Early goal against wakes up Griffins, who pummel Pandas 4-1 to take over division's top spot

Abbey Wright is mobbed by teammates after scoring the game-winning goal in Sunday's 4-1 victory over the Alberta Pandas (Jefferson Hagen photo).
Abbey Wright is mobbed by teammates after scoring the game-winning goal in Sunday's 4-1 victory over the Alberta Pandas (Jefferson Hagen photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Fighting for their playoff lives, the Alberta Pandas scored one of the fastest goals in Canada West women's soccer history on Sunday, as McKayla Brault tallied just 18 seconds in.

Silly as it sounds, it might have been the worst thing that could have happened to the visitors.

All it did was serve as a wakeup call for the MacEwan Griffins, who proceeded to score four unanswered goals and steam-roll the Pandas 4-1.

"We know what we're capable of, so it's one of those things where you've got to turn the page pretty quickly because you've still got 89 minutes to play," said MacEwan head coach Dean Cordeiro. "It woke us up. We put sustained pressure on and it didn't take long for us to get level. Then to take the lead before the half, you couldn't ask for better."

With the victory, the Griffins (5-1-0) moved into top spot in the Central Division, dropping the Pandas (2-4-0) into fourth after sweeping all three games against their cross-town rivals this season.

MacEwan is now 6-1-2 against Alberta in regular season matches since they entered Canada West in 2014.

"U of A's a good program, but for us to get a six-point weekend against them and sweep them this year is very important in terms of our table," said Cordeiro. "Jockeying for playoff positioning, it's really put us in a good place at the midway point of the season."

On essentially the first play of the game Sunday, Brault stole the ball in the corner, walked in alone and picked the twine for the game's opening goal.

The momentum should have been with the Pandas after that, especially since the game was likely the last chance they have this season of catching one of the division's top-two spots, guaranteed to make the playoffs.

But almost immediately after, it was the Griffins who started an onslaught, firing 20 shot attempts (10 on goal) in the opening half alone. They would have drawn level in the fourth minute if not for forward Adrienne Poulin stopping Meagan Lemoine on the goal line.

Raeghan McCarthy then sent a laser just millimetres over the bar in the 24th.

And Samantha Gouveia's header was also saved by a defender on the line in the 32nd minute.

Raeghan McCarthy tracks down a ball in front of Alberta's Lauren Murphy on Sunday. She finished with two assists and four shots (Jefferson Hagen photo).

But it was only a matter of time. The Griffins tied the game in the 34th when Lemoine's throw-in from the side of the box – a major weapon for its awe-inspiring distance – was banged home by rookie Nikki Brodeur on the first goal of her Canada West career.

MacEwan went up 2-1 just before the half when Abbey Wright headed home Anna McPhee's corner kick. The defender, who was also so crucial in repelling the Pandas' attack in a 90-minute shift, was named player of the game for the Griffins.

"We didn't select her because she scored," said Cordeiro. "Scoring the goal was the cherry on top. Everything she does in our back line to keep it connected, win balls, stick tackles … she's an amazing 1v1 defender and she's a leader back there. She's come into her own. We're fortunate to have her."

MacEwan scored twice more inside the first eight minutes of the second half to put a hammerlock on the contest.

Lemoine got on the end of a 48th-minute McCarthy pass, caused chaos in the box and chipped it over Alberta goalkeeper Ashley Turner for her first goal of the season.

Then half-time sub Grace Mwasalla took a great pass from McCarthy and slammed it home in the 53rd minute from the middle of the box for her second of the campaign.

"We saw a glimpse of the future with seven first years playing, but I think it just goes to show our strength in numbers," said Cordeiro. "Every game this season except for one we've got every single positional player in and for substantial time. It just goes to show the quality of the group and how much belief we have in everybody. It's the next person up mentality and I think we saw that on display today."

Alberta had a few late chances but were unable to beat Griffins goalkeeper Bianca Castillo, who finished with five saves. Turner stopped 10 for the Pandas as they were outshot 27-16 (16-6 on goal) in the contest.

The Griffins now head into a bye weekend before hitting the road for a pair of games at the Mount Royal Cougars on Oct. 9-10.