It’s a top-of-table battle this weekend for men’s soccer, as the league-leading Thunderbirds take on University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) Timberwolves who stand in second place.
UBC is going into the weekend sitting atop the table with seven wins and one tie. Over the last several weeks, Caleb Clarke has continued to lead the ’Birds front line in scoring and assists. He currently sits on seven goals in eight games for the T-Birds — almost double the total goals that have gone past UBC keeper Jason Roberts. On the defensive end, UBC has been meticulous, with Roberts sharing in the glory after the last few seasons as backup behind Chad Bush. So far, the fourth-year has four shutouts in Canada West play.
All of the stat lines coming into the weekend point to a UBC dominated game, as the Timberwolves have posted a goals against average double that of UBC. The outstanding play of UBC’s strikers this year have given them a goal-per-game average of 2.5, almost a full goal more than UNBC’s 1.67 average.
All things considered, the team is still in for a battle against the Timberwolves if they want to keep their national momentum going. As one and two square off under the Friday night lights, it should be an entertaining battle on the pitch. Kickoffs are at 6:30 p.m. on Friday and 1:00 p.m. on Sunday at Thunderbird Stadium.
Here’s what UBC needs to do to claim the double-header and keep their winning streak alive:
1. Beat out Bartolillo
UBC’s defensive line, led by third-year Connor Guilherme, has to be aware of the boot of UNBC forward Francesco Bartolillo. The striker has netted the most goals for the Timberwolves — four to be exact — and is no doubt looking to add to his scoring total against the league-leading ’Birds. If UBC’s back line can keep Bartolillo tamed in the centre of the pitch, UNBC will have to get inspired to find a way past Roberts. Conrad Rolands is the Timberwolves’ next best hope statistically — though he has scored half as many goals as Bartolillo, he has the best shot percentage on the team and will also be one to shut down.
2. Shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, everybody!
The T-Birds have to continue getting shots to net — something they haven’t been struggling with to date as they average just over 14 shots a game, but still worth the mention — as UNBC’s keeper Rob Goodey has posted a save percentage under 900. Peppering the net from all sides, beyond just Clarke and Thomas Gardner for UBC, will be essential to breaking down the Timberwolves goaltender. Veterans Sean Einarsson and Mackenzie Cole have been slowly making their name in this new T-Birds roster, alongside Zach Verhoven and Jora Soran. Subs Taiyo Marzalik and Kristian Yli-Hietanen have also added in some energy on a handful of occasions this year. It might be time to start thinking creatively in the box and look to the foot of someone beyond their star striker and set play specialist to make the difference.
3. Shake off initial jitters
UBC has only let in four goals this season, a minute number compared to the 20 they have sent past opposing keepers. What’s more, they have never had more than one goal go past them in a game. But all but one of them has been scored in the first 10 minutes of a half. Getting their heads in the game as soon as the whistle blows and keeping the focus through those initial settling-in minutes could be the defining factor between a win, a tie or — heaven forbid — a loss.