Championship preview: Men’s soccer Final Four opens Saturday in Edmonton

Championship preview: Men’s soccer Final Four opens Saturday in Edmonton

Canada West Communications

NEW WESTMINSTER – Four teams, two trips to nationals and one conference title.

That's the equation this weekend in Edmonton, where the top four teams in Canada West men's soccer will take aim at the conference championship Saturday and Sunday at Foote Field. 

It all starts on Saturday, November 5 with semifinal action, as the UBC Thunderbirds and Calgary Dinos square off (11 a.m. MT), followed by the host Alberta Golden Bears taking on the Trinity Western Spartans (1:30 p.m. MT).

Alberta enters the tournament looking to end a four-year conference championship drought, and has all the weapons to return to the top of the conference.

Led by forward Ajeej Sarkaria, who set the Canada West single-season scoring record this season with 19 goals, the Bears are a balanced side keen on capturing an 11th conference crown. 

That won't be an easy feat, as the Bears – who won the regular season title with a 13-1-2 record and downed UBCO 1-0 in the quarters last weekend – are joined by the three teams that came closest to them in the standings.

Taking aim at a conference record 17th Canada West banner are the UBC Thunderbirds, who claimed conference gold in 2015 and are coming off their 2-1 quarter-final win last weekend against Lethbridge. 

The T-Birds provided a tough defensive test all season, yielding a conference-best 10 goals against and giving up multiple goals against just twice during the 16-game regular season schedule. 

Looking to crack that strong defensive wall is Calgary, who had no problem scoring all season long, as the Dinos led the conference in goals with 45 thanks in large part to Dominic Russo, who accounted for a third of his team's scores.

Calgary, who won 2-0 at home last weekend vs. UFV, and Trinity Western, who won 3-0 in the quarters over Mount Royal, could be considered the wild cards in the tournament, as the powerful Bears and Thunderbirds are the favourites to secure the conference's two national tournament berths. 

The national tournament is slated for November 10-13 at the University of Guelph.  

Viewers will be able to watch every Final Four game on CanadaWest.tv with a tournament pass for $7.50 CAD.

 

TEAM PREVIEWS

UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA GOLDEN BEARS

2016 CW regular season record: 13-1-2, 1st overall

2016 record vs. Final Four teams: 1-0-0 vs. Calgary, 0-0-1 vs. UBC

 

Last CW championship / total CW championships: 2012 / 10

Last U Sports championship / total U Sports championships: 2007 / 4

 

2016 CW regular season ranks:

Offence: 41, 2nd

Defence: 14, 2nd

 

2016 CW regular season leaders:

Goals: 19 – Ajeej Sarkaria, Striker

Assists: 7 – Niko Saler, Defender

Points: 25 – Ajeej Sarkaria, Striker

Wins: 13 – Connor James, Goalie

Shutouts: 8 – Connor James, Goalie

 

Key performer:

Niko Saler

Defender

5th

Lethbridge, AB 

If the University of Alberta Golden Bears soccer team is to advance to the Canada West gold medal game, and beyond, they will undoubtedly need contributions from stalwart defender and conference all-star, Niko Saler. 

Saler, who led Canada West in assists last season and is a multiple conference all-star and CIS all-Canadian, is an absolute fixture on Alberta's starting 11 and an anchor at left back. The fifth-year defender, who originally hails from Lethbridge, is as widely respected for his defensive prowess as is he for his pin-point passing, corner kicks and set pieces. He scored two goals this season, both off free kicks, and earned seven assists to finish second in team scoring. He also set up Alberta's only goal, off a corner kick, in their 1-0 quarterfinal victory over the UBC-O Heat.

 

UBC THUNDERBIRDS

2016 CW regular season record: 9-1-6, 1st Pacific Division

2016 record vs. Final Four or Select Six teams: 1-0-1 vs. Trinity Western, 0-0-1 vs. Alberta

 

Last CW championship / total CW championships: 2015 / 16

Last U Sports championship / total U Sports championships: 2013 / 13

 

2016 CW regular season ranks:

Offence: 26 goals, 3rd

Defence: 10 goals against, 1st

 

2016 CW regular season leaders:

Goals: 6 – Titouan Chopin, forward

Assists: 6 – Zach Verhoven, forward

Points: 9 – Zach Verhoven, forward

Wins: 5 – Jason Roberts, goalkeeper

Shutouts: 6 – Jason Roberts, goalkeeper

 

Key performer:

Chad Bush

Goalkeeper

Second

Ottawa, Ont.

Bush has returned to the starting lineup after missing a majority of the 2016 regular season due to injury. Jason Roberts provided excellent goalkeeping in his absence. Bush will need to be at his best at the Canada West Final Four as two of the squads in the event – Alberta and Calgary – scored more than 40 goals during conference play. Bush, the conference's Top Eight Academic All-Canadian representative, surrendered just four goals in seven appearances, going 4-0-2 with two shutouts in that span.

 

UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY DINOS

2016 CW regular season record: 9-4-3, 2nd in Prairie Division

2016 record vs. Final Four teams: Alberta – L 1-0, T 3-3

 

Last CW championship / total CW championships: 1980 / 1

Last U Sports championship / total U Sports championships: 0

 

2016 CW regular season ranks:

Offence: 45 goals, 1st

Defence: 18, 4th

 

2016 CW regular season leaders:

Goals: 15 – Dominic Russo, Forward

Assists: 11 – Dominick Zator, Defence

Points: 24 – Dominic Russo, Forward

Wins: 9 – Hunter Brett, GK

Shutouts: 5 – Hunter Brett, GK

 

Key performer:

Dominic Russo

Forward

5th-year

Hometown Calgary, AB

Dominic Russo is a key fixture in the Dinos offence and has been throughout his five year career. The forward ranked second in the conference in goals (15) and points (24) this season and has a knack for finding the back of the net in a variety of situations.

 

TRINITY WESTERN UNIVERSITY SPARTANS

2016 CW regular season record: 9-5-2, 2nd in Pacific Division

2016 record vs. Final Four: 0-1-1 vs. UBC

 

Last CW championship / total CW championships: 2007 / 3

Last U Sports championship / total U Sports championships: 0

 

2016 CW regular season ranks:

Offence: 22 goals, 9th

Defence: 21 goals against, 7th

 

2016 CW regular season leaders:

Goals: 6 – Elijah Adekugbe, Midfielder

Assists: 6 – Elijah Adekugbe, Midfielder

Points: 12 – Elijah Adekugbe, Midfielder

Wins: 9 – Andrew Hicks, Goalkeeper

Shutouts: 4 – Andrew Hicks, Goalkeeper

 

Key performer:

Joel Waterman

Midfielder

3rd-Year

Aldergrove, B.C. 

The third-year midfielder didn't have the flashy offensive numbers this season – he had one goal and one assist – but Waterman quietly put together a quality season in which he was a critical piece in a TWU midfield that could well be as good as any team in the country. Along with fellow midfielders Elijah Adekugbe and Elie Gindo, Waterman was an instrumental part of making the Spartans possession game a success this year.