Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
-With files from Alberta Athletics
EDMONTON – Bad breaks here and late goals against there put the Griffins on the outside of the playoff picture heading down the stretch of the Canada West men's soccer season.
Unfortunately, their cross-town rival Alberta slammed the door on them with unceremonious ferocity on Sunday, cruising to a 3-0 win at Foote Field that puts MacEwan's post-season hopes on life support.
With only three regular season games remaining, the Griffins (1-7-3) would have to win out and hope the Golden Bears (4-5-2) lose their remaining three contests in order to pass them for the final playoff spot in the Prairie Division.
"We knew going into (the series), we needed a four- to six-point weekend," said MacEwan head coach Adam Loga, whose squad played to a 0-0 tie with the Golden Bears at home at Clarke Stadium on Saturday. "We knew today that we needed a 'W'. Obviously, it makes it very slim, if even possible. It's just unfortunate. Sometimes you don't get the breaks and it didn't seem like we got really any this whole season.
"The boys have learned how to be resilient. For a young team, they're not only important lessons in footie, but also lessons in life. I'm happy with the resilience of them, I'm happy how they've fought through it and even today, there was no quit in them," he added. "With 10 men, down a couple goals, they still fought hard. They showed their character is developing and they're moving in the right direction."
Indeed, the Griffins had little chance of recovering from a 2-0 first-half deficit when Michael Ho was flagged for his second yellow of the contest in the 57th minute. They played the final 33 minutes a man short and gave up a third goal.
"We didn't play the best first half," noted Loga, whose squad conceded a pair of goals to Alberta striker Garry Onyejelem. "We were a bit sluggish and weren't playing our best football.
"Going into the second half, we made some tactical and personnel changes. It was looking all right and then Mikey Ho got a second yellow and we went down to 10 men. It was very early in the second half, which changed the game, obviously, and made it even more difficult to try to go on a run down two with 10 men."
Former Griffins Lahai Mansaray, who had an earlier assist, scored in the 78th minute to put the game to bed.
"We really improved today from yesterday and that was the biggest focus for us," said Golden Bears head coach Martin Fenger-Andersen.
"We competed much harder and we allowed ourselves to get the ball and get possession and we had more guys arriving in the box to create a threat in front of their goal."
Alberta outshot MacEwan 17-11 (10-5 in shots on goal). Liam Collens earned the clean sheet for the Golden Bears, while Seth Johnstone made six saves for the Griffins.
MacEwan has a yet-to-be-announced makeup road game at Calgary (from a Sept. 29 postponement) before home matches against Lethbridge (Oct. 19) and Saskatchewan (Oct. 20) close out the regular season. Alberta visits Mount Royal on Oct. 12 before finishing at home against Saskatchewan (Oct. 19) and Lethbridge (Oct. 20).
If there's a consolation for the Griffins, who have yet to make the playoffs since entering Canada West in 2014, the program is as competitive as it's ever been, and the core group of players are first and second years. Despite their unsightly record, five of their losses were by one goal, the majority of those coming late in tied matches.
"When teams come into Edmonton on away trips, they don't think it's a tough game against U of A and three points against MacEwan," said Loga. "They know they have to go to battle against two solid teams.
"We have to keep growing and somehow get a playoff berth for the program in the near future."