Orgnero, Berube return to Griffins after honing craft in high-level USL2 ranks

Everett Orgnero led the Griffins with eight goals last season. He heads into the 2019 Canada West campaign with more top-level experience under his belt, helping Calgary-based Foothills FC to a USL2 division title (Chris Piggott photo).
Everett Orgnero led the Griffins with eight goals last season. He heads into the 2019 Canada West campaign with more top-level experience under his belt, helping Calgary-based Foothills FC to a USL2 division title (Chris Piggott photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – A division title is no small feat in the world of soccer.

MacEwan striker Everett Orgnero had the privilege of being a part of one, celebrating with his Calgary-based Foothills FC teammates after they clinched the Northwest Division crown in the United Soccer Leagues 2 on July 14 with a 3-0 win over Victoria.

"We knew the shoes we had to fill with the team previously and what they had accomplished," said Orgnero of the 2018 Foothills squad, which won the USL2 championship. "I think there was a sense of 'we've got to step up and be a team that can be the successors.' "

While their road ended in the conference championship, the success of winning a division title is something that Orgnero was thrilled to be a part of.

"When you reach a success like that, it's gratifying," he said. "We were all new players who didn't know each other well, but we were still able to come in and do an excellent job with a great coach like Leon (Hapgood)."

That experience is certainly one that can springboard the 6-foot-5 striker into his sophomore Canada West season with the MacEwan Griffins. He saw action in his USL2 rookie season behind star forward Willy Akio, who led the team in scoring with 11 goals in 12 games.

"He was a veteran with the team and honestly for me, I was happy just being able to learn and watch," said Orgnero. "I'd get 20 minutes there or 15 minutes here. For me, my first season and being new to the squad and one of the younger players on the team, I was happy just getting the minutes that I did."

As the Griffins head into a new season this Friday at Saskatchewan (7 p.m. MT, Canada West TV presented by Co-op), Orgnero will have plenty of takeaways from a summer spent at the professional level. He shattered the MacEwan record for goals with eight last season in his rookie Canada West campaign and will look to improve on that in 2019 with even more high-level experience under his belt.

"I think just the speed and the decision making, and then technique on demand – the certain quality that you need in certain situations when you need it," he noted when asked what he can take from playing at the USL2 level. "That's something I'll be able to bring into (Canada West) is just that quality when it's needed at a good speed that can beat defenders and really help this MacEwan team."

Evan Berube, who will play centre-back for the Griffins this season, spent part of his off-season with WSA Winnipeg in USL 2 (Jefferson Hagen photo).

Defender Evan Berube also spent part of the 2019 season in the USL2, suiting up for his hometown team with WSA Winnipeg. It was a tough season for that squad as they went 0-14 to finish in the basement of the Heartland Division.

Nonetheless, it was a learning experience that Berube can take into his second season with MacEwan.

"We were in a very tough conference and we didn't get the results," he explained. "We were very competitive. We should have won a couple more games than we did; we just couldn't find the end product. We were competitive in every single game."

Berube will be harkening back to his youth playing days this season in making a switch from wingback to centre-back for the Griffins.

"I played centre back in my youth career – that was my main position. I've always played both – wherever the coach wants me to play, I'll go," he said.

"I'm not the biggest guy, but just learning to play against those guys and not backing away from any challenges. Wanting to get in their face and be as tough as them. Just playing to your advantages – that's what I'm going to try to do this year."

Griffins head coach Adam Loga has noticed both players have come in at a high level in preseason so far, which includes a 1-0 win over King's University in an exhibition match last Saturday. Orgnero scored MacEwan's lone goal off an assist from Stefan Gajic, while rookie goalkeeper Mason Perras earned the clean sheet.

"They see another level," said Loga of the USL2 experience. "I know the coaches down in Calgary – Ryan Gyaki, I worked with at MRU, and Leon Hapgood. They've definitely helped his development. Hopefully we get a more polished version of Everett. Hopefully he's improved and we reap the rewards from their teachings and their hard work that they put into their program and their players.

"Evan's come into camp and has done very well," he added. "We've moved him to a new position, and he's done well there. He has improved. It's noticeable. I think a lot of that, too, can come from comfort and familiarity. Coming from Winnipeg, leaving home, moving provinces, moving schools, it's a bit to handle for a young man at times. But right now, there's familiarity, he's comfortable and it's showing in his play."

Loga himself is coming off an uplifting off-season experience as he recently led Team Alberta to a gold medal at the Western Canada Summer Games. He teamed with coach Chris McKaig to lead the Wild Rose squad to the top of the podium after a 2-1 win over Team Manitoba in Swift Current, Sask. earlier this month.

"It was definitely a great challenge and obviously a successful one," he said. "It was a different vibe being the favourite with a target on your backs and having a crew for literally less than two weeks. It's a bit different than having a program where you're developing student-athletes through a five-year period."

The Griffins will also head to Lethbridge on their opening weekend of the new Canada West season, visiting the Pronghorns on Sunday (2:15 p.m., Canada West TV).

MacEwan's home opener is set for Sept. 7 when they welcome the Calgary Dinos (2:30 p.m., Clareview Field, Canada West TV).