A rainy Saturday evening provided the backdrop for a stop-and-start encounter between the UBC men’s soccer team and WFC2, the Whitecaps affiliate team that competes in the United Soccer League.
The teams have a very strong connection as WFC2 also calls the Thunderbird stadium home and UBC’s fullbacks, Chris Serban and Harry Lakhan, represent both sides. The Whitecaps’ goalkeeping coach, Marius Røvde, said that the logic behind arranging the game was UBC always put up a fight and it gives the coach a chance to look at some players. This was certainly the case as the Whitecaps made full use of their bench and used the game as an opportunity to give some first-team players some minutes as well.
The game started off well with UBC immediately threatening the WFC2 goal. A patch of delicate passing down the left flank led to UBC drawing a foul and nearly scoring the resulting free kick. This, however, turned out to be one of UBC’s best efforts on goal for the entire contest.
After that short spell of possession, the Whitecaps seized the ball and probed the gaps between UBC’s full backs and centre halves. They had varying success, but little came of these early skirmishes except a searching forward pass from Giuliano Frano that tested the UBC backline.
Despite WFC2 growing into the game and attempting to assert their style over UBC, the Thunderbirds defended resolutely and when they did move the ball themselves, they actually looked more likely to score for the first 30 minutes. Each side had one or two good chances. UBC winger Boris Si had the best of these chances with a free header near the six-yard box, which he should have buried.
Soon after that chance, UBC put the ball in the back of the net after working nicely down the left hand side of the 18-yard box, but the penultimate and defence-splitting pass was ruled offside although this was, at least from the perspective of the stands, a questionable call.
UBC seemed content to sit deep when WFC2 had possession, their centre forward hardly pressing and rarely splitting the field. Yet when a WFC2 goal kick went awry, they pounced on the ball deep in Whitecap territory. Ultimately though, the Whitecaps cleared their lines and began a thrilling forward passing move that ended with Bolaños converting the one-on-one chance that Perez laid out for him.
This flowing attacking move was nearly emulated on the opposite flank as the right-back stormed to the by-line and played a searching ball to the edge of the six yard box. His centre-forward managed to reach the pass, but was unable to apply the necessary power to the finish and couldn’t beat Chad Bush in the UBC goal.
The game descended into a series of hefty slide tackles — some of them technically profound, others definite fouls. Neither team held onto the ball for much time in this period. WFC2 dominated the central midfield. This was unsurprising as they employed a narrow diamond in that area where UBC had just a trio in the middle.
While the game was at times exhilarating, the excitement was restricted to specific moments. The majority of the spectacle was, as Røvde eloquently put it, “a bit scrappy.”
The teams broke for half time and the Thunderbirds seemed in good spirits as they performed a comical header break to their pep talk. Their heads were down shortly after this though as Fatawu Safiu placed a firm left-footed shot into the bottom right corner of the UBC net. His effort was commendable, but questions must be asked of the Thunderbird defending. They appeared still to be in the dressing room as WFC2 waltzed into their territory and carved out a free shot for Safiu.
After this, both sides offered little in the way of incisive attacking football. WFC2 seemed content to sit on their lead and hold UBC at arms’ length. The Thunderbirds’ attacking threat was limited to some hopeful, but truthfully ill-advised, crosses and long balls. There were a couple of exciting moments, however, when Titouan Chopin broke down the right with pace to create a chance, but there was no one well placed to convert. After this, Chopin showed another of his attributes, winning an aerial ball he laid off Justin Wallace who really should have put his effort on target.
The game trickled on until the referee blew for full-time on exactly 90 minutes, clearly seeing no reason to add any stoppage time.
All-in-all, this was not the prettiest encounter. Each team showed they could create going forward, but there were a huge amount of turnovers and some to-be-expected sloppy passing — this is preseason for both teams after all. This was a well-spirited exhibition match that drew a healthy crowd. The fixture is certain to happen again as the teams clearly have a strong, symbiotic relationship — one they felt the need to express on the eve of Valentine’s Day.