Well I should have known better than to pick the defending Provincial Champions to be upset in the first round. Club Inter’s win on the island ruined my perfect bracket after going 7/7 to start the tournament. The good news is, if you thought the first round had some exciting match ups, wait until you see what the second round has on tap!
For those not familiar with my column, I am largely just pulling this stuff out of thin air. I try to find whatever information is readily available online, but ultimately I am just trying to generate some interest in local soccer in BC. If I have omitted or overlooked facts that you consider relevant to your team or league, it’s not done intentionally…get over it!
BCT Rovers Tigers United (VMSL) v Pegasus FC (VMSL)
[Friday April 27 – Newton Athletic Park Field 1, Surrey – Kick off 8.30pm]
How is this for an intra-league clash to kick the round off? A Surrey derby between the VMSL’s first and second placed teams. Both sides needed more than 90 minutes to get past opponents from other leagues in their first round matches. Pegasus found a late winner to edge Port Moody from the FVSL 1-0 last Friday, then on Saturday, Rovers had to battle to break through against a staunch Vic West side and needed a late equalizer before dispatching the VISL boys 2-1 after 120 minutes.
Now these two sides will meet for a third time this season and the atmosphere is likely to be top class with plenty of supporters out on what is forecast to be a delightfully mild Friday night at Newton. Not only will a berth in the semi-finals, and the trip to the Island that it will bring along with it thanks to an all VISL match up in the other quarter final in this half of the draw, be on the line, but so too are local bragging rights.
The last time these two sides met, a 0-0 final meant that Rovers got to clinch the VMSL trophy at the expense of their local rivals. The first meeting between the two saw Pegasus hand Rovers their first loss of the campaign with a 2-1 win, after the Tigers had started the season 9-0-0. Further dropped points by the league leaders the following week when they drew against Croatia meant that Pegasus were able to pull level atop the table with their win over CCB. Unfortunately, the 2016 Provincial Champions would slip up the next week against then bottom of the table Chile and they would never catch their neighbours again.
It was not all straightforward though as Rovers did trip up when they were within touching distance of the title, losing to Coquitlam at the end of January, and this opened the door for Pegasus, especially with a looming six-pointer between the sides still on the schedule. Instead, however, Peg were once again unable to seize the initiative, failing to win for three weeks, drawing Croatia and losing back to back games against Inter and West Van, which put Rovers in a position to clinch first place with just a single point against their local rivals.
Both these teams and their players know each other very well. The most prominent connection between the two sides is Chetan “CJ” Jhooty who was part of that Provincial Cup winning 2016 Pegasus side. He played with Peg at Nationals the following season before making the jump to Rovers for this year. There is plenty of talent to go around between the two teams as well, with veteran VMSL players on each squad. Pegasus have leading scorer Azad Palani as well as long time stalwart Javid Khan. On the other side Rovers boast the Dhillon’s, Pavi and Ryan, along with veteran Cam Hundal.
Both teams have an X-factor player who can win a game by himself. For Pegasus, that is former Whitecaps Residency product Sahil Sandhu. Sahil was in fine form for the Surrey boys against Port Moody, leading the majority of their attacks and eventually doing the spade work to set up the winning goal. For Rovers, their talisman is former Toronto FC man Nick Soolsma. Soolsma finished second in league scoring again this year with 16 goals on the season and he had the winner in extra time to ensure the VMSL Champions did not crash out at the first hurdle.
This match is a case of “been there”, versus “wants to get there” as Pegasus have won the title before in 2016, as mentioned, but as well in 2011 and in 2004 when they would go on to become National Champions. That 2004 team was the last time British Columbia has won the Challenge Trophy, awarded to Canada’s Men’s National Soccer Champion, and Rovers Tigers surely have designs on putting an end to that drought. They will have to get through Pegasus however, and that will not be easy. This one could go either way, but I’ll tip the league champs to get the job done in their pursuit of a Provincial title.
Coastal FC (FVSL) v Club Inter (VMSL)
[Saturday April 28 – South Surrey Athletic Park Field 3 – Kick off Noon]
This one is a rematch three seasons in the making. Coastal finally get another shot at Inter after they felt it was only the finest of margins that kept them out of a Provincial Cup final back in 2015. Back then Coastal were known as North Delta SC, before their ill-fated foray into the VMSL saw them miss out on this competition for two straight seasons. On that day three years ago, the then Fraser Valley Champions were edged by Inter on penalties.
The “Italians”, who are never ones to back down from head games and often go be beyond just flirting with boundaries of sportsmanship, will I am sure be quick to remind their opponents of how that match finished, along with their pair of meetings last season when North Delta finished bottom of the VMSL Premier Division before their move to Coastal and back to the FVSL. In fact, the head games for their first round match began online a few days in advance of Inter’s trip to Gorge last weekend as they took to Twitter to troll their opponents. Gorge took the bait and responded, which made Inter puff their chests out all the more when they were up 2-0 inside a couple of minutes of the kick off en route to a 3-0 win.
Presumably, Inter will begin the cyber warfare on Coastal, and quite likely the FVSL as a whole, in the coming days, looking to spark a reaction. Inter always seem to play better when they can have a chip on their shoulder and really rub it in their opponents face. There will certainly be plenty of bad blood, bad attitudes, and healthy challenges come this Saturday at South Surrey Athletic Park.
The defending champs will continue to be without one of their game breakers in Milad Rahmati, who had his suspension handed down by BC Soccer this past week for his role on and off the pitch in an ugly incident during and following Inter’s Imperial Cup semi-final loss to Rino’s. Contrary to a rumour floating around, Rahmati’s seven month suspension is not exclusive of the Provincial Cup, meaning that he will not be taking part in this match. As they proved in their opening fixture, however, the Vancouver boys have plenty of other weapons like Liam Miller and leading scorer Milad Mehrabi who are capable of propelling them to victory.
Coastal would do well to stay focused solely on themselves as they get ready for their toughest test of the season. Inter might be less than sporting, but they have proven that they know how to play, especially when the results matter most. The FVSL Champions have already seen off another VMSL side, beating Croatia 3-1 in their opening fixture. The match was far from straightforward though, with the home side falling behind early and struggling to contain their Vancouver visitors. Eventually, through a series of fortunate breaks and good tactical adjustments, the FVSL side wrested the initiative away and turned the scoreline around.
This would have not been possible though without the Man of the Match performance put in by their leading scorer Jake Starheim. Starheim was the best player on the field for either side last weekend, scoring one and assisting on the other two (or scoring a pair if you are being generous and sparing the Croatian defenders blushes by not crediting the third goal as an own goal) and “Big Cat” will likely need a similar level of performance if Coastal are to advance this week.
This match is a classic case of the small band of heroes against the evil empire and each side is very well suited to their roles. With so much at stake, plus the inter-league rivalry, plus the history between the two sides, how could anything other than this be the Match of the Round?! If you are looking for a footy fix this weekend, do yourself a favour and get out to South Surrey for what is forecast to be a great day both weatherwise and on the pitch.
As for a prediction, well it is time for Coastal to stand up and be counted. Beating Croatia was impressive, certainly, but other than vindicating their own self belief, I cannot think that it did much to exorcise their VMSL demons. Inter are a different beast altogether. I made the mistake of betting against the defending champions in the first round and I will not do it again here. Coastal with every chance of a result in this one, but if you want to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man; so until they prove it, I’ll stick with the side that has a track record of performing when the stakes are highest.
Rino’s Tigers (VMSL) v Langley Utd. (FVSL)
Following a protest made to BC Soccer this week, both Rino’s Tigers and Aldergrove United were found to have fielded ineligible players in their first round match, and both teams have been kicked out of the competition. As a result, Langley United have moved into the semi-finals by default.
Cowichan FC (VISL) v Nanaimo United (VISL)
[Saturday April 28 – Sherman Road Turf, Duncan – Kick off 3.00pm]
With a pair of island teams clashing in an intra-league quarter-final, the VISL is assured of a representative in the semis after a dismal performance in 2017 that saw only one of its entrants reach the quarters and none progress to the semis. In fact, the VISL has not has a representative in the semi-finals since Cowichan were there in 2015.
The mid-islanders will be finally hoping that this is their year after four straight seasons leading the way as the VISL Champions but never having had the chance to play in the final for the Province’s biggest prize. After negotiating their way past a strong West Van side in their opener, they are handed a local opponent in the quarter-finals, with the winner set to host their semi-final at home on the Island.
It certainly appears a tantalizing prospect for the VISL’s top dogs, but Nanaimo will be just as keen on the chance to head to the mainland for the final at Swangard in two weeks time. Nanaimo won a Provincial Cup game for only the second time since 2015 when they beat another fellow VISL side, Lakehill, 2-1 in extra time. After going behind 1-0, their talisman and leading goal scorer Darragh Fitzgerald rescued them before then firing home the winner.
Cowichan beat West Van by the same 2-1 scoreline and again it was thanks to a brace; Craig Gorman scored both for the VISL Champions in that one. It was a win that Cowichan certainly relished with their coach Glen Martin having being quoted as saying: “That was probably the highest-ranked team we’ve ever beaten. It wasn’t our biggest win — it’s just the first round —but we haven’t beaten anyone ranked higher than that.”
It would seem that this in an opportunity not to be squandered for either of these sides. As one might expect, Cowichan had the better of things this season against third placed Nanaimo. They won both league meetings by an aggregate score of 3-0 and they triumphed again in the Jackson Cup quarter-finals 1-0. So that’s three games and no goals for Nanaimo against Cowichan this season. Last year, however, Nanaimo got the better of Cowichan in the Jackson Cup final which booked their place in the Provincial Cup. Thus, they know they can beat the champions, they just haven’t done it lately.
Despite that belief, Cowichan are clear favourites to progress from this one and they would do well to put a little bit of extra into it given that they may not get a chance like this again for some time. Island teams have a history of winning this tournament, but their recent champions have all come from the Victoria area. You have to go all the way back to 1934 when Nanaimo City won the title for the last time a team from up-Island lifted the trophy.
Back then it seems that Nanaimo was a hive of soccer prowess, as they won the title as well in 1932 and twice the decade prior when they were back to back champions in 1926 and 1927. It could be a victory 84 years in the making if one of these sides can make it all the way, but there is still a lot of soccer to be played and it must include a win this weekend.
You can find all of this weekend’s fixtures in all the cup competitions on the BC Soccer website
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