The new Vancouver Metro Soccer League (VMSL) season gets underway this weekend and it should be another enjoyable year of local football across the divisions, with championships, Provincial Cup places, and promotion and relegation on the line.
AFTN will once again be out and about around the lower mainland bringing you weekly round-ups all season long.
You can find our Premier Division season preview and predictions HERE, and we continue our build up to the new campaign with a look at how a highly competitive Division One might shape up this season.
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…get over it!
After Rino’s Tigers (pictured above) ended up romping away with the Division 1 title in the second half of last season, there are many new faces in this year’s Division 1, all of whom will be looking to ensure they remain in the division for another season. At the top who is looking to go up? With North Delta’s departure out of the league, only Columbus is in a position to potentially yo-yo back up, so the door is wide open.
The division as a whole seems more balanced after a few seasons of being top heavy with the likes of relegated sides such as Columbus, Westside, and Norvan alongside upstarts such as Campo, Rino’s/Ayjal Tigers and North Delta.
Should make for a wide open division this season. Here’s how I see it playing out.
(1) ICSF Columbus
Can they do it again? Do they have the players to do it again? Do they have the vision, leadership, and desire to do it again? These are all very relevant questions for a team that has long been a pillar of the VMSL. The Italians have suffered their second relegation from the Premier Division is as many attempts and the first time it happened there was a concerted effort by those behind the scenes at the club to get the flagship team back where it belonged. Now that it has happened a second time though, does the same fire still burn within the club? Or will this once seemingly annual Provincial title contender simply fall into decline? As the only out and out relegated Premier team to be in the division this season, they surely must be favourites at the start of the season. If they have held onto their core they will rack up enough points on pedigree alone to be in the hunt come the turn of the calendar.
Two years in a row Guildford has almost faded at the identical stretch of the season. It seems as though the New Year brings with it a sense of malaise and disinterest among their group. Just when the games are ratcheting up in intensity, they cannot seem to be bothered to raise their game and show their quality. They now enter year three of a project which began with much fanfare and community involvement; even National recognition with an article in Sportsnet Magazine. Coaches have been replaced, a partnership with CCB has come and gone, and the revolving carousel of players means it is now a much different landscape out at Newton Athletic. The core group remains intact, however, and with a void of top level talent in the division this season, now is the time for this group to finally kick on and earn a seat at the big boys table in the Premier.
(3) Metro Athletic
This season’s Division 2 upstarts and they will no doubt be hoping to emulate the success of last year’s Div. 2 wunderkids, Campo Atletico. Campo sailed straight through Division 1, which is an almost unheard of accomplishment. Their predecessors AC Campobasso failed to do it after arriving on the scene with much expectations and that was also the case for Shaheen and Ayjal Tigers, neither of whom could simply kick straight on into the Premier. Ayjal would ultimately make that next step, before rebranding under the Rino’s umbrella, while Shaheen has now returned to Division 2 and AC Campobasso completely imploded before rising from the ashes as Campo Atletico. So it is an uncertain path for Metro Athletic, who have dropped the “Burnaby” tag from their name but have kept former UBC starlet and Whitecap Navid Mashinchi (above). Navid spurned Premier offers to take on this project with his friends two seasons ago in Division 3 and now they have reached the penultimate stage. Can they achieve another promotion? Recent history suggests it is not impossible, however, statistically speaking Campo are clearly an outlier. I think Metro will need to spend at least one more season here.
(4) NorVan Lions
A calamitous finish to last season’s campaign saw NorVan throw away their chance to return directly to the Premier. Rumours abound of a program in tatters and a lack of leadership. With their cousins the Storm entering the league, perhaps there is the opportunity for some cannibalization north of the river. You have to believe that the once mighty NorVan surely cannot have fallen too far off the pace. Assuming they have managed to retain their core, they are only one season removed from Premier and should find themselves picking up points and in the mix at the right end of the table.
(5) Richmond FC Royals
A surprise vault up the table could be on the cards as a merger between Premier side Richmond Hibernian and South Delta should see an influx of talent on at least one of the two teams. The former South Delta boys took the league by storm two seasons ago finishing in the top half and putting the league on notice. An exodus of player to Richmond FC was said to have been the main factor in their near disastrous campaign last year, where they needed until the last weeks of the schedule to confirm their place in the Division for another year. Assuming this merger facilitates access to those players for the Division 1 group once more, look for the Tsawwassen boys to be closer to the right end of the table this time around. This Richmond/South Delta hybrid will draw on many players who generally operate in the summer under the moniker “Delta Blaze” and if their summer performance this year is any indication of their potential (they were a perfect 13 wins on the bounce until their loss in the cup final) this group should prove a handful for most opponents every weekend.
(6) Rino’s Fury
The Fury themselves would likely be the first to tell you that they ended up punching above their weight class last season. A solid second half actually saw them in the promotion conversation until the dying weeks of the campaign. With their sister team “Tigers” already in the big show, promotion is now an impossibilityif they stay there. Has that hurt their ability to attract and retain players? Possibly, but this seems like a pretty tight knit crew, having earned their way up from Division 2 after many hard seasons. Look for a solid mid-table finish as well as a handful of decent results knicked off the teams above them in the standings. This lot have the vibe of a Binger’s Army 2.0 and should establish themselves as a quality group on the pitch in the league as well as a quality group around the cooler afterwards. The third Rino’s team in the division, Rino’s Vancouver, voluntarily dropped down a division and rebranded as Rino’s Bulldogs. It will be interesting to see how the players are distributed now between those two teams.
(7) Binger’s Army
Binger’s Army 1.0, meanwhile, is another year older. In desperate need of some youth in order to eat up big minutes, Bingers will likely be good for one or two eye popping, title race skewing results, as is customary. I still see them having far too much veteran experience to be dragged into a relegation fight, but the years are not getting any kinder to the Army. Should have enough quality thought to ensure their 15th (or at least somewhere in that ballpark) consecutive season in Division 1; truly remarkable consistency!
(8) GN Sporting
Is this GN’s top team? What is going on out in Surrey? After nearly surviving relegation, to being relegated on a technicality, to being handed a reprieve via a BC Soccer appeal, it’s certainly not a club that one would automatically assume is in a position of strength. Yet, rather than focus on building one team into a contender, or at least into a group that is not in a struggle to survive, they have expanded their operation. Being in the same division removes any potential CATing possibilities, so are we to assume that GN has the resources and talent to be able to keep two teams in the division? If they have strengthened by bringing in North Delta players who wanted to stay in the VMSL or by raiding for rivals Akal for talent maybe they could even find themselves above mid-table. If they are the same team returning from last season, surely another relegation battle is on the horizon.
(9) FC Romania
The Romanians seem to be following a relatively familiar pattern. Each of their three seasons in Division 1 have seen them earn some good early results before slipping into a relegation battle that they ultimately survive. Season four would not, at least on the face of it, appear to offer anything different. You have to expect another lower to mid-table finish for a team that deserves to stay in the league, but has a long way to go to be considered a powerhouse at this level.
(10) NorVan Storm
It’s time to shut up and put up for a team that has been clamouring to be in this division for almost three seasons now. North Delta leaving, and Rino’s seeking a way to better utilize their CAT opportunities, opened the door for the North Shore boys and they were all too happy to accept the invitation to the dance. This group should certainly be able to compete at this level, but competing and winning are two entirely different concepts and it will take wins to stay in the division. Success this season has to be measured by avoiding the drop immediately back down to Division 2 and the Storm should have both the talent and the desire needed to do just that. There’s not too much to choose between places 7 to 10 in the table, so a few good results could see them finish even higher.
(11) Burnaby Selects White Eagles
Newly promoted teams are most often the prime candidates for relegation and the White Eagles certainly fit the bill. Once of Division 1, five seasons ago, and even once upon a time in the Premier, Serbia White Eagles, as they were known, went through a break up and restructuring has spawned this current team under the “Burnaby Selects” banner. A strong finish to the season last year, coupled with fixture congestion for their main promotion rival, Norvan Storm, led to the White Eagles being crowned Champions in Division 2B. Division 1 should prove a real step, however, for a team that were likely considered a surprise package last term.
(12) GN North Delta
Who is this team? That is really the question about GN North Delta. Are these players that have spurned a return to the FVSL with Coastal and decided to try and make something of it in the VMSL? Or is this just GN grabbing an extra league spot and filling it with new young guys to get experience? Again, what of Akal? Perhaps a new incarnation to try and hold down a place while their new Division 3 team tries to establish that it can run a program in the VMSL once more? These guys are the definition of a wild card, but until they show their colours, they can only go at the bottom of the table.
You can find all this week’s VMSL fixtures HERE. We’ll bring you a round up next week here on AFTN, but if you can take in some of the action live, then that’s mich better!