Renewed focus on strong defensive play leads Griffins to 1-1 draw at Golden Bears

MacEwan's Nicholas Luczkiewicz blocks a ball by Alberta's Rilind Idrizi on Saturday (Don Voaklander photo).
MacEwan's Nicholas Luczkiewicz blocks a ball by Alberta's Rilind Idrizi on Saturday (Don Voaklander photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – With a concerted effort to clean up their goals against, the Griffins men's soccer team carved out a hard-fought 1-1 tie with the nationally-ranked Alberta Golden Bears on Saturday afternoon at Foote Field.

The Griffins had allowed 13 goals in their last three games – including 3-2 and 4-3 losses at Victoria and UFV last weekend – so the defensive effort was front and centre in MacEwan's first result in Canada West play since a Sept.10 win over Calgary.

"We played well," said head coach Adam Loga. "Obviously, there were really good opportunities on both sides. Overall, the team played well. 

"Most importantly, we wanted to fix the defensive phases and not concede three or four goals like last weekend. We did that today and proved if you can keep the ball out of your net, you're going to get some results."

MacEwan improves to 2-5-1 – a point back of Calgary for the final playoff spot in the Prairie Division with a game in hand – while Alberta is now 5-1-2, solidly second in the division and on track to get a home playoff date. 

After Alberta's Prince Amanda, a former Griffins recruit, opened the scoring 33 minutes into the contest, super-charged MacEwan rookie Philip Masri struck for his fourth of the campaign to tie it right before the half.

"It was a set piece just before half – similar to how we (conceded) late against Fraser Valley," said Loga of a midfield free kick by Jakob Sievert. "We just clipped it into the box. It was kind of a scramble, and Phil was able to get on the end of it and poke it by (the keeper)."

The rest was up to MacEwan's stronger defensive structure and the play of goalkeeper Marko Ilich, who was named the Griffins' MVP on the day with six saves.

"Marko played well and communicated well," said Loga. "Whichever way you look at it, defending starts at the front and ends at the back, and vice-versa. 

"He was a pillar for us out there today."

MacEwan has now tied Alberta six times in regular season matches since they joined the conference in 2014 but are still searching for that elusive first win.

They nearly had it on Saturday with some near misses in tight that would have lifted them to a victory. Not that Alberta didn't also rue some opportunities missed at the other end, but three points were just one play away for the Griffins.

"I think Marty (Fenger-Andersen, head coach) on the other side would say the same thing," said Loga. "We've got to finish, we've got to bury. We had some great chances. We had a breakaway late, and we had a near miss from the foot of the goal line. 

"We just need to bear down on our chances. They don't come often, and we've got to make sure we capitalize on them."

The cross-town rivals will meet again on Wednesday in a makeup game from Sept. 2's postponed contest (4 p.m., Edmonton Scottish, Canada West TV).