Slow start proves costly for Griffins in 1-0 defeat to visiting Spartans

Raeghan McCarthy battles for the ball with a Trinity Western defender on Sunday (Chris Piggott photo).
Raeghan McCarthy battles for the ball with a Trinity Western defender on Sunday (Chris Piggott photo).

Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Coaches preach about playing a full 90 minutes until they're blue in the face.

Unfortunately, for the MacEwan University Griffins, that message didn't sink in until Sunday's Canada West women's soccer match against Trinity Western was five minutes old.

By then, the Spartans were already on the board, as they took advantage of a slow start by the home team and rode a solid back line for the final 85 minutes to a 1-0 victory.

"To start the game, we gave them a little bit too much time and space, and a team like that, they found a breakthrough," said Griffins head coach Dean Cordeiro. "They got up one and at this level scoring that first goal is huge for momentum. It changes the tactics in the game."

"But credit them. That's a very good side. I wasn't displeased with the performance," he added. "We were right in there and it would have been fair to get some type of result, but you can't give them a goal at this level and expect you're going to fight your way back when you're playing teams the caliber of Trinity (Western)."

Taking advantage of a Griffins squad looking uncharacteristically disorganized out of the gate, the Spartans almost scored in the third minute when a low cross went right through the box untouched, but Seina Kashima, under pressure from a defender, put it wide.

However, TWU's crisp passing paid off just two minutes later when Elizabeth Hicks' through ball sent Kathryn Harvey in on a partial break and she buried it in the low left corner past MacEwan's Emily Burns to open the scoring.

"It kind of woke us up and I was very happy with our play from the 15-20 minute mark in," said Cordeiro. "But at this level, you can't play for 75 minutes. I thought we had many opportunities. We fought to the final whistle, coming ever so close again."

The Griffins' best chance of the half came off a final play before the whistle when Meghan Oram got enough on a shot from the top of the box that Spartans keeper Christina Oliverio was forced to lay out for the save.

MacEwan came out with renewed resolve to start the second half and Trinity Western was forced to weather a storm before countering back with one of their own.

Kashima, who bore down on MacEwan's defence all day, hit a rebound from the middle of the box in the 62nd minute that Griffins defender Jamie Erickson stopped in front of a diving Burns.

MacEwan's Suekiana Choucair hit back with a free kick from 44 yards out in the 79th that was destined to go under the bar before Oliverio leapt to keep it out.

TWU's Danae Derksen had two glorious late chances, including a rocket from 20 yards out that Burns caught, one of her six saves in the match.

MacEwan's last great chance to tie came off the boot of Salma Kamel, who, on an open run from the right side, hit a blast that Oliverio nabbed. The Spartans keeper made five saves for the shutout.

"When we play with desire and poise and mental focus, we can be a good team," said Trinity Western head coach Graham Roxburgh. "We've shown we can battle against probably one of the better teams in Canada West.

"We just focused at the start. I thought we were a bit unlucky not to generate the second goal. It would have made it a little bit more poised at the end. They came at us very direct and we had to deal with a lot of adversity."

Cordeiro said his team didn't do enough early to break down TWU's defence, which spent all day kicking Griffins' through balls out of the zone.

"We're going to work on it, try to not make our play predictable and find different ways to break down good back lines," said Cordeiro, whose team was also blanked by Fraser Valley earlier in the weekend. "Their pressure on the ball, their off-ball movement, they check a lot of boxes. They made it difficult for us."

Next up for the Griffins (4-2-0) is a visit to UBC and Victoria on Sept. 29-30.

TWU (4-2-0) will host UBC-Okanagan and Thompson Rivers on those same dates.