Big saves, great chances feature in Griffins' 1-1 home-opener draw with rival Golden Bears

Michael Ho tracks down a ball against the Golden Bears on Saturday. He was named MacEwan's player of the game (Robert Antoniuk photo).
Michael Ho tracks down a ball against the Golden Bears on Saturday. He was named MacEwan's player of the game (Robert Antoniuk photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – The MacEwan Griffins men's soccer team was left with two potential sides to the coin after a 1-1 draw with cross-town rival Alberta in their home opener on Saturday afternoon at Clareview Stadium.

On one hand, they were fortunate to get a point after the Golden Bears dominated the second half, finished the game with an 18-9 shot advantage (9-5 on goal) and went 5-0 on corner kicks.

On the other hand, MacEwan held a 1-0 lead in the contest on rookie Alvin Mazaheri's stunning strike on the final play of the first half.

Unfortunately, they couldn't hold onto it after Alberta's Ajeej Sarkaria evened the score in the 63rd minute with the 38th goal of his Canada West career, putting the electric striker just one shy of the conference record.

"We thought we could definitely pull off a win," said MacEwan head coach Adam Loga. "We knew they would have more of the ball in the second half, so we just adjusted some things.

"Unfortunately, our MVP of the game had to step out with a cramp in a situation there. They capitalized when he was off the park."

That would be defender Michael Ho, who was all over the field at his fullback position, continually frustrating Bears' forwards with his trademark tenacity.

"Just hunger, will and grit – that's what he brings every time," said Loga of the fifth-year who was forced from the pitch with a cramp for 15 minutes in the second half. "He's a very good 1 v 1 defender as we know. He's just a sparkplug for us. He just brings energy. We're just very blessed to have him."

Ho also set up Mazaheri's opening goal, sending him in on a partial break in stoppage time of the first half and the Copenhagen, Denmark product spun a strike inside the left post past sprawling Alberta goalkeeper Liam Collens.

"Amazing," said Loga of the goal that cleared the Griffins' bench in celebration. "Always good to see the ball go in. We were very happy. We're getting close to closing this gap against our rivals, so hopefully we keep going."

Mazaheri almost scored again in the 62nd minute after lunging in the air to get a foot on a pass from Rakan Yassin before volleying the ball over the bar.

Ali Yildiz looks for an opening against the Golden Bears on Saturday (Robert Antoniuk photo).

However, Alberta had more dangerous chances and likely would have walked away with a victory if not for some spectacular saves by Griffins' rookie goalkeeper Josh Stayko.

In the 23rd minute, he laid out for a huge diving stop on a ripper from Jake Bosch. But his save off Sarkaria in the 65th drew gasps from the crowd after the former FC Edmonton striker got all of a one-timer from 10 feet away only to be denied. On the rebound, Alberta's Rilind Idrizi looked like he had a sure goal, but defender Evan Berube made a game-saving stop on the line.

"We were against it," said Loga. "Stayko did very well. He did his job. We need him to make a couple big saves a game to keep us in it and he did that."

Stayko finished with seven saves and a tidy 0.875 save percentage, while Collens stopped four for Alberta.

Both teams are now 0-0-1 on the opening weekend of the campaign. They rivals will meet in a rematch on Sunday at Foote Field (2 p.m., Canada West TV presented by Co-op).