Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Lahai Mansaray keeps on manufacturing new ways to lead the MacEwan University Griffins.
The electric striker, who has led the team in scoring for two years running, beat a double team to set up the opening goal and then potted the 84th minute equalizer to help the Griffins salvage a 2-2 draw with the University of Fraser Valley Cascades on Sunday afternoon.
"We know what he wants to be. He wants to be one of the best players in this league," said Griffins head coach Adam Loga of Mansaray, who is in a tie for second in Canada West in goals with four.
"Guys are keying on him and he's had to adjust his game accordingly. He's now starting to turn a corner and discovering how to (take his game to the next level). He did very well."
Mansaray's 26th minute assist off a cross was a thing of beauty. The Edmontonian – who escaped war-torn Sierra Leone as a child for a better life in Canada – put on a dazzling display of footwork that allowed him to find an opening between two UFV defenders for a scintillating pass to Christian Hernandez, who one-timed it under the bar.
UFV had little going in the first half, but turned their game around after a half-time talk from head coach Tom Lowndes.
"I thought we were too slow with the ball and defensively we dropped way too deep," he said. "We didn't put enough pressure on the ball, so we had to step our line up a little higher and go and press them and try to cause them problems that way. And I thought we did.
"I think we kept the ball better as well in the second half. We looked to pass and play. The first half, we kind of just lumped everything forward and that's not the way we can play."
UFV responded to their coach and came out gangbusters in the second half, taking the play to MacEwan.
They were rewarded in the 60th minute when MacEwan goalkeeper Dory Elliott attempted to punch a high header out of harm's way but Jassi Mann knocked it down in the box and hit the twine.
UFV took their first lead of the game in the 82nd minute when Brady Weir beautifully slipped a defender and blasted it off another MacEwan player past Elliott into the net.
But just when the result appeared headed for another version of heartbreak alley for the Griffins, Lewis McDowell tracked down Sheldon Prasad's perfect 84th-minute corner kick in the air and bombed a header that would go in 99 per cent of the time. This one, however, went off a defender guarding the line, but Mansaray sifted through traffic to pot the rebound.
"We were on a losing streak, so we'd rather get one point than no points," said Mansaray. "And we hadn't scored in three games, so we scored two goals. So we can take that as a positive out of this match. Going forward, we want to make playoffs.
"We have quality players, we have Sheldon and Zee (Moyo) and lots of new guys. We should be able to make playoffs. It just hasn't clicked yet. This is a sign we are still in it and we're going to do what we can do."
The result improves MacEwan's record to 1-6-1, so there's still a ton of work to be done for that to happen, but it's a positive considering how it could easily have been a loss.
"It's a character point. The guys fought hard," said Loga. "In the past, so far this season, when we've conceded, we've kind of dropped a level. But we found a way to get back into it. It's a character point for a bunch of young players. There's lots to learn still, but it's nice to see that they fought back and got the point."
Lowndes will also take the point – and a four-point weekend after beating Lethbridge on Saturday – as his team improves to 2-4-2.
"It's never easy on the road. Going one-nil down, based off the first half you'd probably take a point, but it's a bit gutting to concede," he noted. "We go and score and then (they score) off a set piece we should have done better on – the first ball shouldn't have gone for a corner.
"So we'll take four points. It wasn't an easy road trip coming to (MacEwan) after Lethbridge and a monster (drive). I thought that contributed to our first half – heavy legs – but we'll take four points and move on to next weekend."
Next up for UFV is a visit to Thompson Rivers and UBC-Okanagan on Sept. 30-Oct. 1. The Griffins, meanwhile, have a short turnaround with a visit to Saskatchewan on Sept. 28 and then a trip to Lethbridge on Oct. 1.