. “The injuries that that kid has suffered, in all my years he’s maybe the hardest working kid I’ve ever had, and I couldn’t be happier to see that kid get rewarded with an all-star recognition, two goals tonight, a championship, if anybody deserves it, he does.”
UBC now head into next week’s nationals in Kamloops full of confidence and momentum. With Thompson Rivers hosting the event for the first time, there was only one further spot available for Canada West teams instead of the usual two, adding to Trinity Western’s heartbreak.
“It’s going to be a tough tournament, because I’ve seen all of who’s in and it’s all the top teams from across the country,” Mosher feels. “Every year it seems the tournament gets tougher and tougher, so it’s going to be stiff competition.
“Once we get there I see that York’s back in and I’ve heard Cape Breton’s got a really good side. UNB’s got quite a good group of players as well. There’s going to be no easy games.”