Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
LETHBRIDGE – Much has been made of the incoming talent to the MacEwan Griffins men's soccer program.
But when things weren't going their way in the opening half of Saturday's Canada West match at Lethbridge, it was a veteran role player who dug them out.
Versatile fourth-year midfielder/forward Brian Mayall came off the bench to score twice as the Griffins won their first game of the season, spoiling the Pronghorns' home opener with a 2-1 triumph.
"I can't speak enough about Brian," said head coach Adam Loga. "We weren't settled in in the first 25 (minutes). We showed our youth and immaturity a bit – up against it, complaining a bit too much, not playing our game, getting distracted. I looked to the bench and told Bryan, 'Go in, show your maturity. Show your experience and settle this game down.'
"He goes in and gets two goals and we win 2-1. He's a role player and he brings special attributes not many players can and we're very happy to have him."
After almost opening the scoring for the Griffins in the 31st minute when Pronghorns keeper Nolan French made a diving stop off his top-of-the-box strike, Mayall wouldn't be denied in stoppage time at the end of the first half, putting MacEwan up 1-0 with a header off Sheldon Prasad's corner kick.
After the Pronghorns' Thomas Hammerton equalized with a header off a corner kick in the 55th minute, Mayall played hero in extra time again, winning a knockdown off a Malcolm Stafford cross and volleying it into the bottom left corner.
What made it even more impressive is the Griffins were down to just 10 men for the final 10 minutes-plus after Tyrell Leslie picked up his second yellow card of the contest in the 80th minute. But they still found a way to score the winner.
"It's good. We were against it a bit," said Loga. "Things weren't really going our way in many ways today. But I mentioned before that we need to learn how to win and we did that today. We ground a win out.
"We didn't play our best game by any stretch of the imagination. We're a young team and we showed our youth again today, but we were able to persevere and battle. That's one step in the right direction. It's a character win. At the end of the day, 5-0 or 2-1, we got three points on the road."
With the loss the Pronghorns fall to 0-3-0 on the season, while the Griffins level their record to 1-1-0.
Both goalkeepers – Pronghorns' French and Griffins' Seth Johnstone – finished the game with four saves apiece. MacEwan outshot Lethbridge 16-8 but only 6-5 in shots on goal.
While the Pronghorns will wrap up their home opening weekend on Sunday, hosting the Alberta Golden Bears (2-0-0), the Griffins head back out on the road, traveling to Saskatoon to face the Saskatchewan Huskies (1-2-0) at 4 p.m. on Canada West TV.
MacEwan will be without starting striker Leslie as he's automatically suspended a game for the red card. Loga noted Joseph Abrahart will draw into the lineup as the team plays next-man up.
Also coming into the lineup on Sunday? Some valuable lessons learned.
"No matter who we're playing, it's going to be a battle," said Loga of his message to the team post-game. "You can't take anyone lightly. You can't go in unprepared. I think they learned a valuable lesson today.
"The biggest thing, though, is not every day's going to be our day and it wasn't today. But again, we learned how to pull off a win, which is something that may not have happened last year and definitely not the year before. That's what's most important."
- with files from Lethbridge Athletics