There’s certainly something about the postseason that brings the best out of UBC Thunderbirds defender Connor Guilherme, and after another goal in a Canada West Championship game, the big centre-back is hoping to take both his defensive and attacking form into this week’s nationals.
The defender from Unionville, Ontario has had another strong season for the Thunderbirds. A pivotal part of a stingy UBC defence, Guilherme earned the captain’s armband this season and has certainly been a leader on the pitch for the blue and white.
Guilherme has been part of a Thunderbirds defence that only gave up 10 goals over the course of their 16 regular Canada West season matches, forming an impressively formidable centre back partnership with forward-turned-defender Riley Pang.
The Thunderbirds kept three clean sheets on their way to winning a 19th Canada West Championship on Sunday. Defences win championships. It may be an old cliché, but it’s a true one and UBC’s 2012 national success can be very squarely put down to that mindset.
Head coach Mike Mosher has always instilled that defence first philosophy to his teams, and this year he’s assembled one of his best defences from recent memory. A back line full of depth in every position, that feels like it has the mark of anything the rest of the U Sports nationals field can throw at them.
“Totally,” Guilherme told AFTN. “As a centre back, I pride myself on getting clean sheets. Going through the Canada West playoffs and getting three cleans sheets, I think that says something. Canada West isn’t an easy championship to win and we did that with three clean sheets and lots of goals on the board. For now, we just look to Thursday and keep things going the same.”
But it’s not just for his defensive play that Guilherme stands out. He also happens to have a habit of popping up to score vital headers in championship games. Last year it was two in the final to spark a stunning UBC comeback, and he added another on Sunday to give the Thunderbirds a crucial 2-0 lead.
All of that just factors in to the goal threat UBC pose from all over the pitch. Guilherme has three on the season so far, and his centre back partner Pang was second on the team with four assists. Add in a conference leading 43 goals during the regular season, and a further 12 in the playoffs, and that is one potent attack to go with their frugal defence.
UBC can boast the 13 goal Kristian Yli-Hietanen, the 9 goal Caleb Clarke, and the 6 goal Victory Shumbusho as their forwards, with 13 goalscorers altogether throughout the squad. There’s been lots of goals to go round, but one of the key aspects of their success this season, which was evident once again in both their Canada West semi-final and final matches this past weekend, has been their ability to score early, forcing their opponents on to the back foot from the start, before putting the knife in. A plan that you feel will certainly be their modus operandi this week at the nationals.
“We’ve been talking about getting an early goal from early in the season,” Guilherme said. “When we get the early goal, teams can’t play with us. They have to open up and we can just exploit them. Every game we look to just push from the beginning and grab one. That just changes the game right from the start.”
Guilherme had a strong 2017 college season, coming back in some style after being forced to miss the previous year after tearing his Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) in his knee in UBC’s last pre-season match. A keen studier of the game and his own performances, he’s always been keen to improve and take his own game to the next level.
That led the centre back to TSS Rovers this summer, playing his first season in the PDL, where he played in 12 of their 14 matches. It was an experience Guilherme took a lot from and one he credits for his strong college season soon after.
“That PDL season was great,” Guilherme enthused. “The experience with TSS was awesome. It really helped prepare me for another good UBC season and also as a stepping stone to my professional career hopefully. I really appreciate the opportunity from Will [Cromack and Colin Elmes]. It was great.”
Guilherme wants to be a professional footballer. That’s his dream, and has been from his childhood days. And although he doesn’t want to look too far past the nationals right now, with the first ever Canadian Premier League U Sports draft taking place on Monday in Vancouver, it’s safe to say that that, and their own footballing futures, will certainly be on the minds of every player at this year’s tournament.
“Right now I’m just focusing on UBC and focusing on getting a national championship,” Guilherme told us. “I want to be a professional soccer player. That’s why I was with TSS this past summer. And as soon as we win the national championship, I’ll start thinking about that more after.”
This will Guilherme’s last season at UBC and he has the chance to bid adieu to his college days in style as the Thunderbirds get set to host this year’s U Sports Men’s Soccer Championship. UBC will be going for their record 14th national title, and their first since 2013.
With a vociferous crowd of family, friends, and supporters on hand to cheer them on, it’s going to be a very special occasion for Guilherme and his Thunderbirds teammates.
“It’s really special,” Guilherme told us. “My family’s coming out from Toronto to watch it. As a senior graduating this year, it’s just really exciting. Nationals is always what we play for. It’s our standard here to win nationals, so it’ll be a great event and I can’t wait for Thursday to kick off.”
You can get a full preview of this year’s U Sports Men’s Soccer Championship, with a breakdown of each team, on the tournament website HERE, and you can get tickets for this week’s nationals HERE. Get out and support the lads.