The men’s soccer nationals have called the Mount Royal Cougars.
But first come the Canada West final in U SPORTS action.
That because Mount Royal won last weekend’s semifinal match on home turf with a 3-1 overtime score over the Victoria Vikes.
This is the first time in history that Mount Royal men’s soccer has advanced to the Canada West championship game, which they will host Saturday at 1 p.m. versus the UBC Thunderbirds, who secured their berth with a semifinal win over the Alberta Golden Bears last weekend. The game can be enjoyed in person at Mount Royal Stadium Field or live on Canada West TV.
“We are super excited,” said Cougars head coach Ryan Gyaki after the game. “We have been working for this moment for many years. Last year we did not enjoy how the season ended, so this is a big step forward. I am happy for the boys. They are the ones out on the field, doing the work.”
Considering the week ahead Gyaki said, “Nothing changes in our plan preparing for next weekend. We are proud to get to play in the championship and are ready.”
The Cougars earned their spot in the semifinal game with a 2-1 overtime victory over the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack last weekend in the quarters, while the Vikes earned their place with a quarterfinal 3-1 victory over the Lethbridge Pronghorns.
The semi kicked off on a sunny but cold afternoon at Stadium Field, both teams eager to get this contest underway. It was quickly determined that this would be an aggressive game, with consistent pressure on both ends of the field. It was Mount Royal who marked the scoresheet early, only four minutes into the match. Midfielder Jonathan Walter was given a free kick from the left side outside the box. Walter placed the ball in front of the Vikes keeper Callum Weir and rushing Cougars veteran defender Caden Rogozinski headed the rebound into the net off a bounce.
Despite being down, Victoria kept the pressure on, forcing Cougars keeper Aiden Dumoulin to be on his toes. Dumoulin came up big for his team in the 13th minute when he had to push through the crowd in the box to get his hands on an incoming ball from a Vikes corner kick.
In the second half, the energy on the field continued and Victoria picked up the pace, forcing the Cougars on their heels. A stretch of time saw Mount Royal contained to their half of the field on defense, unable to get past a strong Vikes defense for any reasonable scoring opportunity. In the 87th minute on a play in the box in front of the Cougars net, a Mount Royal player collided with a Vikes forward, leading to a free kick opportunity that was buried in the net by Victoria midfielder Javier Sagaste. The remainder of the second half remained 1-1 stalemate.
Entering overtime it was clear that both teams were eager for the ball as tension increased on the pitch, however it was the Cougars who got lucky first. Second-year Skyler Rogers took a corner kick eight minutes into the first overtime half and veteran midfielder Miguel Da Rocha was able to direct it into the net.
In the second overtime the impressive play on the field continued with both teams making strong advances. It was Mount Royal who capitalized again, when first-year Finn Marshall moved the ball across the field to Da Rocha who broke free of the Vikes defenders and beat the netminder with a pass to second-year Mowbray Beghin for a tip in goal. The remainder of overtime saw the Victoria squad pushing hard for a chance at the net, but the Cougars defense and keeper Dumoulin stood tall to win the game 3-1.
The semifinal victory also earns Cougars men’s soccer a spot at the U SPORTS national championship, taking place in Sydney, N.S., from Nov. 9-12.