We’ve had articles on the VISL and the FVSL on AFTN so far on this week, so to round off our local soccer previews, here’s a look at arguably the best amateur league in Canada, the Vancouver Metro Soccer League’s (VMSL) Premier Division, courtesy of Canucks4Ever over at TakeThePiss.com.
Disclaimer from Canucks4Ever:
It has been a lot of fun doing these predictions and previews over the last few years. Some people have enjoyed them, others not so much. All in all, though, I think it has been worthwhile and helped drum up some interest in the local leagues. It even seems to have helped spur the FVSL and VMSL to at least try to get some sort of regular media output going and hopefully that continues this season (perhaps interested parties can post those articles here for enjoyment and discussion). With all this in mind, I think now is the time to wind up this little venture – but before doing so, let’s take a look at the three top divisions in the lower mainland.
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…
Much has changed since Rino’s Tigers were awarded the 2020 VMSL Premier Division title based on Points Per Game. In fact, that team is no longer in the division, in any iteration, so there will be no defending champion this season. With that one exception, the players are largely the same and most participated in the VMSL’s short lived “Cohort Cup” campaign in the fall of 2021.
During that competition, the two newly promoted sides, Burnaby Metro and VanU, took the league by storm. For reasons that we will get into shortly, it seems unlikely that those two will find themselves competing at the very top of the table this time around.
Coastal FC make a return, of sorts, to the top flight and will be looking, at the very least, to improve on their last foray into the VMSL. Meanwhile, with no king on the throne already, the likes of former champions Croatia, West Van, Rovers, Pegasus, and Coquitlam will all be looking to fill that hole at the top.
Of note, with the VMSL expanding Division 1, in addition to the bottom two in Premier being relegated, the third bottom team will have to playoff against the winner of a playoff between the two second place Division 1 teams in order to keep their place in the top flight. It should be a great season! Here’s what I see the final season standings potentially looking like
1. West Van FC
The former “Trollers” have been there or thereabouts the past few seasons and they are as good a bet as any to come out of this layoff in top form. They remain the current holders of the Imperial Cup and, while they had been mathematically ruled out of winning the title when Covid hit in 2020, they were already assured of a third place finish and a spot in the Provincial Cup.
West Van have quietly been able to recruit top level talent, despite potentially not having the same resources as certain other sides, and they generally make Ambleside somewhat of a fortress. If their offensive talisman Eoin McCormack has remained in top shape since we last saw him on the pitch back in the brief Covid campaign last fall, West Van have as good a chance as any to top the league and claim their first title for seven years.
The North Shore side’s form during the handful of Covid matches was good. Not great, but good. However, they did hand a full strength VUFC (aka “UBC”) side a loss to round out their schedule and that is a decent marker to have thrown down given the form the University side were in during the abbreviated season. Not sure there is a clear favourite this season, especially with all the uncertainty around how the teams will emerge from their respective Covid layoffs, and that should make for a great campaign!
2. Croatia SC
Mathematically speaking, Croatia never officially relinquished their VMSL crown. With two games remaining on their schedule, two wins would have seen them eclipse Rino’s Tigers and retain their title in 2020. One win would have taken them ahead of Tigers on Points Per Game. As it was, Covid brought everything to a full stop and the league used Points Per Game to decide a champion, allowing Tigers to edge out Croatia 2.25-2.20. Truly the slimmest of margins!
The Croatians will be looking to reclaim their place atop the VMSL, but it will not be totally straightforward. For starters, the immensely talented Emile Saimovici has found himself in the Barbados National team set up, and scoring goals for them no less, so where that leaves his eligibility and availability to play for Croatia remains to be seen. Former FVSL Golden Boot winner Daniel Davidson returned to the FVSL after a brief stint with Croatia and all signs point to him remaining there. That leaves just former VMSL Golden Boot winner David Malamura to do the heavy lifting. Undaunted, though, Croatia will expect others to step up as silverware is the target this season. Expect them to be in with a shout.
3. BB5 United
Already possibly the most talent laden team in the VMSL, the rich got richer when BB5 added former Whitecaps man and Canadian international Marcel De Jong to the fold. There were rumours that former Whitecaps Academy product, and well-traveled CPLer, Ben Fisk would also be “joining the Darkside” out at Newton, but he found a professional lifeline with Cavalry FC in Calgary. BB5 should still have former Whitecap Caleb Clarke to call upon, as well as long time stalwart and UBC Varsity alumni Boris Si and goalkeeper Luke O’Shea.
For the short Covid season, BB5 picked up Serbia talisman Ramsey Alfantazi, and while he is no spring chicken, he proved that, in the right environment, he can still be lethal in front of goal. Former SFU and University of Portland defender Eric De Graaf is a mainstay at the back for BB5 and he has found himself partnering more often than not with former Pacific FC centreback Ryan McCurdy. If those two are back in the ranks, BB5 can count on having one of, if not the best, defences in the league. Plus there is always the ageless veteran Yassin Essa, who was last seen back in the blue of BB5.
When the Surrey side have their full squad they can beat anyone and that is why they remain the reigning Provincial and National Champions. Assuming we make it through to the Provincial Cup without getting derailed by Covid, BB5 are strong bet to defend their crown. As for the league title, consistency has often been this team’s Achilles heel. Some weeks, for whatever reason, the stars just seem not to align and it is a struggle for them to get numbers or whatever the case may be. This team does not sweat that though. They know they are, arguably, the best team in the league and they expect to be able to prove that when the chips are down.
4. Rino’s Coastal
In case you have not read it anywhere else, here is the deal. After being dominant since their return to the FVSL, but still unable to break through at the Provincial Cup, Coastal were looking to jump back over to the VMSL. They wanted to come straight into Premier, however, the VMSL was not offering that, so it seemed the South Surrey club was headed for another season in the Valley. Enter Rino’s, who, following their acrimonious breakup with Dr. Mohammed and FC Tigers, did not fancy their team’s chances in Premier. A deal was struck and bada-bing bada-boom, Coastal are in the VMSL Premier, even if it is somewhat to the chagrin of the VMSL Board.
Now, in case you also have not heard, Coastal pulled this trick once before and it did not exactly go that well for them. Back then they were known as North Delta and after bossing the FVSL, but coming up short come Provincial season, they got themselves a spot in the VMSL Division 1 via a good old fashioned “merger” as they took over for the relegated Vancouver Olympics. Things did not go nearly as planned though, as on the last day of the season they failed to secure the win they needed to earn promotion and were resigned to a third place finish. Fortunately for them, Surrey United had determined their best days were behind them and figured their best path forward was a return to the FVSL. This opened up a vacancy that North Delta filled, although they almost threw the opportunity away by initially agreeing to a bizarre pre-season playoff for the vacant spot before coming to their senses and just accepting the charity.
That was as good as it got, however, as North Delta found themselves rock bottom the following March and opted to head back to the FVSL where they became “Coastal”. Fast forward through another stretch of dominance in the Valley for this group and we find ourselves in somewhat of a deja vu situation. Surely this time around, though, this group has a good idea of what it will take to have success at this level. A Provincial Cup spot is the minimum this group is aiming for and if they get close to the top of the table, watch out, as they certainly have a title winning pedigree upon which they can draw.
5. VUFC Hibernian
Perhaps the biggest mystery of this upcoming season concerns VUFC, better known as UBC. The University boys locked up the Division 1 crown in 2020 prior to Covid hitting with a team of mostly red shirts, alumni, and fringe players. However, come the fall when the USports season was cancelled thanks to Covid, UBC brought more or less the full force of their varsity set up to bear and won their cohort rather convincingly. This year, of course, USports is back on, so where does that leave the VMSL side of “VUFC Hibernian”?
They will likely begin the season with their red-shirts and non-travelling players seeing the bulk of the minutes. This is Premier though, not Division 1, so results will likely be somewhat harder to come by. That said, they will obviously be well coached and training with the varsity group, so one would expect them to remain competitive. The real question comes in November. Does head coach Mike Mosher want to keep his varsity guys engaged and playing games? If so, expect a jump back up in performance to the levels we saw during the short Covid campaign. At that point the league title is likely going to be out of reach, but a charge up the table into the Provincial Cup spots would surely be on the cards and watch out for a solid Imperial Cup run.
6. Coquitlam Metro Ford Wolves
Metro Ford were the only Premier side to opt out of play entirely during Covid year, making it difficult to get a read on the status of the former powerhouse club. Those powerhouse days are getting further and further in the rearview. However, after a couple of less than impressive seasons by their own standards, Wolves had looked to have righted the ship somewhat in 2020 and were charging hard towards a Provincial Cup spot when Covid brought the curtain down on the season.
Their veteran core had finally been infused with some youth from the talented football factory that is the youth setup in the Tri-Cities and it was starting to pay dividends on the field. Assuming the program remains largely intact, Coquitlam can be expected to be a competitive group, irrespective of who pulls on the jersey.
Of course perhaps the most intriguing question surrounds CMF talisman and back to back VMSL Golden Boot winner in 2016 and 2017, during Metro Ford’s heydays of back to back Premier titles, Carlo Basso. Will he return and continue to lead the line for Wolves now that he is coaching at SFU? If so, and if Basso can be even a fraction as effective as he once was, a top half finish could be on the cards.
7. SFC Pegasus
It has been a long, slow, rebuild for Pegasus out in Surrey. Things did look to be trending in the right direction though, with the former North Shore side in the thick of the battle for the final Provincial Cup spots in 2020 when everything ground to a screeching halt. The Horsemen were looking to get back into the Province’s top competition after missing out for the first time in recent memory in 2019.
A younger core has taken up the reins out in Newton and they put together a competitive Covid cohort campaign, picking up seven points in six games while contending with runaway leaders Metro Athletic Tigers. All signs point to them being able to pick up where they left off and being a competitive side again this season. They are probably not an upper echelon side just yet, but a top half finish and a Provincial Cup spot is surely the goal for this group.
8. Club Inter EDC
Another season for Inter where they will look to recapture the form that led them to a Provincial title in 2017 and had them firmly situated as a force in the league. Since then it has been rather ho-hum for this group and their merger with EDC, while a success at the Masters level, has never really paid dividends for their flagship operation. Their 2018 defence of their Provincial title was rather tepid after a fifth place finish in the league. They showed their championship pedigree by reaching the semi-final of that tournament, but then failed to qualify altogether for the 2019 edition.
Their Covid season form was just as up and down. It featured a loss to Division 1 side Westside FC, but a win over group winners BB5. It seems likely to be another mixed bag of a season for Inter. If they catch fire, a push for the Provincial Cup places could well be within their reach. If they hit a snag, though, they could find themselves drawn into a relegation battle, especially with the potential for three teams to go down this year.
9. BCT Rovers Hurricanes
All kinds of rumours have been flying about struggles for Rovers coming out of the Covid layoff. They missed the VMSL registration deadline, before registering late and being listed as “In Arrears” on the VMSL website. A rumour was even floated that they may fold prior to the beginning of the season. Notwithstanding all of that, the 2018 VMSL, Provincial, and National Champions likely deserve some benefit of the doubt.
However, the core of that multi-title winning side, including former Toronto FC man Nick Soolsma, UVic varsity alumnus Cam Hundal, and talismanic striker Pavi Dhillon, is not getting any younger. Rovers have been trying to supplement the aging superstars with some success, as they had locked up a Provincial Cup berth just prior to the league getting shut down by Covid in 2020.
Come the handful of cohort games in the fall, though, it was still Pavi Dhillon leading the charge as Rovers put up a somewhat below par .500 record of 2-2-2, with both their wins coming at the expense of lowly White Eagles. If Rovers remain the team we have come to know for the better part of the last decade, then look for them to be in the top half and, likely, headed to Provincials when all the chips are counted come March. If it is true that the Surrey side are in a bit of disarray ahead of this season, then this could mark the beginning of somewhat of a decline for their program.
Since their promotion back to the top flight in 2018, this has more or less been the realm for Norvan. Bottom half finishes and survival have been the sum total of their efforts with any ambition they may have of finishing higher up the table often being blunted by a rather anemic offense. They had secured safety once more prior to Covid hitting back in 2020, but, while not mathematically ruled out at the time, finishing high enough up the table to qualify for the Provincial Cup was, in all likelihood, not going to happen.
Tired of simply surviving each season, Provincial Cup qualification is once more likely to be the goal for the North Shore boys. Unfortunately for them, that is easier said than done, especially if they continue to struggle for goals on a regular basis. They managed just a lone point and five goals from their six games in the short Covid cohort play. With the potential for three teams to be relegated this season, form like that could see Norvan embroiled in a fight to survive once again.
11. Burnaby Selects White Eagles
It may well have been a case of “saved by the bell” for White Eagles when the 2020 season was brought to a premature halt. Yes, it was going to be a very tall order for Columbus to catch them, but White Eagles were not mathematically safe yet when Covid ended the season early. In fact, White Eagles were mired in an awful patch of form, while Columbus were showing some signs of life just at the last minute. Who can say how it would have all played out had everyone completed their schedule? As it was, the league was forced to use points per game and White Eagles were rewarded for getting their points on the board early in the season by being spared the threat of the drop.
Fast forward to our new post-Covid(ish) reality and there has not been any reason to think the situation at White Eagles will have markedly improved. Their three headed monster in attack of Vuk Erbez, Matlash Vladyslav, and Mladen Ljumovic are still carrying the bulk of the offensive load for the Burnaby club, but they are not scoring with nearly the same reckless abandon as they did Division 1. The trio combined for all four of White Eagles’ goals over a winless six game Covid cohort campaign. Maybe some time off was exactly what the doctor ordered for this group and it will allow them to recapture the form that saw them storm to promotion and start their Premier Division return off on the right foot. Those might be long odds, though. A relegation scrap seems the most probable fate for this group this season.
12. Metro Athletic FC
Well, what to make of Metro Athletic FC? Despite some procedural sanctions nearly costing them, they secured promotion to the top flight on the final weekend before Covid ended the VMSL season in 2020. Then, after Rino’s and Tigers went through an ugly divorce, MAFC were there to be the landing spot for Tigers and Dr. Mohammed. The results were spectacular as the newly minted MAFC Tigers went a perfect 6-0 during Covid play with reigning VMSL Golden Boot winner Farivar Torabi notching eight goals back at home with the team he had been loyal to for a number of seasons before jumping up to Prem with Tigers.
Alas, the good times would not last and the newfound partnership dissolved before it ever really had a chance to blossom. Tigers have headed for the FVSL and, despite his deep roots with MAFC, by all accounts Farivar Torabi is going right along with them. So where then does this leave MAFC? Certainly the team that got up would have a decent challenge staying up as constructed. The latest rumour is that everyone’s favourite Ultra League Soccer side, “Playaz in Paris”, fresh off “merging” with FVSL Premier new boys Premier Academy are now also involved with MAFC and their VMSL program. If true, it is enough to make your head spin. Whether or not it is enough to keep MAFC up in the VMSL’s top flight is another matter entirely.
You can follow the VMSL all season long, and get all of this weekend’s opening fixtures across the divisions, on VMSLsoccer.com, and for all your local soccer banter, make sure you head over and support TakeThePiss.com.