MacMillan and company tackle T-Birds in Final Four

Chilliwack's Connor MacMillan is ready to help the UFV Cascades mens' soccer squad make more history.

Connor MacMillan and his University of the Fraser Valley men’s soccer team is one win away from qualifying for the CIS national championship tournament for the first time in program history.

All that’s standing in their way is the No. 1-ranked team in the country.

On Friday, the Cascades take on the CIS No. 1 UBC Thunderbirds, who are hosting the Canada West Final Four, in the conference semifinals. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. at Thunderbird Stadium.

The T-Birds (10-0-2, first in the Pacific Division) are a formidable foe, to be sure, but the Cascades (5-4-3, third in the Pacific) have as much reason as any team for optimism. UFV was one of only two teams to take points off the Thunderbirds this season, earning a 1-1 draw at UBC on Oct. 24. They also played the T-Birds tough on Sept. 18 at Abbotsford Senior Secondary, ultimately dropping a 3-2 decision.

Furthermore, the Cascades earned road wins over No. 1-ranked UBC sides in each of the previous two seasons. In 2013, they snapped the two-time defending CIS champs’ 27-game win streak, prevailing 1-0. In 2014, UFV handed the T-Birds their first regular-season defeat of the campaign, as Justin Sekhon’s late goal gave the Cascades a 2-1 victory.

“If you look at the past two or three years, you’d be pressed to find a team that’s done as well as we have when we’ve played UBC,” UFV head coach Tom Lowndes noted. “It’s a credit to our players – they get up for those UBC games, and they look forward to them every season.

“We’re playing the No. 1 team in the country, so of course we go in as underdogs,” he added. “But that’s a title we embrace – this isn’t the first time this program has been underdogs. Anything can happen in 90 minutes of soccer. We’re that close to the national championship, and our boys are hungry. Hopefully we can do something special on Friday night.”

The 2015 Canada West Final Four is an all-B.C. affair, after the Pacific Division went a perfect 4-0 against their Prairie counterparts in the quarter-final crossover round. The early semifinal on Friday, kicking off at 5 p.m., features the Victoria Vikes vs. the Trinity Western Spartans. On Saturday, the bronze medal game goes at 5 p.m. followed by the gold medal game at 7:30 p.m.

The Cascades punched their Final Four ticket with a thrilling 4-3 quarter-final road win over the Alberta Golden Bears last Saturday. MacMillan’s second goal of the game, in the 84th minute, stood up as the game-winner.

Lowndes will be looking for impact performances this weekend from the likes of MacMillan (three goals during the regular season), fellow midfielder Kree Byrne (UFV’s regular season co-leader in points with six), striker Daniel Davidson, defender/midfielder Tammer Byrne, and right back Colton O’Neill, UFV’s team captain and a Canada West first team all-star in 2014.

UBC is coming off a 2-0 win over the Saskatchewan Huskies in the quarter-finals, with Milad Mehrabi scoring both goals. Other T-Birds to watch include Sean Einarsson (eight goals, two assists in the regular season) and Abbotsford product Gagan Dosanjh (seven goals, five assists).

UBC boasted the best regular-season goal differential in Canada West at plus-26 (31 goals scored, a league-low five against).

“They’re a very good team going forward – they can cause you all sorts of problems, and we saw that in the first game we played them in the first half,” Lowndes said. “We’ll focus on our defensive discipline and shape – can we make life difficult for them and frustrate them?”

UFV’s last trip to the conference championship tourney was in 2013, when it was a six-team event. The Cascades came away with the bronze medal after a quarter-final win over Alberta, a semifinal loss to UBC, and a victory over Victoria in the third-place game.

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