UFV Sports Sunday – Men’s Soccer Fail To Make Playoffs

Vancouver – Men’s Soccer: Depleted Cascades fall to T-Birds, fall short of post-season

The University of the Fraser Valley men’s soccer team saw its season come to an end as they dropped a 3-0 decision to the UBC Thunderbirds in Vancouver on Sunday afternoon.

The Cascades came in needing a win – and nothing less – to qualify for the Canada West playoffs. But they were a battered group. Parman Minhas and Manpal Brar were sidelined due to injuries suffered Friday vs. UVic, and Sahib Sidhu and Trevor Zanatta were suspended after picking up their third yellow cards of the season in that same game. Then in the 12th minute at Thunderbird Stadium, rookie midfielder Jehmrode Kahlon went down with a knee injury and was unable to return.

Thus, what was already an uphill climb vs. the nation’s No. 5-ranked team became much steeper. Sam Fletcher and Kerman Pannu staked the hosts to a 2-0 lead at halftime, and Thomas Gardner rounded out the scoring after the break.

The result dropped the Cascades from fourth to sixth in the Pacific Division with a 5-6-4 record, while first-place UBC improved to 10-2-3.

“I’m proud of the effort from the boys – I thought we fought valiantly, missing half our starting lineup,” Cascades head coach Tom Lowndes said. “We were absolutely depleted by injuries, but the guys came and gave it everything they had. At the end of the day, we just fell a bit short, but I can’t fault their commitment, work rate, effort or desire. That’s been good all season. I think we’ve been a bit unlucky at times this year – we definitely should have had a few more wins, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes.”

The T-Birds tested Cascades keeper Ethan Duggan early, but the rookie was up to the task. In the 11th minute, Duggan leaped to his left to turn aside Mackenzie Cole’s header from the top of the six-yard box, then quickly scrambled to his feet and dove again to deny Mihai Hodut’s point-blank follow-up – an improbable sequence of saves.

The hosts, though, would break through in the 21st, as Fletcher curled a corner kick inside the far post, top corner.

Then, in the 27th, Pannu made it 2-0, redirecting Jordan Haynes’s low cross into the top corner.

In the 37th, Cascades rookie Brennan Naiker – playing his second game for UFV – made an outstanding defensive play, clearing the ball off the line on a follow-up shot after Duggan had come up with the initial save on a partial breakaway for the T-Birds.

UBC made it 3-0 in the 51st, as reigning CW player of the year Thomas Gardner’s free kick from just outside the box found the top corner, just beyond the fingertips of a leaping Duggan.

The Cascades continued to grind – Gurmaan Jhaj had a crack at goal from 25 yards in the 61st minute, but his shot went just wide of the left post. Later on, Brady Weir’s corner created a dangerous header as a pair of UFV attackers went up for it with UBC keeper Jason Roberts, but it also ran wide. In injury time, defender Ryan Donald came forward and had a volley deep in the box, but it was blocked by a T-Birds defender.

The result marked the conclusion of fifth-year UFV seniors Jhaj, Weir, Tyler Henderson and Nawaf Binsaleh’s university soccer eligibility, and Lowndes had all four on the field to end the game. Gurshaan Jhaj, Gurmaan’s younger brother, came off the bench in the 83rd minute for his Cascades debut – a tip of the cap from head coach Lowndes to his program’s all-time leader for goals and points in his finale.

“To send him off playing up front with his brother is a pretty cool thing that he’ll probably remember for a long time,” Lowndes said of the Jhaj brothers playing together for the first time as Cascades.

“They (the seniors) have been huge for us. They’ve all contributed in their own ways, and it was nice to have them all on the field at the end, digging in and fighting until the last whistle. At the same time, we finished the game with four or five first-years on the field and a couple of second-years, so it was a little bit of a changing of the guard.”

Amidst the disappointment of the result, the elder Jhaj acknowledged that playing alongside his younger brother was a nice moment.

“It’s definitely been a big part of my life, because I love the game,” he said, reflecting on his five years as a Cascade. “I’ll stick around, and I’ll definitely be supporting the team as much as I can.”

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