Kamloops – Ryan Donald’s contributions to the UFV men’s soccer team are usually measured in goals prevented rather than goals scored.
But on Monday, the third-year defender stepped into a starring role at the offensive end of the pitch, notching the lone goal of the game as the Cascades edged the Thompson Rivers WolfPack 1-0 on the road in Kamloops.
It was the Canada West regular-season opener for both teams – the game had originally been scheduled for last Saturday, but was postponed due to the heavy forest fire smoke.
Donald celebrated the belated debut with the first goal of his Canada West career. In the 48th minute, Brady Weir’s corner kick was initially cleared by the WolfPack, but the ball was played back into the box and a scramble ensued. Gurmaan Jhaj found his way to the ball and poked it over to Donald at the left side of the net, and he hammered a low shot past TRU keeper Alex Ram.
The other big story on the day for the Cascades (1-0-0) was the play of goalkeeper Alex Skrzeta, who counted several spectacular stops among his five saves for the clean sheet.
Up next, the Cascades travel to Kelowna to take on the UBC Okanagan Heat in another rescheduled game. Kickoff is at 3 p.m. Tuesday and will be webcast at CanadaWest.tv.
“I can’t say enough about how proud I am of the defensive effort today,” UFV head coach Tom Lowndes said. “It’s one thing to talk about it in preseason, but to come out and do it against a team like TRU with a lot of attacking quality is outstanding. We talked about getting back to basics, being a team that’s very hard to break down and play against, and I thought we were that today. All our outfield players got in today, so it was a true team effort.”
The Cascades had the lion’s share of possession in the early going, outshooting the WolfPack 3-0 over the first 20 minutes and earning a pair of corner kicks. They were unable to connect on a truly dangerous chance, though; their best look came in the 18th minute when Parman Minhas loaded up for a shot inside the box, but his effort went wide left.
The hosts gained traction as the half wore on, culminating in a frantic final five minutes of the frame when they mustered several great chances. But Cascades fifth-year keeper Skrzeta was up to the task – the Coquitlam, B.C. product made diving stops on James Fraser’s header and on Mitchell Popadynetz’s free kick to keep it scoreless heading into the break.
The Cascades regrouped at halftime and opened the scoring through Donald in short order when play resumed. Skrzeta, UFV’s player of the match, was called upon to make one more five-alarm save in the 49th minute, leaping to his right to parry Josh Banton’s top corner-bound header off a Popadynetz free kick.
“Alex was fantastic,” Lowndes enthused. “He made two or three saves that were top-class, and two of the three points we got today were down to him. He and (fellow fifth-year keeper) David Hicks have been battling throughout the preseason, and we went with him today, and he’s justified that choice.
“And Ryan’s been battling some injury trouble in the preseason – he only got through 36 minutes today, but he got the job done. He was johnny-on-the-spot for a great finish.”