A new Vancouver Metro Soccer League (VMSL) season is upon us, so that can only mean one thing… some completely baseless predictions:
It’s time again for the league that has consistently produced the top team in the Province to once more begin a new campaign. Everybody is in first place on day one, but soon the table will begin to take shape for another year as we determine a Champion, who is deemed surplus to requirements, and, perhaps most importantly, who will represent the league in trying to win yet another Provincial Cup.
Premier Kick-Off Day, an event that helps to put the prestige of the league on full display and set it apart from the VMSL’s other divisions, is on Saturday at Newton Athletic Park in Surrey from noon to 6pm. All 12 VMSL Premier teams will be in action in six games across two fields.
Get set, it is sure to be another great year! AFTN will once again be out and about around the lower mainland bringing you weekly round-ups all season long.
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!
Let’s kick things off with a look at how things might play out in the VMSL Premier Division. Can Coquitlam Metro Ford Wolves make it a hat-trick of titles? Is anyone strong enough to stop them? And how will the two new boys fare after their counterparts have often struggled in recent seasons?
Here’s how I see the Premier Division shaping up this season.
(1) Coquitlam Metro Ford Wolves
A three-peat is for sure a statistical anomaly and after two back-to-back championships, you could forgive Coquitlam Metro Ford if the spark to win it again just wasn’t there any longer. This is especially true when you consider that their dominance in the league has failed to translate into success in the Provincial Cup. The problem is that they won the league at such a pace last season that there really is no heir apparent to the throne of the VMSL. Nobody was nipping at the heels of the Tri-Cities boys last term and, while their form did dip down the stretch, they were at a walking pace towards the finish line by that point. I’ll tip things to be closer at the top this season and Metro Ford slightly less dominant, but after a performance like they put on last year they have to be favourites again for the league.
(2) BCT Rovers Tigers United
They came onto the scene with much reverence as the latest incarnation of Rovers/Temple/Hurricanes/Tigers/Lions/Bears United burst onto the scene. High profile, former professional, Nick Soolsma clattered in the goals for fun all season and, after a somewhat slow start, they lived up to their preseason hype. A top four finish was a good opening act, but now this group is surely hungry for some silverware. Their matches against Metro Ford last season left no doubt about who the best team in the VMSL was, so look for those to be meaningful games for the Rovers during this season as they look to make a statement. The league might be a bridge just slightly to far, but if it is still interesting at the top in March that’s an improvement on last year.
(3) West Van
A perennial powerhouse north of the river, the once Trollers have assumed the title of also-rans in recent years. Consecutive runners-up finishes in the league as well as Imperial and Provincial Cup losses to Coquitlam have demonstrated that West Van just are not up to speed with the top team in the league. They are nothing if not professional about their approach to things over at Ambleside and they will no doubt have put together a squad that they think can finally topple Metro Ford. Similar to Rovers, look for those matches against Coquitlam to carry some extra meaning this year as West Van look to bring the Metro Ford boys back down to Earth. I am looking for an intriguing three team battle at the top this season and, as mentioned, hopefully it all comes down to the last few games in March to decide things.
Age seems to be beginning to get to the Pegasus boys out in Surrey. They spent much of last season in the afterglow of their Provincial Cup victory and it showed in their results. While they produced moments, such as handing Coquitlam their first loss of the season, their league campaign was, in a word, banal. That being said, they remain a very talented group with top level ball players. They can still find that cutting edge too, as they showed by winning the Imperial Cup. The season ended with a whimper, however, as they were brushed aside by Club Inter in the first round of the Provincial Cup. Certainly not how they would have envisioned defending their title. Going forward into this season, Peg seem to be a top level team, but with perhaps a more focused, shall we say, set of goals. By that I mean I see them focusing less on the week in week out grind of trying to win the league and instead just looking to play good football in order to peak at the right time and contend for trophies.
A tumultuous start for Croatia last season saw them spending the first months of it rubbing shoulders with the teams in the relegation zone. It seemed to be a young group for the Croatians and it appears that it took them some time to adjust to the rigours of the top flight. Once they figured it out though they went on a tear, vaulting themselves up the table all the way to fifth where they would ultimately finish and comfortably qualified for the Provincial Cup. With the youth having been served last season, there’s no reason to believe that they won’t pick up right where they left off and establish themselves solidly in the top half of the table.
After being promoted as Champions of Division 1 last season, the Westsiders hung in with the big boys, getting their feet for the first few months of the season. The Provincial Cup seemed like a stretch target for this group, but an undefeated run to close out the season put them back into the conversation (just as a similar undefeated run led them to that promotion the year before). Westside then rode that momentum through a play-in game and all the way to a Provincial Cup Semi-Final and toppled the mighty Coquitlam Metro Ford along the way. Certainly this group will be looking to build on that success and, perhaps, this season qualify for the Provincials without the play-in game. Notoriously slow starters, look for them to pick things up down the stretch in the second half of the season and, given their penchant for getting streaky, they might not be a bad Imperial Cup dark horse.
(7) Club Inter
Similar to Westside, Inter needed a great run to close the season to qualify for the Provincial Cup. Of course, once they got in, they never looked back and won the whole thing. Inter are famous for their indifferent start to seasons, preferring to lift their performances as the stakes become raised later in the year. With Nationals to attend in October though it will be interesting to see how they come out of the block to start the VMSL season. Will the National Tournament force them to put more emphasis on league games earlier in the schedule? Personally, I expect their form to suffer with a focus on Nationals and then remain underwhelming until we reach the business end of the season. We will see if they can pull another rabbit out of the hat and squeeze into the Provincial tournament this season to try and defend their title.
(8) Richmond FC Hibernian
Hibs were on the losing end of that Provincial play-in game with Westside and missed out for a second consecutive year after qualifying the year before when they returned to the Premier after a one season Division 1 hiatus. An offseason merger with South Delta FC has hopefully expanded the player pool for the boys below sea level, but they will need more quality through the door if they are hoping to better last season and get that return to the Provincial Cup.
(9) Rino’s Tigers
Tigers have earned their way into Premier for the first time under the Rino’s banner after a merger two seasons ago with Ayjal had disastrous results. Rino’s/Ayjal recorded only two points that Premier season, and were the first team in recent memory to fail to record a single victory. The season away rebuilding has no doubt improved the team and they will be looking to prove they have learned from their previous embarrassment. A good young group with plenty of talent has now spent a season learning to win and should be raring to go come the start of play on Week 1. Provincial Cup qualification is likely a stretch goal for this group, but certainly staying in the division seems like an attainable feat.
(10) CCB LFC United
A complete shambles last season, Pacific Utd., as they were known, survived essentially only because North Delta and Columbus ran out of track. By the end of the season the team had completely imploded, forfeiting matches and turning up with an incomplete squad when they did play. Lopsided losses were the norm, but a new Club name and a new coach will be looking to put all that right. Dino Anastopolous has taken over and after stints with the now defunct Vancouver Olympics and a short stay at Croatia, he will look to revitalize “CCB LFC”. It is going to take more than a new name and a different voice at the helm to turn this ship around though. The players will need to buy into a complete culture shift. There should be indications early in the year if this has happened, otherwise a relegation battle surely looms.
(11) EDC FC Burnaby
Chile have been steadily declining since their surprise Provincial Cup title three seasons ago. Again, similar to the former Pacific Utd., EDC were spared a relegation battle last season only because Columbus and North Delta had cut themselves so far adrift so early in the season. With a mass exodus of veterans to a new Over 35 Premier squad the team is likely to be bereft of experience. The team will presumably be back-filled with U21 players who, by U21 standards, are all successful players in their own right. However, Premier is a massive step up and, if it takes too long for the kids to find their feet, they risk having to play catch up all season long. I would suggest a real relegation battle looms for EDC this season and I am not sure that they will have the poise and savvy required to survive.
(12) Campo Atletico
Say want you want about Campo’s former coach Eduardo (some knew him as “Soccer Coach”, many had other terms to describe him…), but he was the heart and soul of Campo’s promotion. With him leaving the club just as their promotion was confirmed, the team is now bereft of the tactics that got them to this point, as well as the psychological head games that might have given them the occasional edge. This team likely was never good enough to get promoted, but Eduardo found a way to push them and then the collapse of NorVan opened the door. Without their enigmatic leader however, it shapes up to be quite a long tumultuous season for Campo.