TSS Rovers second PDL season came to an end on Wednesday evening at Swangard Stadium.
It was a season of ups and downs, highs and lows, and a number of firsts for the sophomore club, but it was also one in which Colin Elmes and Will Cromack can take a lot from moving forward as their side finished with a club record 17 points from their 14 matches and a record of five wins, two draws, and seven defeats.
The Rovers started and finished their 2018 campaign with three goal home defeats, but sandwiched inbetween that disappointment was winning their first Juan de Fuca Plate, hitting the top of the Northwest Division standings, recording their first points and wins on the road, and a five match unbeaten run immediately after that 4-1 season opening loss to Lane United.
They are also the only team to beat runaway Divisional champions Calgary Foothills so far this season. That 2-1 win over their Canadian rivals on June 1st was definitely one of the highlights of the season, as were the two wins over Victoria Highlanders that secured them the plate (the first of which also gave them their first ever away win at the end of May).
“We were in first place for a little while, briefly,” Elmes enthused to AFTN about the season that just was. “We were in second place in the Division, with no games in hand, for many, many weeks and managed to maintain ourselves. Lots of firsts this year. First win on the road, first points on the road, first clean sheet. We won the Juan de Fuca Plate, which clearly made our Swanguardians very, very happy.”
The Rovers schedule was once again uneven, with a home heavy period kicking off the season. Six of their first eight matches were at Swangard Stadium, but they were then followed by a grueling five game road stretch, a run which ultimately undid their season.
The Rovers only managed four points from those give games. Those were the only points they in fact took from their last eight matches, as all the good and hard work of their promising start unraveled a little towards the end of the season.
It’s a short, but tough and demanding season in the PDL. Once you hit a bit of a slump, there’s little time to get yourselves out of it, with every squad’s strength and depth tested to the full.
“This Division has always been very difficult,” Elmes told us. “Everybody seems to take points off everybody else. With Calgary loading up and getting ready for the CPL, I think some of the other teams reacted to that and built their squads a little bit stronger.
“We were clearly a stronger group again this year, but the reality is, when you have peaks and valleys in your performance, like young players tend to do, you’ve got to kind of roll with those moments. We had a few middle of the season woes there where we just couldn’t get much done and you start slipping away fairly quickly.”
But despite the dip in form towards the end of the season, Elmes was delighted that his squad never let their heads go down and battled for every point down the stretch, with a second placed finish still a possibility right up to their last match.
“There’s really only been two games where Willie and I have been disappointed in the overall way that they’ve presented themselves, how they’ve carried themselves through the 90 minutes” Elmes feels. “The rest. You get some good luck, you get some bad luck. We should have won some penalties down in Lane in both of the games. We should have scored at least one, probably two in Victoria.
“In our last game there we entered the penalty area like 25 times and barely stretched their goalkeeper and stuff. Even in some of the games that we’ve dropped all three points in, we’ve handled ourselves much better than we did last year. Last year there were a number of games where we were out of it by half time.”
As is the norm in the PDL, there was a lot of turnover between the Rovers first and second seasons. Only eight players returned from that inaugural campaign, with a number of new faces coming in from the college ranks, including some former WFC2 players.
Of those new faces, Daniel Sagno led the way. The Whitecaps Residency alumni led the team with five goals and also added four assists, with returnee Matteo Polisi building on a solid first season with SFU to record two goals and lead the team with five assists.
Those players were amongst several whose stock rose this season with their PDL performances, and with the start of the Canadian Premier League now within touching distance, it’s been a very important season for all of the players as they looked to impress potential future employers across the country. In that regard, Elmes feels his squad did what they were looking to do.
“With the CPL literally around the corner now, there’s been a real focus from the players,” Elmes said. “Whereas last year it was more like what are you guys talking about [with this league]. Now it’s front and centre and there’s been a lot of discussion about how that’s going to roll, how the draft out of U Sports is going to roll, what about the SFU players and the NCAA set up, and what not.
“So this whole thing, if you look at the name of the league, it’s Premier Development League, and this whole thing has been geared towards, as we like to say to these players, we hope that we never see you again! And I think as this thing progresses towards the inaugural season of CPL, which I understand is going to kick off next April, there are a fair number of these guys that we will not see again.
“So we’ve done our job to that degree. Would we have liked to have finished higher in the standings in the Northwest Division? Of course. Would we have liked to have won more games? Absolutely. But these guys, even in the last match in the second half, never gave up.”
The TSS management learned a lot from their first year in the PDL in 2017. It was a steep learning curve at times, but a lot of what was gleaned that first year was put into practice this season. Now that year two is in the books, the same review will take place, and there’s already a few areas that Elmes and his team have identified for improvement for year three.
“If you look at someone like Calgary, who clearly, as we said earlier, are loading up for CPL, they had a very senior player at the back, Tommy Wheeldon’s brother Jay,” Elmes mused. “He’s in his 30’s but clearly still a player that is effective at this level. Having somebody in that area of the park, because it’s ruthless back there. We’ve got three young guys. [Brendan] Skinner and he’s a 99. Connor’s [Guilherme] is a 98 and Danylo [Smychenko] is a 96.
“You get somebody in there with a little bit of experience that can steer things and calm things down and organize the players from the back, I think that’s something that we’re going to seriously look at for next year. But it’s difficult to get somebody to commit to PDL at that age and level of experience, but we’re going to try and make that work.”
There’s also going to be a period of self-reflection from Elmes and his management team, and as they already start planning for next year’s campaign, there’s a few other aspects they know they can learn from this second season in the league.
“Just learning to manage the group better,” Elmes said. “Manage the game better. We’re learning as we go here as well. When we walk away from this, and sit down and have a beer, as we say to our staff all the time, first place you’ve got to look is yourself.
“So we’ll sit down to look at what we could have done better to make this season roll a little bit more effectively. Obviously there’s a bunch of off field stuff that needs to be polished up as well, just as last year, but we’ll spend some time here in the next little while just kind of coming up with five or six main points on how we need to steer this thing for 2019.”