Revenge is sweet, and it certainly was for TSS Rovers’ Matteo Polisi at Swangard Stadium on Wednesday night.
On March 18, the striker came on as a trialist sub in Valour FC’s preseason friendly against Vancouver FC in Langley, scoring the equaliser in a 2-2 draw and impressing in his short time on the pitch. But that was to be that. The Winnipeg side didn’t take a further look at the 25-year-old in any of their other preseason games and Polisi re-signed with TSS Rovers for their upcoming Canadian Championship match and League1 BC season.
Fast forward a month and Polisi came back to haunt Valour with a pair of goals in the TSS’ historic 3-1 Canadian Championship win as the Rovers became the first semi-pro side to knock out a professional team in the history of the competition, and they very much deserved it on the night, to a man.
TSS were never outclassed and went toe to toe with Valour from the start, getting eight shots on target to the visitors’ three. First half goals from Polisi and Ivan Mejia set the Rovers on the way before a second half strike from Polisi sent the home support into rapture. Even a missed Polisi penalty and a late consolation for Valour from the spot couldn’t dampen the joyous celebrations that filled Swangard at the final whistle.
Polisi, who wore the captain’s armband for this one, returned to TSS after two seasons in the pro game with Pacific FC in the Canadian Premier League, winning the championship with the Langford side in 2021 before being released at the end of last season. And what a return to his roots it was as he led from the front.
“It’s been the best game I’ve played with TSS for sure and it goes down in history as well,” Polisi told media after the match. “We talked leading up to the game that we were just going to take it minute by minute. It was going to be a 98 minute game, we knew that, so we just took it moment by moment. We knew that we were going to get chances, we knew that we would have to be clinical at both ends of the park, in both boxes, and we showed that tonight.”
The victory was remarkable in many ways. We’re saying that TSS Rovers are a semi-pro side, but they’re technically just an amateur team as no players get paid. This was also their first competitive match as a club since last August, with the L1BC season not getting underway till April 30. But they played like a team of seasoned professionals.
“We knew leading up to the game that it was going to be massive,” Polisi added. “We’re just an amateur team and we’re going up against a professional team. It’s minute by minute like I said, but it’s also just 11-v-11. They’re not any more special than us. It doesn’t matter. It takes determination, it takes will, it takes fight. It takes suffering, how much running we want to do. And we wanted to do that. We wanted to work hard, we wanted to suffer, and we wanted to win.
“Winning is different from just going out there and playing a game. When you’re younger you go out there and you try to get better. Today’s about winning. Winning. And that’s it, and we showed today that we can win. I was trying to lead the boys and show the how to win and I think that everybody really started getting on board in the days leading up to it. We talked about winning. We talked about winning, more and more. It’s a different mentality.
“When I was at Pacific I learned how to win, with Pa [Modou Kah] as my coach. He’s born a winner, you can just see how he is. I learned a lot over there and I took my experience there and tried to show that tonight.”
Polisi may now get the chance to head back to Pacific to show another team what they missed out on, with TSS set to play the winner of Thursday’s Pacific-Cavalry match.
While it’s been a homecoming to TSS for Polisi, who played three seasons for the Rovers in USL League 2 from 2017 to 2019, just not one he was hoping to have at this stage of his career. His number one priority is to secure a return to the pro ranks as soon as he can, and with performances like he put in against Valour, you have to think that won’t be too far away.
And that’s what TSS want, not just for Polisi but for all their players. The message has been a simple one from the start. Players are told “we hope we don’t see you back next year”. The club want them to move on to bigger and better things. That’s part of their DNA. That’s why they play the swashbuckling way that they do. They want to catch the eye and they want people to sit up and take notice. They certainly did on Wednesday night.
“We attack with the ball, we attack without,” TSS head coach Will Cromack told media after the match. “That’s who we are. We’re pirates man. We’re going to ride the sea. We’re going to go and we’re going to take your loot. That’s who we are. That’s our culture. That’s the people that we are. We want to force the issue and we want to make things better.
“We are desperate to make BC a place that has players again. They’re here. They’re waiting for their opportunity. They’re getting discarded. They’re not in the right place. [Matteo] needs to be out of here. He needs a job. Let’s go. That’s what we’re doing.”