August 17, 2017

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Soccer squad moving on to semifinals

Josh Munoz didn’t exactly use his head on a first-half flub, but put his noggin to good use on a brilliant play late Thursday afternoon for Manitoba’s male soccer squad.

The hosts are moving on to the semifinals of the 2017 Canada Games male soccer event after a thrilling 2-1 triumph over a hardy New Brunswick team at a jam-packed Ralph Cantafio Soccer Complex.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Manitoba's Max Dragojevic (right) and New Brunswick's Ethan Kenel fight for possession in the Canada Games Men's Soccer quarterfinal Thursday.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Manitoba's Max Dragojevic (right) and New Brunswick's Ethan Kenel fight for possession in the Canada Games Men's Soccer quarterfinal Thursday.

Manitoba meets Alberta tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the same venue. Alberta beat B.C. on penalty kicks to advance.

Munoz scored a beauty in the second half on a header that found the far corner to snap a 1-1 tie. But the 17-year-old recent graduate of Glenlawn Collegiate was still kicking himself 20 minutes after the game for a mistake he made in the 34th minute that sparked the Maritimers to a 1-0 lead.

Let’s let him describe the ugly play.

"I put the ball down for a free kick and I look over and see just three black (Manitoba) shirts. I didn’t see one of their guys behind our guys. I heard someone calling, so I just played the ball," he said. "I had to kick it 20 or 30 yards but I didn’t hit it hard enough and the guy just ran on it to the goal and scored. Easy for him, no chance for our goalie (Svyatoslav Artemenko).

"It makes you feel heartbroken, especially thinking that now we need two goals to score and it’s all on me. Just a brain fart, a lack of focus."

Max Dragojevic, 18, tied the game with less than a minute left in the first half on a pretty passing play with Anatoli Leveille, slipping behind a defender, breaking in alone and sliding the ball through the keeper’s feet.

In the second half, the clubs were deadlocked until the 54th minute, when Manitoba was given a free kick deep in New Brunswick territory. That’s when Munoz — who is heading to Mount Royal University (Calgary) in the fall to study and play soccer for the Cougars — found redemption.

He showed courage reliving the bad, so let’s let him recount the good.

"We get a free kick deep in their half, the ball comes in and I beat my defender, I just head it from the back post across goal and it manages its way in, bottom left corner. (The keeper) is going one way and the ball goes back across," he said.

"It was a great feeling. I’ve never felt that way before.

"I made up for my mistake, and now the team just had to finish the game strong. We just kept fighting and kept our heads high. We knew the goals were going to come and we got the bounces and they found their way into the net."

Manitoba remains unbeaten at the Games following a 5-0 rout of the Yukon on Tuesday and a gritty 0-0 draw with powerful Quebec on Wednesday in the preliminary round.

Quebec defeated Newfoundland-Labrador 4-0 on Thursday to advance to the semifinal against Ontario.

Leveille, 16, who also graduated from Glenlawn in June, said the raucous pro-’Toba crowd really provided a boost to the club, and they made certain to head to the sideline and celebrate the crucial victory with friends and family.

But he stressed making the final four only signals a job partially complete.

"Our goal is to get gold. It feels good to have the win here, but we have to keep playing our game, perform good and, hopefully, we’ll get there," said Leveille, who was born in Ethiopia and adopted by a Winnipeg family 10 years ago.

Artemenko wasn’t tested often, but made a couple of tremendous saves, including back-to-back stops just two minutes after the go-ahead tally by Munoz.

Manitoba head coach and local soccer legend Tony Nocita said his keeper was outstanding.

"He’s fantastic, he’s our No.1 for a reason and he’s done so well," said the longtime member of the old Winnipeg Fury pro team.

"He’s doing his job. They’re all doing their jobs. They thrive on this kind of stuff, so it’s great to see them actually confirm and validate what they’ve trained to do."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @WFPJasonBell

Read more by Jason Bell.

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