Ten man Surrey United Firefighters eventually ran out of steam at the 2013 nationals and were overpowered 3-0 by Ottawa side Gloucester Celtic in the Challenge Trophy final.
Surrey had come through an epic penalty shoot-out with Saskatoon HUSA on Sunday to clinch a spot in Monday’s final but found the lively Ontario side too much too handle after losing their captain Vince Stewart to a red card in the 33rd minute.
Surrey continued to do the province proud, battling past both the 2011 and 2012 Champions to reach Monday’s final. The Firefighters had been looking to claim their fifth national title, having won the Challenge Trophy pre merger as Vancouver Firefighters in 1965, 1973, 1983 and 1990.
Held since 1913, the Challenge Trophy is Canada’s national amateur cup. This year’s tournament is being held at Mainland Commons in Halifax, as part of the 100th anniversary of Soccer Nova Scotia celebrations, and is the 91st time that the trophy has been contested.
The trophy is competed for by Provincial/Territory Champions, along with a second team from the host province, with teams split into four groups of three in the initial stages this year.
Surrey United Firefighters became British Columbia’s representatives again after winning back to back BC Provincial Cups with a 1-0 win over West Van in May.
The BC side are currently unbeaten in the new Vancouver Metro Soccer League (VMSL) season, sitting 5th in the league with a win and four draws from their five matches so far. With several players not able to get off work to make the trip, Surrey were forced to bring three 17 year olds with them and two of them, Bhavraj Saran and Karn Phagura found the scoresheet, with Phagura also grabbing the semi final winning penalty.
Monday’s final was Surrey’s fifth game in five days, which is a lot to ask of any team, never mind one missing key players.
In group D alongside the Manitoba and Prince Edward Island representatives, a Saran goal was enough for Surrey to open their campaign with a 1-0 win over Winnipeg Lions on Thursday.
Sherwood-Parkdale Rangers were next up on Friday and Sean Einarsson gave Surrey a 7th minute lead with a header, but the PEI side fought back to lead 2-1 before 17 year old Karn Phagura struck an 89th minute equaliser. The draw would have seen Surrey top the group but Rangers struck a 94th minute winner.
The loss meant that all three teams in the group finished level on points, with Surrey advancing in second place on goal difference. That gave them a tough game in the last eight against the defending champions, Royal-Select Beauport from Quebec.
Goals from Einarsson in the 19th minute and Justin Carvery in the 32nd gave Surrey a crucial two goal lead at the half and they withstood a lot of pressure from the Quebec side, and a 90th minute penalty, to clinch their spot in the semis with a 2-1 win.
After dispatching the 2012 Champs, Surrey faced the 2011 winners, Saskatoon HUSA in Sunday’s semi and what a match it turned out to be.
Saskatoon opened the scoring in the 44th minute before Colin Streckmann struck from just inside the box to tie it up at 1-1. Surrey keeper Andrew Fink came up with a huge acrobatic save in the 87th minute and with no extra time, the game went straight to a deciding penalty shootout.
It was an unbelievable shootout with great saves, cool heads, one of the worst penalties you will possibly ever see and a stream that died at the vital moments.
The shootout seemed like it was going to be a goalkeeping clinic after both teams five initial penalties, with Fink saving two and getting a hand on the two that HUSA scored, and Saskatoon keeper Jeff Dobchuk saving from Streckmann, Vince Stewart and Scott McEachern. It was up to Michael Veszi to try and secure a 3-2 win for Saskatoon and a place in the final, but he pulled his kick way wide and the shootout went to sudden death.
Former Whitecap Steve Kindel made it 3-2 to Surrey before Saskatoon tied it up. Then the CSA stream crashed and died before the decisive kicks! With everyone scrambling around to see what happened, the news finally came through that Surrey had won the shootout 4-3.
It was 17 year old Karn Phagura that scored the winner for Surrey, with Fink producing the match winning save from Abu Okonofua’s kick to see Surrey advance to face the Ontario champs.
Monday’s final started as a close affair and it was hard to separate the teams. The turning point though came in the 33rd minute when Surrey captain Vince Stewart received a straight red for a perceived stamp.
It was always going to be an uphill struggle for the BC side after that. The ten men managed to hold on until the hour mark before three Gloucester Celtic goals in a nine minute spell, all from their half time subs, did the damage and there was no way back for Surrey.
Liam Miller hit the crossbar late on for the Firefighters but they were unable to grab a consolation and the Ottawa side ran out comfortable and deserved 3-0 winners.
It was a disappointing end for Surrey but a great tournament and run to the final, with perhaps the most pleasing aspect being the performances of the three 17 year olds they brought along with them, especially the play of Karn Phagura.
Congratulations on Gloucester Celtic on their first Challenge Trophy win. They fought hard throughout and scored some good goals on the way. It was Ontario’s 16th title, still a long way short of BC’s 39.
The 2014 nationals will take place in Vaughan, Ontario, with British Columbia scheduled to next host the tournament in 2017. Can Surrey make it a threepeat of Provincial Cup wins and get back to the nationals again next year? We’ll find out from April and AFTN will have all the coverage as always.