VMSL 2018/19 Premier Division Season Preview

VMSL 2018/19 Premier Division Season Preview

The new Vancouver Metro Soccer League (VMSL) season kicks off this weekend and we’ll be covering it comprehensively here on AFTN once again from start to finish, with weekly round ups, previews, and of course, our videos from various matches around the lower mainland.

We continue our build up to the new season today with a look at the Premier Division runners and riders, courtesy of Canucks4Ever from the Take The Piss forum.

The new season gets underway on Saturday with all 12 teams in action at Newton Athletic Park in Surrey from noon till 6pm. It’s a Whitecaps bye week, so get out and see some great local, and free, soccer.

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First of all, my Standard Disclaimer:

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, it’s not done intentionally…so get over it!

Plenty of potential story lines to watch this season as the rest of the pack look to charge down VMSL and Provincial Champions, Rovers Tigers. New faces on and off the pitch highlight an off season of change throughout the Metro League’s top flight. Will we see a new champion come February?

(1) BCT Rovers Tigers United

The defending champions have had a quiet off season, relatively speaking, but how much of an overhaul do you really need when you are already the best? Led by player/coach and former TFC striker, Nick Soolsma, the Surrey boys have to be preseason favourites to repeat as champions. Soolsma was runner up for the league golden boot for the second year in a row and he, along with the Dhillon’s, Pavi and Ryan, combined for 37 goals which was as many as Campo Atletico had as a team, and more than Richmond, Westside, EDC, and CCB, scored all season. Back to back VMSL titles seem to be in vogue at the moment, with Coquitlam and West Van having won a pair each preceding Rovers. With Nationals on the horizon in October, it would not be uncommon to see some early season struggles from Tigers as they have one eye on peaking in Saskatchewan come Thanksgiving. Given the structure for the Nationals tournament, they will want a healthy, well rested squad for that gauntlet. Based on their impressive resume, it feels like they may well be the ones to end BC’s drought at the country’s top tournament. After being the new kids on the block with a chip on their shoulder and a point to prove, perhaps they will return from Nationals and the fire will have diminished somewhat, which may open the door to a new contender at the top of the table. Even if that were to happen though, these guys are overflowing with enough talent that they are all but surely going to be in the title conversation come February.

(2) West Van FC

Once perennial title contenders, the former Trollers were left off that shortlist to begin the 2017/18 season a year ago. Their early season form seemed to back up the idea that the program was in a rebuild as they struggled to score goals and were mired in mid-table. However, a 1-0 loss to Inter on November 18 would be their final league loss of the season. While much of the attention was fixated on the title battle in Surrey between Rovers Tigers and Pegasus, the North Shore boys quietly returned to their usual standards. West Van would finish the season on a 7-4-0 run and wind up in third, just six points behind champions Rovers. An Imperial Cup semi-final loss to Croatia and a narrow first round Provincial Cup exit on the Island at the hands of VISL Champions Cowichan will have left a sour taste in the mouths out at Ambleside, but, if they can continue to play at the same level as they finished their last campaign, they should put themselves in a position to write a better ending to this season. Interestingly West Van seem to have moved from their acrimonious home kickoff time at 7:30 on Fridays to a 4pm slot on Saturdays; we’ll see if they can continue to wield their usual home field advantage.

(3) Croatia SC

Croatia have been a young team trending up since they spent the first half of the 2016/17 season in a relegation battle. That hiccup coincided with a migration of several veterans to new pastures and the forging of a new, younger generation to carry the team forward. That being said, it was not uncommon to see talisman Johnny Sulentic taking a starting spot in the centre of midfield last season, though there may have been some games where his vast experience was outweighed by his age catching up to him. Most times, however, he had golden boot winner David Malamura (pictured above) on hand to bail the side out if necessary. Rumours are that Croatia will be adding to their much vaunted offence with FVSL golden boot winner Daniel Davidson, formerly of Abbotsford United and TSS Rovers, lining up alongside Malamura for the 2018/19 campaign. Croatia will be hoping that Davidson can continue to propel them upwards as, after reaching the Imperial Cup final and finishing in fourth, they will surely have their sights set on a title challenge.

(4) Pegasus SFC

Presumably the “S” in SFC now represents a formal partnership with Surrey FC. The Surrey FC website would seem to confirm this as it is splashed with the Pegasus logo as well as a blurb on how they will, evidently, be hosting Nationals in 2021. After finishing runners up last season and missing out on their chances to reel in their local neighbours, Rovers Tigers, what does Peg have in the tank for this year? Is the team mostly remaining together? Or is this move to SFC the signalling of a new era? In truth the Horsemen were beginning to look a bit long in the tooth last season, but they shirked off any doubters and romped to a second place finish before being ousted in a close Surrey derby at the hands of those very same Rovers Tigers on their way to their Provincial Cup win. It will be all to do again for Pegasus especially with young, hungry teams eager to supplant them in the top half of the table. One player who won’t be back is Yassin Essa, who has joined the recruitment drive over at CCB, the third member of the Surrey triumvirate, and no word on if talisman and former Whitecap Sahil Sandhu will be back or if he too has been tempted elsewhere. There are many question marks for this team, but one thing not in question is their pedigree. This is a club of champions and, come first kick, you can bet they will be putting everything they have into it; you just wonder if it will be enough.

(5) CCB LFC United

CCB’s summer recruitment drive has been fierce and they’ve certainly got some big names to show for it. The aforementioned Yassin Essa is over from Pegasus, they plucked Milad Mehrabi from Inter, Victor Blasco from Vic West, as well as Oriol Torres and Daniel Sagno from Rino’s Tigers. They have also added Nic Morello and Robbie Geizen, to go along with their former Whitecaps contingent now playing at UBC comprising of Caleb Clarke, Victory Shumbusho, and Mitch Piraux, plus SFU players Mamadi Camara and Brandon Bassi. After being absent most of last season, long time keeper Luke O’Shea is back to play in goal after backstopping Canada to the Nations Cup final, though his performance in that final hardly covered him in glory. The real question for this group is can they function as a team? There are a lot of big personalities and egos on that list and it will be interesting to see what kind of chemistry they will all form, especially the guys who might not make the starting eleven. They also have quite the array of attacking weaponry, but defensively there are still question marks. Certainly with this amount of talent, CCB will be aiming for much higher than the relegation battles that they have narrowly emerged from the past two seasons. We have seen this show before though, many times, and sometimes the team of hired guns tends to self-destruct. It is likely important for this group to get off to a good start in order to get these guys to buy in and care, as opposed to just turning up when it suits them. A number of their potential key additions won’t be available until after the college season. Huge wild card here, if everything goes right they might just find themselves in a title race come February; if everything goes wrong, then they will be looking to pull off yet another escape act.

(6) Rino’s Tigers

Shaking off the dust of their unceremonious ITC related expulsion from the Provincial Cup, Rino’s Tigers will be looking to bring more consistency to the table this season. When they had their best side available, they looked to be unstoppable and a surprise title push seemed to be on the cards for a while around Christmas. This form led them to an Imperial Cup Championship and a berth in the Provincial Cup; both firsts for the club since their disassociation from Westside roughly a decade ago. Young and hungry, they may be victims of their own structure in a way. Coach Blaise Nkufo is never short on recruits from his much relied upon academy, but most of these kids are still dreaming of playing soccer as a career. Leading scorer Connor MacMillan left before the end of the season last year to try his luck in the Swedish pro set up and others likely have similar ambitions. Rino’s are always in the conversation for top talent though, and this summer the former Ayjal Tigers secured the capture of Provincial Cup Final MVP Elie Gindo from Langley FC of the FVSL. Gindo was a force up top for Langley throughout their run to the final, but is reported to have asked to play as a centreback for Rino’s as he too wants to play professionally and feels that his best chance is as a defender, despite what his record may show otherwise. They also face increased competition for their SFU contingent from teams like CCB and will be desperate to hold on to midfield maestro Matteo Polisi. Assuming he is back, along with a healthy Kristian Yli-Hietanen and Declan Rodriguez, Rino’s have the potential to be a force once more. They have also picked up the top player off relegated Westside FC in Zach Karmel. Rino’s has shown that they have that capability as a squad to beat any team on any day, but it would seem to come down to the question of, is winning the VMSL something that this group actually cares about achieving? Or is it just something to do while they look for a bigger stage to star on?

(7) Coquitlam Metro Ford Wolves

The fall from the top is rarely graceful and Coquitlam certainly learned that the hard way last season. After back to back VMSL championships Metro Ford began last season by posting a woeful 1-1-5 record that saw them all but cede their title before November and left them sitting bottom of the league. They would rally and push Rino’s right to the death for a Provincial Cup spot but, in the end, they would miss out on the tournament for the first time in recent memory. Whether this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, or perhaps change was already in the air in the Tri-Cities, but, whatever the case, the program is under new leadership with Alfredo Valente taking the reigns from Les Krivak. What this means for the squad remains to be seen. Will Valente use the club and CAT system to give new players a look from the U21 team now playing in Division 3 and the Lupi squad who felt frozen out previously and have worked their way up to Division 1? Barring a complete 180 degree spin in culture and direction, one assumes that Metro Ford will still have the services of talisman and goal machine Carlo Basso to rely upon. What of the other old guard though? Indeed, beyond Basso and his almost automatic 15 or so goals, it is a brave new world out towards the Valley and we will have to wait and see where this group fits in.

(8) Club Inter EDC Burnaby

No team has likely undergone more significant changes than Inter. They snatched an opportunity to merge with relegated Chile and have embraced the #EvilEmpire moniker that was bestowed upon them last season as a way-point to guide this new endeavour. Rumours are that the balance of power has shifted from the old guard under the stewardship of the Marrello clan and is now firmly under the control of Moe Forouzan and Claudio Ramirez. Losing players such as top goal scorer Milad Mehrabi to CCB and long time star Milad Rahmati will not have helped the cause and you have to wonder who, if anyone, is going to be able to fill that void. Certainly it would be a surprise if there was a name that jumped out from a relegated EDC side whose top goal scorer only netted six times. Rizal Ganief, who was part of the Chile side that won the Provincial Cup in 2015 (ironically against Inter), has returned to the fold along with Inter veterans Bryan Fong and Michael Nonni, formerly of UBC and Edmonton FC respectively. Will that be enough to keep this team relevant at the top of the league? Their Twitter and Instagram feeds would certainly have you believe it, boasting of preseason results against Coastal and Croatia. Certainly their off-field hype machine is working at its regular levels, but what of the on field product? It may well be that this is the dawning of a new super power in the VMSL and BC Soccer, but they are going to need to put up the results in order to prove it.

(9) NVFC NorVan

Back after two seasons away in Division 1, and three of the last four in the lower tier, NorVan will be looking to establish themselves and get a foothold back in the top flight. They blew the competition away in Division 1 last season, winning the league by 14 points and dropping only five points all season. This is a tight knit group and they will need that camaraderie to carry them through as they step up a weight class. Leading goal scorer Will Kendell will need to find a way to continue to be productive at this level and, while another 20 goal season might be a touch unrealistic to ask in Premier, if he can be even just marginally as effective it should give the North Shore boys the chance to stay up. Being a new team in the league job one is to put enough points on the board to earn another season in the big time; ugly, scrappy, however those points may come. NorVan definitely have the heart for this fight, so look for them to be on the right side of the line come February.

(10) Richmond FC Hibernian

It has been a fairly steady decline for Richmond since their return to Premier in the 2014/15 season and it seems likely that just staying in the league again this year would be the best they can hope for come the end of the campaign. While there is no doubting the pedigree of some of Richmond’s stalwart veterans, they are not getting any younger and the club is in need of a serious injection of youth. Not just young bodies, but young legs that can compete with the best the division has to offer and players like that appear to have eluded Hibs over recent seasons. A superstar or talisman who other teams know they need to deal with every week is the mold that Richmond are searching for, but those players rarely just emerge from the woodwork. With two strong, youthful teams coming up and most of the division strengthening around them, it could well be another long winter for the boys from below sea level.

(11) Guildford FC

At last, after three seasons as bridesmaids, the Surrey boys have reached the big time. Lofty talk of competing in Provincial and National Championships can now finally be put to the test against the cream of the crop in local amateur soccer. Guildford would do well to remember to walk before they run as, hopefully, their Division 1 experience should have taught them. If the second tier was difficult, it stands to reason that this one will be an even bigger challenge. Noted for their mid-season lulls, any string of bad results or disinterest could easily prove fatal. There is rarely much to choose between safety and relegation in this league and you cannot help but wonder if Guildford will be able to stomach a season where the majority of the results are likely to go against them in order to be able to seize the crucial opportunities that will present themselves at some point. Look for a few early season big results (eg: on opening day against a new Inter/Chile side that may still be finding its feet) but the real measure of this team will come in the New Year.

(12) Campo Atletico

Campo exceeded almost everyone on the outside’s expectations last year by not only winning a game, but managing to just eek their heads above the cut line and survive for another season. Well done to them, but it would seem that they are likely going to need to pull the same rabbit out of that hat this year. What Campo lacks, since the departure of their enigmatic leader who led them to promotion originally, is direction, vision and guidance. They certainly have some skilled players in their stable, such as leading goal scorer Ivan Colin. The problem is they lack the structure needed to thrive at the top level. It is rumoured that Zico Najm who ran Estrella de Chile’s academy as technical director may have stepped away from that role amidst the Inter/EDC merger and may be involved with Campo this season. If that were to be true, perhaps the Burnaby crew have found their man, if not, it is likely to be another fight for survival.

You can find the full fixtures for the Premier season on the VMSL website HERE.

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Authored by: Michael McColl

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