University of Alberta Golden Bears men's soccer team

The University of Alberta Golden Bears men’s soccer team survived a last-minute push from the Saskatchewan Huskies, as the Golden Bears held on to beat the Huskies 2-1 on Saturday, Sept. 1, at Field 7 inside Nutrien Park.

“We just have to find a balance. We’re creative, we’re dynamic, we can cause problems, but we have to be able to play both sides of the ball,” said Huskie head coach Bryce Chapman. “We can’t keep giving up two goals a game and putting ourselves behind the eight-ball like that.”

With the win, Alberta remain undefeated through two matches, while Saskatchewan falls to 1-2-0 on the season.

Striker Ajeej Sarkaria fired in both goals for the Golden Bears, with Easton Ongaro registering two assists.

For the Huskies, a pair of rookies continued their hot start, with Tobi Ojo scoring his third goal in as many games and Nikolas Baikas picking up his league-leading fifth assist of the season.

The Huskies came out of the gates firing, and had plenty of opportunities to get on the board in the early get-go, but were unable to capitalize after Tyler Redl failed to find the back of the net after catching Golden Bears goalkeeper Connor James off his line.

After a sluggish start, the Golden Bears picked up their pace and got on the board in the 25th minute, when Sarkaria found the top corner after a blocked shot found its way to down to the striker, who made no mistake, pouncing on the opportunity and putting his team in front.

Huskie goalkeeper Greg Buckley made two big-time saves in the 29th and 30th minutes, stopping a strike from inside the six-yard box and another curling cracker from outside the box, keeping the Huskies within striking range in a one-goal game.

After a whipped-in free kick from outside the box off the foot of Baikas went unfinished, Alberta was able to pounce on the counter-attack, catching the Huskies with numbers up, allowing Sarkaria to bury his second goal of the half, putting his club up by two.

In the 62nd minute, second-half substitute Ojo, made an instant impact off the bench as he rifled a rolling cross off a corner kick from Baikas into the net, pulling the Huskies back within one.

Unfortunately for Saskatchewan, that was as close as they would come as they fell just short of an equalizer and were unable to knot the game at two, despite a flurry of looks at goal in the final minutes of the match.

Chapman highlighted a pair of rookies after the game for their strong play in the team’s turnaround second half effort.

“I thought Mason Ogoke had a great game as a first year, he did a lot of great work on both sides of the ball, he got ahold of the ball and created well,” said Chapman. “Tobi came in and got another goal which got us back on the front foot.”

With his two-goal game, Sarkaria broke the Golden Bears career all-time conference scoring record in only his third year with the program.

Alberta assistant coach Marty Andersen made a note of the impact Sarkaria has had for his club both on and off the field.

“Ajeej is not only a leader in the dressing room and on the field but having broken that record, he’s obviously a player we look to affect the game with his goals and assists,” said Andersen. “He does it week and week out, which is why he’s had the privilege of breaking that record.”

Andersen pointed out that he was pleased to come away with three points against a rival on the road.

“It was a tale of two halves. I thought we were pretty good in the first half and were able to keep the ball a little bit, but Saskatchewan really gave us a lot of pressure in the second half and we were able to soak it up, fortunately for us.

“We weren’t able to find a third goal but we are very happy because we know how good this Huskies team is and how much they can push forward, so we’re happy to come out of here with a win,” said Andersen.

The matchup served as the third annual Bateman Cup, which honours the legacy of Reginald Bateman, a former English professor at the University of Saskatchewan who died in the line of duty in the First World War. The game also commemorates the first ever university soccer game played by the Saskatchewan Huskies, which took place against the Alberta in 1911.

Both teams will take the pitch for their second games in as many days, as the Huskies will battle the MacEwan Griffins at 4 p.m. on Sept 2nd on Field 7 at Nurtien Park. Meanwhile, the Golden Bears will travel back west into Lethbridge to take on the Pronghorns at 2:15 p.m.