THE Capilano Blues women's soccer team, desperate to get out of last place and into the Pacwest playoff fight, posted a shutout on Sunday afternoon in a crucial matchup against Vancouver Island University.
The only problem for the Blues was that VIU pitched a shutout too. The game ended in a 0-0 draw, keeping Capilano in the basement, three points behind VIU and five points out of a playoff spot with eight games now played in a 14-game season.
The Blues haven't won since a 3-2 victory over Quest in the first game of the season. On Sunday their winless streak stretched to seven games. But a shutout is a shutout - second-year Langara transfer Ariel Anderson picked up the clean sheet in goal for the Blues - and Capilano head coach Darren Rath was looking on the positive side after the game.
"I thought it was actually one of the strongest performances of the season so far," he said. "We started to win knockdowns and control the middle of the park, and when we do that we start to control the game. We were trying to play the ball on the ground instead of just pumping the ball down the field and it made a difference because we started to control more of the game so we didn't have to defend all the time."
Too few goals for and too many goals against have both been problems for the Blues this year - they've scored on average less than one a game and given up 16 in total, highest in the league. The team's problems start right in the middle of the field with some soccer basics, said Rath.
"One, we don't control the middle of the park; two, we don't keep possession of the ball," the coach said in listing off the causes of the team's struggles so far. "When we do those two things, then we play well. And when we're not doing those two things then we spend the rest of the game defending."
Without control of the ball the scoring chances have been few and far between for the Blues, and even then the finishing has not been there to convert those opportunities, said Rath.
"(We) need more in the attacking third and we need to finish more of our scoring opportunities. If you don't score you can't win," he said. "If we create more opportunities we'll score more goals. But we have to win the middle of the park and keep possession of the ball."
Injuries have slowed the team down. Defender Kristi Sharp, a third-year Carson Graham grad who was the team's MVP last year, has missed the entire season and may not play at all this year. The prognosis is the same for defender Victoria Gonzalez-Milroy, a third-year Vancouver native who transferred to Capilano and was expected to play a large role with the team after playing two season of CIS with Queen's University. Other key players have missed time as well but Rath said he wasn't going to let that be an excuse for the team's struggles.
"That's part of sports, unfortunately - that's how life goes," he said. "We're a team and we're going to win and we're going to lose as a team. Everybody has to accept and work hard to excel at their role, whatever role they're asked to do on that particular day."
If the Blues are going to make a playoff push they're going to have to do it soon. This weekend they'll host Quest and Langara in their final home games of the season before heading out on the road for their last four games. They've got four teams to leapfrog in those six games. Now is not the time, however, to make major changes to their approach for these last games, said Rath.
"We'll approach them just like we did every other game - start preparing tomorrow and work hard all week," he said Sunday. "Every game is important. It doesn't matter whether it's the first game of the season, last game of the season - the league is extremely tight. If we can string some wins together than we're right in the mix again. That's our focus and that's got to be our goal. Hopefully the girls will build on their performance today and we can score a couple of goals and hopefully that'll lead to a couple of wins."
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The Blues men are also well behind the Pacwest playoff pack coming into this weekend's games. A second half goal earned the Blues a 11 tie against VIU Sunday but Capilano still sits in sixth place, seven points back of fourth-place Langara for the final playoff spot.
The action begins this Saturday at Capilano with Quest coming to town, women at noon and men at 2 p.m. On Sunday Langara will come calling, women at 1 p.m. and men at 3 p.m.