Ready for the national spotlight

Richmond's Jason Roberts in goal as UBC hosts USports national men's soccer championships starting on Thursday

A season of which he has had the goalkeeping spotlight all to himself will culminate with Jason Roberts trying to help the UBC Thunderbirds win their record 13th national championship on home turf.

The fourth-year Richmond FC product has thrived in a starting role with the high-flying Thunderbirds that will take a 17-4-2 record into the eight-team tournament and is fresh off winning their second straight Canada West Championship last weekend. Roberts has yet to lose in 14 starts (12-0-2) and his 7.5 shutouts ranks top 10 all-time in Canada West regular season play.

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The McMath graduate will be looking to add to his impressive totals on Thursday (6:30 p.m.) when UBC opens play against the Carleton Ravens at Thunderbird Stadium. The USports Championships also features York, Montreal, New Brunswick, Cape Breton, Quebec Montreal and CanWest runner-up Trinity Western. The championship game goes on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Roberts is one of six Richmond players in the UBC program, joining Caleb Clarke, Riley Pang, Rylan Sangha, Theo Lorenz and Liam Robinson.  Roberts was named to the Canada West Second All-Star Team, along Pang and Clarke.

“This is something we have been building towards and are really looking forward to,” said Roberts. “Once (head coach) Mike (Mosher) found out we were hosting nationals, he definitely started to work the phone (to bring in additional talent). But we also have a lot of fifth-year guys too who have really put in the time to be in this position.

“We were fortunate that we got to host Canada West (playoffs) as well so we are really comfortable with playing at home and being in familiar surroundings in front of our own fans is definitely going to help a lot.”

Roberts came through Richmond F.C.’s Metro program before joining Fusion F.C. when the B.C. Premier Soccer League was launched. He still had another season of youth soccer when he committed to UBC. To better prepare him for the transition, he skipped his final year in U18 and played in the Vancouver Metro Soccer League’s premier division with Richmond FC Hibernian. He will re-join his hometown club once UBC season’s has concluded.

“At the time, UBC was losing all three goalkeepers to graduation so there was definitely an opportunity to play right away,” recalled Roberts who was part of the 2015 recruiting class along with Ottawa native Chad Bush and Aman Thind. “There is a night and day difference between youth and university soccer. I thought playing a year up in senior men’s would have me better prepared.”

Roberts made 11 starts in his second-year before Bush got the bulk of work in 2017 for what proved to be his final season.

UBC’s dominate run has included some matches where Roberts has seen little action. That changes dramatically this week with a steady diet of the top teams in the nation.

“Sure you would like three straight shutouts and no shots on goal but that’s not realistic at this stage,” added Roberts. Trinity is a good team and we saw that in the CanWest final. I’m looking forward to the challenge ahead and I know I got a great backline in front of me.”

Roberts is working towards his teaching degree and will be returning to the Thunderbirds in 2019 for his final season of eligibility.

Corner kicks…

Forward Montana Leonard had a leading role in the Calgary Dinosaurs clinching a berth in the USports women’s national championships in Ottawa. The McMath grad set-up both goals as Calgary dug deep for a 2-1 semi-final victory over UBC in the CanWest playoffs. Calgary played much of the game with only 10 players after an early red card.

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