Football’s a funny old game. Jimmy Greaves told me that every Saturday for weeks when I was a kid.
In 2014 and 2015, the Whitecaps made the MLS playoffs, then crashed out at the first hurdle. The lingering feeling come season end was one of disappointment. Last year they didn’t make the playoffs, but they thumped Portland Timbers 4-1 in the last game of the season, ending their rivals postseason hopes. Supporters were jubilant.
The key thing is to send fans home happy. With a smile on their face and memories to cherish, making them want to come back next season and already looking forward to the next campaign.
TSS Rovers managed to do that at Swangard Stadium on Wednesday night, beating Seattle Sounders U23 3-2 thanks to a stoppage time winner, in a victory that ended the Sounders postseason hopes.
“What more can you ask for?” TSS head coach Colin Elmes told AFTN after Wednesday’s match. “I said to the guys, look we’ve played seven games here up to tonight. We’ve won three, drawn three, and lost one. In three of the games that we drew or won, we came back, and one of them we came back with ten men after 25 minutes into the game.
“I said, you’ve built something here. Don’t let this fall on the last day. Then I said, Seattle were still in the hunt here [for a postseason place]. They had to win tonight. Would you like to ruin that for them?”
And ruin it they did, even if they did make hard work of it and give supporters an emotional rollercoaster of a night.
Goals from Connor Hildebrandt and Daniel Davidson had TSS Rovers two goals up and comfortable at half time. They’d been the better team and could have had more. A nice season-ending thrashing looked on the cards, but then Seattle made some impact subs, and two of them, Vincent McCluskey and Stian Sandbekkaug, fired the Sounders back level with 12 minutes of the match still remaining.
It felt inevitable that the visitors would now go on and get the winner, but the Rovers, with only 14 available players on the night, dug in, held their resolve and then went on to snatch a famous victory in stoppage time when Matteo Polisi slotted home a Ryan Dhillon cross.
“We made it interesting for ourselves again, of course,” Elmes joked. “What is it they say? Two-nil is the worst lead in football. After the half we said first five minutes, nothing, then we’ll go in ten minutes increments.
“They had to win that game and we knew that they were going to test us, the way that Calgary did in the first game. But when you have 14 active players and three midfielders playing in your back four, that was pretty damn good. Kerman Pannu, oh my god, he was fantastic tonight.”
Pannu was excellent throughout. Our Man of the Match. The front three of Dhillon, Davidson, and Zach Verhoven also clicked, especially in the first half, and you were left wondering just how good this team could have been if injuries hadn’t ravaged the squad and they had proper time to gel together and find their chemistry.
Elmes agreed, but was happy the team finished with a bang. There was one element of regret, however.
“We wanted to give poor Hicksy a clean sheet,” Elmes told us. “That didn’t quite work out unfortunately. The subs they made changed the game. We clearly, unfortunately, with our eight injuries and one suspension and one player attempting to find a spot in Europe, didn’t. With about 20 left, the boys were getting tired, but fantastic for them.”
TSS Rovers finish their inaugural season with a record of three wins, three draws, and eight defeats from their 14 matches. A points deduction for fielding an ineligible player in the first game of the season, sees them finish in last place in the table on nine points, three behind fifth placed Victoria Highlanders.
Considering the spate of injuries the team has had since the very first game, it’s not been a bad first outing.
“Proud of them,” Elmes said of his players. “I know they’re very happy. What a great finish for us and for all the people that came out tonight. Good crowd again and the Swanguardians were fantastic. Great way to end it up. We’ll do a wrap up later on, but to have only lost one game here of the eight games we played here, that’s a pretty good thing to build off of.”
There’s been highs, there’s been lows, and there’s been a lot of learning on the job for Elmes and Will Cromack. But now that it’s over, after what’s felt like a whirlwind ten weeks, is the overriding feeling one of being glad that that’s it all done or are they left wanting some more?
“Well, Willie and I have been doing pretty well everything,” Elmes told us. “Clearly we’ve built a good volunteer group for the stadium presentation, but I had two full sets of dirty kit on my garage floor the other day. People are like, you’ve got to delegate, but you’ve got to understand what all of this is before you can delegate. If we delegated at the beginning of this year, it would have been abdication, and frankly, I don’t think it would have rolled the way we wanted it to.
“We’ve been in this game a long time, teaching players. You’ve got to go through something once and now we’ve been through it and made a ton of notes. We’ll have a debrief here in the next week or two.”
And although the season may just be finished, plans are already underway for building next year’s squad.
“We’ve got a pretty good idea of how we need to make this thing roll next year,” Elmes added. “The late start in January. The snow. The selection of players, some sight unseen. All that goes away now and we’re able to go out in the fall, watch some university soccer.”
One thing is certain. TSS Rovers will not be shifting from their ethos of Canadians for Canadians. That’s their philosophy and also their USP. But whereas this year’s group was focussed on local, British Colombian talent, Elmes indicated that moving forward, the net will be cast wider, to look at top Canadian talent from outside of BC.
“We’ve already reached out to some people that I know that are in different parts of this country,” Elmes revealed. “[People] that I’ve coached in the past and are in the higher levels of the game, to look at recruiting players, not just from here but from across the country.
“It’s already begun. It kind of began two weeks ago. We were kind of like, okay, this is what we need to do and stuff. We’ll take a little bit of a breather now. Then in the next couple of weeks we’ll sit down and go through from A to Z and figure out what needs to happen next.”