GUELPH, Ont. (U Sports) -- The third-seeded University of Alberta Golden Bears advanced to the U Sports men's soccer semi-final with a 2-0 victory over the defending national champion York University Lions Thursday afternoon at Alumni Stadium in Guelph.
Veteran defender Niko Saler scored both goals for Alberta from dead ball situations, the second coming in the 79th minute to ice the game for the CWUAA champions.
"It's always a challenge," Saler said of meeting the 2015 champs and six seed in the first quarter final. "We were excited to play them and I think they were excited to play us. It was 1 versus 2 in the country the whole way through so it was a good matchup."
Saler gave the Golden Bears a 1-0 lead in the 54th minute from a stunning set piece. Alberta was awarded a free kick at the right corner of the 18-yard box and Saler, a fifth-year graduate student from Lethbridge, Alta., curled a left-footed shot into the top left corner of the net past sprawling keeper Daniel Gosciniak.
"The keeper took a couple steps out and the wind was bringing it back so I thought I would just try stand it up to the back post and either we're crashing into the top corner or it's going in," added Saler, who scored four times in 14 matches during the season.
The Lions were understandably urgent after Saler's opener. York lobbied for a penalty kick when fifth-year midfielder Dena Iezady was taken down in the area in the 61st minute but the referee saw no foul and waved play on. The Lions had another chance in the 65th but a header off of a corner sailed over goalkeeper Connor James' net. Moments after that, James just got his hand on a curling effort from in close.
York had another clear chance in the 69th but Steve Kloutsouniotis could not hit the target after landing on the end of Kyle Crichton pass through the box.
Alberta absorbed all of the Lions' pressure and was rewarded when Saler put in his second of the match on another left-footed free kick that found its way through a sea of players and in behind Gosciniak.
"I question the two calls that they got for free kicks, for sure," said York coach Carmine Isacco. "But that's not it. It's our inability to score. We created chances. We did the hard stuff, we just didn't finish."
The two teams, both of which spent time near the top of the national rankings throughout the regular season, played a scoreless yet entertaining first half. Alberta pressed early but it was York that settled in and began creating the more clear-cut chances by the midway mark of the opening 45 minutes.
Minutes after clearing the ball from a scramble in front of its own net, York forced James into a couple key saves. Alberta responded in the 38th minute with a curling, wind-aided free kick from Bruno Zebie, which Gosciniak parried away beautifully.
UA 0-2: 2
YU: 0-0: 0
1. UA Niko Saler (1), 54th minute
2. UA Niko Saler (2), 79th minute
UA: Connor James (W 0 GA, 3 save, 90:00, 0-0)
YU: Daniel Gosciniak (L 2 GA, 2 save, 90:00, 0-0)
Shots: UA 11, YU 16
Shots on net: UA 4, YU 3
Corners: UA 2, YU 4
Offsides: UA 2, YU 3
Fouls: UA 0, YU 0
Yellow cards: UA Janko Vong (47'), Ajeej Sarkaria(90'); YU Daniel Gogarty (60'), Eddie Lay (72')
Red cards: None
Players of the game:
UA: Niko Saler, UA
YU: Ryan Telfer, YU
Thursday, Nov. 10
11:00 Quarter-final 1: Alberta def York 2-0
13:30 Quarter-final 2: Cape Breton vs. Toronto (SportsCanada.TV)
16:00 Quarter-final 3: UQAM vs. UBC (SportsCanada.TV)
19:00 Quarter-final 4: Guelph vs. Acadia (SportsCanada.TV)
Friday, Nov. 11
11:00 Consolation 1: Loser QF 1 vs. Loser QF 2 (SportsCanada.TV)
13:30 Consolation 2: Loser QF 3 vs. Loser QF 4 (SportsCanada.TV)
Saturday, Nov. 12
11:00 Semifinal 1: Winner QF 1 vs. Winner QF 2 (SportsCanada.TV)
13:30 Semifinal 2: Winner QF 3 vs. Winner QF 4 (SportsCanada.TV)
16:00 5th-place game (SportsCanada.TV)
Sunday, Nov. 13
11:00 Bronze medal (SportsCanada.TV)
14:00 Championship final (SportsCanada.TV)