For the first time ever, the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades men’s soccer team has swept the Trinity Western University Spartans, and those wins have leapfrogged the club into Canada West playoff contention.
The pair of 3-2 wins on Friday in Langley and Sunday in Abbotsford were buoyed off the foot of star striker Gurmaan Jhaj, who established a new Cascades’ all-time goal-scoring record.
Jhaj, an Aldergrove native who played much of his youth career with the Abbotsford Soccer Association, recorded his 21st career goal on Friday to break the previous mark, and added another on Sunday to now reach 22 over his sparkling five-year run with the Cascades.
With two games remaining, Jhaj has the opportunity to re-write the Cascades’ record books again.
But for Jhaj, the momentum built from the pair of big wins was the take-away from a memorable weekend in Cascades soccer history.
“That last weekend was huge for us and everyone is super excited and we’re kind of peaking at the right time,” he said. “We’re probably playing the best soccer we have been this season.”
Friday’s record-setting goal came at the perfect time for the Cascades. With UFV trailing 2-1 midway through the second half, he volleyed home a shot and tied the game. Three minutes later, Trevor Zanatta put the Cascades up for good.
⚽️ MSOC | Cascades GOOOOOOOAAAAAL!@Gurmaan_Jhaj knots the score, and sets a new program goal-scoring record with the 21st of his career!
— UFV Cascades (@UFVCascades) October 12, 2019
Sunday’s win saw Jhaj score in the 36th minute to put UFV up 2-0. Trinity fought back to tie the game, but Zanatta again scored the game winner.
Jhaj has now recorded five goals this season, a bit of a dip from last year’s 13, but his playmaking has been picking up. He has collected four assists this season, and also a chance to set a new school record in assists and points. He’s currently tied for the all-time lead for points with 31, and is third for assists with nine.
He pointed out that last year was his first full year as striker, and that after his offensive explosion some teams have likely keyed on trying to stop him. He said his many years playing as a midfielder help him be more aware of ways to work around defensive walls.
“Obviously, as a striker you want to score goals. but talking with Tom [Lowndes, head coach] and just watching other professionals you see at the end of the day I’m not too worried if I’m scoring the goal or my teammate [is]. I just want to be creating chances,” he said. “I kind of came in this year expecting to be doubled down on defence, but that’s fine because from playing midfield I know I have a pretty good passing ability and I’m able to link up well with my teammates.”
Jhaj said when Lowndes became head coach of the program in 2015, the team moved from a more basic 4-4-2 formation to a 4-2-3-1. He said that change helped him blossom into a scoring threat.
“I went from playing box to box and going forward and backwards only to join the attack to sitting back a little bit and keeping possession of the ball and making sure things were ticking,” he said. “In a way, it makes the defenders try to find you and then you can start the attacks.”
The team’s final two games, which occur on Friday in Abbotsford against UVic and then Sunday at UBC, are the same two opponents the Cascades opened the season with. UFV lost to UBC on Aug. 23 and also to UVic on Aug. 25, both by 2-0 scores. Jhaj said the team is much improved from those late-August losses.
“Team chemistry has got a lot better,” he said. “You can see on the field that our attacking rhythms are much better. We’re just more used to playing with each other. The team morale right now is crazy; everyone is buzzing and excited.”
UFV sits in the fourth and final playoff position with a record of 5-4-4, and one win over the final two games will guarantee a spot in the playoffs. Depending on how well the weekend goes, UFV could finish as high as second place.
Friday’s game against Victoria is scheduled for 8 p.m., and the men conclude the season on Sunday at 2 p.m. at UBC.
The weekend is also a big one for the UFV women’s soccer team, who currently occupy the sixth and final playoff spot in the Pacific division.
The Cascades (2-5-5) can guarantee a spot in the playoffs with a win on Friday over the TRU Wolfpack. TRU is the only team that could potentially pass UFV for the final spot, so the women need a strong result on Friday.
The women are hoping to bump a seven-game winless streak. The club hasn’t recorded a win since Sept. 14.
They host TRU on Friday at 5:30 p.m., and then welcome the UBC-O Heat to Abbotsford on Saturday at 7 p.m.