With ISA, Colonist Cup and Island trophies already on the mantel, the Senior boys soccer team traveled to Burnaby November 17-19 to compete in the BC AA Championship.
A slow start in the opener versus Caledonia of Terrace gave some cause for concern, but eventually, following a Matty McColl goal, SMUS settled down to produce its usual effective short passing game. McColl then completed his brace, while striker Brian Im and midfielder Santiago Mazoy added singles. In truth, only a lack of finish kept the score at 4-0, with several grade-A second half chances flying over the bar from very handy positions.
Next up was Southridge, with the White Rock independent coming off a 3-0 upset of fancied McNair.
In this game, looking to take a stranglehold on the pool standings, the Blue Jags opened in blistering style, notching three goals in short order. While the Storm clawed one back after the break, SMUS then added another pair in a comfortable 5-1 win.
Despite the two wins, SMUS still needed at least a point to ensure first place in Pool A and a berth in the tournament semifinal. A different starting line-up perhaps contributed to a sluggish start against McNair, with the game scoreless at intermission. However, some tactical changes then provided the desired result, with a four-goal blizzard in seven minutes immediately after halftime ensuring a 5-0 victory.
All this set up a highly anticipated matchup with Pool B winner Archbishop Carney. The Coquitlam-based squad, BC bronze medal winners a year ago and returning numerous high level Metro players, were in impressive form. In one of the best matches of the tournament, Carney displayed wonderful skill levels, maintaining possession for long periods of time. However, anchored by Harrison Giles in goal and with the back four of Ryan Cui, Jonathan Sudul, Michaelangelo Cernucan and Jason Scully all at the top of their games, SMUS coped quite comfortably for the entire 70 minutes.
Indeed, sitting back and waiting for counterattack chances, the Blue Jags could easily have managed more goals than they scored. First, McColl hammered home a powerful 20-metre drive before Alec Keech, thanks to sheer hard work and good anticipation, forced a turnover from which Im delivered the killer blow. SMUS won that game 2-0 and moved on to the final.
Sa-Hali of Kamloops, which had moved impressively through its group without conceding a goal before dispatching Brookswood with relative ease, seemed to be considered by many slight favourites in the championship match. Yet, with SMUS displaying the same defensive grit and organization evident versus Carney, the Sabres were consistently frustrated, mounting only one really dangerous scoring opportunity. Nonetheless, for the full 80 minutes, the numerous long, high balls peppering the Jags penalty area were a cause for concern.
For SMUS, the key breakthrough came in the 28th minute, when a pinpoint corner kick by Kieran Large found Callum Montgomery. The midfielder soared over two defenders to head home powerfully into the bottom right corner of the net.
In the second half, still up 1-0, the Blue Jags played patiently, waiting for additional opportunities. With Sa-Hali pushing forward, some cracks began to appear in its defence, with Im, at the near post, nearly finishing off an excellent Owen Sudul cross. Minutes later, McColl beat multiple defenders to the byline only to see his pass through the crease somehow fail to connect with a teammate. Then the Sabres goalie reacted superbly to block a McColl redirection. Finally, Im, on a breakaway from midfield, left the keeper for dead only to see his shot come back off the left post.
But then it was over, as one last long clearance took the ball away from the Jags’ penalty area. The referee blew for full time and five grueling games in just over 48 hours came to an end. For SMUS, after so many close calls in a dozen provincial final and semifinal appearances in various sports in the past few years, this finally was the desired breakthrough.
Im, McColl, Large and Montgomery performed to the standard one would expect of elite players. All displayed great skill and composure. This, in turn, rubbed off on the rest, who more than did their part. In addition to those mentioned earlier, Max Pollen ran miles in attack, proving to be a constant nuisance to opposition defenders.
Over and above SMUS taking home the coveted BCSS championship banner, McColl and Im shared the Golden Boot as top scorers, while Montgomery was named tournament MVP. Cernucan was a popular selection to the Commissioner’s XI, while Giles, had he played in all five tournament matches, would have shared the Top Goalie award.
Yet, individual accolades aside, most importantly this was first and foremost a team victory. Congratulations to all the players and coaches on a well-deserved BC AA title.
View more photos of the Senior boys soccer team at the BC AA Championship at the SMUS Photo Gallery.