History has once again been made for the Mount Royal Cougars men’s soccer team, who are moving-on to the Canada West semi-final after defending home turf one last time with an emotional 2-1 victory over the Thompson Rivers WolfPack Saturday afternoon.
This is the first home playoff game for the MRU Cougars in its history, and they hope to take advantage of the home crowd advantage.
The boys in blue representing MRU finish the season undefeated at the friendly confines of Mount Royal Stadium Field this year with a 7-0-1 record.
Friendly for the Cougars that is.
Mount Royal supporters made life miserable for the visitor Thompson Rivers.
The debut of the “MRU Ultras’ is something the Mount Royal campus has never experienced before. These Ultras are not just fans, they’re fanatics, taunting opposing players and hyping up the crowd.
It was Crowchild Classic-esque.
"The crowd was insane and unforgettable. The ground was shaking and the players felt it. Hard not to credit the fans for being the pulse of our team today," said Cougars head coach Ryan Gyaki.
No WolfPack player was safe from the relentless heckling.
Every MRU dispossession, WolfPack turnover, referee calls going the other way, nut-megs and one-twos brought a roar from the crowd that grew louder as the minutes ticked on.
Calgary’s early morning snow storm carried over into the 3 p.m. start time, which made the environment even more miserable for the B.C. visitors who are not used to the windy and snowy games that Calgary brings.
The howling chill and skin-gnawing wind weighed down the WolfPack from kick off. But the real impact, came from the lively crowd that was filled shoulder-to-shoulder on the frozen Stadium Field bleachers.
All the emotional build up paid off in the 27th minute when Cougars rookie and surely, Canada West rookie of the year shoe-in, Dane Domic, unleashed an absolute rocket from outside the box.
Fighting off a player after the initial ball in was sent back his way, he launched a rocket on the one-time and got enough whip with his left-footed delivery from distance that kept curling goal-wards until the shot went in.
The Croatian native is coming off a six-goal and eight-assist debut campaign.
“The guys kept believing and supported each other,” Domic said post-match.
“Producing these special moments we’ve had this season in my first year is such an honour but we know the work isn’t over.”
The pressure was on and the WolfPack knew it.
Being outplayed for most of the half, The Thompson Rivers University (TRU) offense was left standing on their heels, with only one shot on net resulted in the equalizing goal at the 42nd minute. An intercepted pass bounced off enough shins in the Cougar area to land in the wheelhouse of WolfPack forward Daniel Sagno who pinged the ball into the net.
TRU seemed to have a slight edge when they took a 1-1 scoreline into half-time but the boisterous Cougar crowd, never had a doubt.
"We played our game and kept it up. We knew something would come out of it," Gyaki notes.
Insert fourth-year star Justin Anderson-Louch, or JAL.
His first start after 392 days since tearing his ACL and PCL during the 2018 season-opener, was against the same WolfPack players on Sep. 21, also a 2-1 win on home turf.
MRU rookie Miguel Da Rocha made a beautiful lob from outside of the box, ending up right on the foot of JAL who fired it into the back of the net to seal the deal for the Cougars.
First thing JAL did was drop on his knees, so he thinks.
“I blacked out,” he says smiling.
“It feels unbelievable. Putting in all that work this past year to come-back and score that kind of goal for our team…This result wasn’t just for us on the field. it was for the team around us, for the MRU community and everyone involved.”
Anderson-Louch continued to motor on as the half progressed and drew a foul inside the TRU box but failed to ice the game as his spot kick was blocked by WolfPack keeper Jackson Gardner in the 82nd.
MRU’s defence however, stayed perfect after the first half blemish and held-off TRU to pick up the historic win.
"Our mentality and attitude doesn't change. We know today was huge for the program and the school but the next game comes down to 90 minutes like it did today," Gyaki concludes.
The Cougars travel to UBC for their semi-final matchup on Nov. 1 against the U of C Dinos (7-6-1).
- By Sajan Jabbal