The VIU Mariners played great soccer and earned a medal at nationals, but they didn’t get the ending they wanted.
Vancouver Island University’s men’s soccer team was defeated by Ontario’s Humber Hawks in penalty shots Saturday night in Coquitlam to end the Canadian Colleges’ Athletic Association championships.
The game was 2-2 after regulation, and the score held through a half-hour overtime, leading up to the tie-breaker. Four out of five shooters scored for each team, leading to a sudden death shootout. VIU’s eighth shooter of the night had his shot stopped, Humber scored, and the match ended.
“Today wasn’t our day, unfortunately,” said Bill Merriman, coach of the M’s. “I feel bad for our guys. You always feel bad for the players because I know they blame themselves but it’s 50-50, you’re taking your chances whenever you go to penalty shots.”
Humber came out faster to start the game, but M’s keeper Robbie Cochrane made some early saves and VIU got a scrambly goal from Romaie Martin against the run of play about 10 minutes in. That held until the 45th minute, when Humber snuck one in inside the left goalpost while a VIU player was down on the pitch, hurt.
Humber went ahead in about 15 minutes into the second half on another goalmouth scramble, but from there, VIU began to take clear control of the play. The Mariners were rewarded in about the 75th minute when Jamie Taylor was left alone on the left side of the box and slotted it home.
VIU’s Jordan de Graff made a fine solo effort and ricocheted a shot off the post with three and a half minutes left in regulation, and the M’s had the best chance of overtime, too, when a Hawks player headed a Mariners free kick off his own crossbar.
“Overtime was completely us the whole time. Shots off the post, chances on chances, we just couldn’t quite finish it…” said Dan Cato, VIU fourth-year defender. “Guys were unlucky not to score, their goalie made some good saves, they played some good defence and that’s what they needed to do to get themselves in the shootout because that’s all that they were trying to do at that point was get out of it alive, give themselves a chance in the shootout.”
In penalty kicks, Stephen Ewashko, de Graff and Taylor scored, Matt Mehrassa missed, then Martin, A.J. Kambere and Davis Stupich scored before Cato’s high shot was saved.
“Shootout seems like the worst way to end a game like that,” Cato said. “It’s pretty much a coin flip.”
The Mariners’ CCAA championship victory in 2010 was also settled that way.
“I’ve never liked penalty shots and I’ve been on both ends of them, more than once,” said Merriman. “I would like to see players play till they drop and finish it on the field.”
The M’s very nearly did finish it on the field, and the coach said looking back on the game, maybe there were a couple of balls that went into the six-yard box that his players could have got to. But Cato said there’s no point thinking about those what-ifs.
“Congrats to [Humber] for playing good defence and holding on, but if we do it again, it might not go down like that,” he said.
Some of the M’s are already talking about trying to get back to the big stage, said Merriman. He said he feels for the graduating fifth-year Mariners, because he knows how badly they wanted to win, but some of them have now won gold, bronze and silver over the past three seasons. And whatever the colour of medal they’re bringing home to Nanaimo, the M’s will know, themselves, how they stacked up against Canada’s best college soccer teams.
Leaving the frosty pitch, Cato indicated the silver medal hanging around his neck.
“One day I’ll be very proud of this,” he said. “Just not now.”
SOCCER TALK … Cato, de Graff and Mehrassa were selected as tournament all-stars. To read about VIU’s earlier victories at the tournament, please click here.