Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Despite the uphill challenges facing the MacEwan Griffins men's soccer team on Friday night, they believe.
The Griffins will attempt to beat the top team in Canada West's Pacific Division – 4-1-1 UBC-Okanagan – without four starters due to suspensions. The Heat will also have the advantage of playing on their home pitch where they've already scored huge victories over UNBC, Victoria and UBC this season.
The 1-2-1 Griffins will be missing three starting defenders – Michael Ho, Zach Rochat and Zibusiso Moyo – and star striker Kapri (Marcus) Simmons for the match (8:30 p.m. MT, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).
Still, they believe.
"I think we've proven that aside from our record – where we were a bit unfortunate and beat ourselves a little bit here and there – I think we've done very well this season," said head coach Adam Loga. "The belief is there in the room and amongst the guys. We know we can dance with any team in Canada West."
They demonstrated it last Sunday by becoming the first team this season to lead against undefeated Mount Royal University – taking a 1-0 advantage early before playing the final 56 minutes a man short due to an early red card to Moyo and eventually falling 2-1 as a result. Simmons and Rochat also received reds late in the game, while Ho picked up his third yellow of the season to accumulate their suspensions.
No question these have been stormy waters for the young Griffins team to navigate early in the season, but, if anything, the experience has galvanized their purpose.
"We've had our hiccups so far this year and we will continue to have growing pains, but the lads have been coming together," said Loga. "In times like these, we just become closer. As a staff, we can't be happier with how they bounce back from these types of these situations."
The good news for the Griffins is Simmons, Moyo and Ho are all eligible to return for the second half of this weekend's road trip – Saturday at 1-1-2 Thompson Rivers University (8:30 p.m. MT, Canada West TV presented by Co-op). Rochat won't be back until MacEwan's Sept. 21 game vs. UBC.
"Everyone on the B.C. side is going to be a good test and everyone in this conference is going to be a good test," said Loga. "It will be nice to get Mikey, Zi and Marcus back for TRU. They'll be back hungry and fresh and that will solidify our back four and up front. It will be good to get them back and see what they can do. Hopefully we can nick some points on the road here."
MacEwan will also have the services of newly-eligible defensive midfielder Abass (Toby) Ajibade, who offers an intriguing skill-set and leadership element to the squad.
"He brings some maturity to the group," said Loga. "We're obviously a young team, but he's a little bit older. He's from Winnipeg and played at a very high level, similar to Everett (Orgnero), in USL2.
"He'll bring some added maturity to the group. He's fit in well and has been waiting to get some action, so he'll be hungry."