The first month of the 2023 League1 BC season is done and dusted and it’s been quite the start to the league’s second season in the men’s division, with just three points separating the top seven teams after an exciting start to the new campaign.
Victoria Highlanders lead the way with 10 points from their first five matches, while an unbeaten Vancouver Whitecaps Academy side sit just one point back on nine points from their first five games.
The unbalanced start to the season has seen five teams play five games over the month, while two have played six, and new boys Harbourside FC have already reached the halfway point of their regular season with seven games already under their belts.
With the top four teams making the postseason playoffs and the regular season champions securing the L1BC berth in next year’s Canadian Championship, positioning has never been more crucial in the league’s short history. Here’s how the table is looking at the end of May:
Here’s a team by team breakdown of how the first month of action has played out:
(Please note that some of the goalscorers noted on the league website are incorrect, so may not match what we have listed here. We have meticulously gone through every game noting scorers and assists as we feel it is vitally important to have these correct for the players.)
(1ST) VICTORIA HIGHLANDERS
It’s been a great start to the 2023 campaign for Steve Simonson’s side. The Victorians lead the way in the standings and started the season unbeaten in four after an opening day goalless draw at the Whitecaps was followed by wins over TSS, Harbourside, and Unity. The only blip on their record so far came on Sunday with a 1-0 home loss to Nautsa’mawt, a defeat that has really closed up the standings and made it all to play for in the battle for the playoffs and that Canadian Championship spot.
The Highlanders matches haven’t exactly been goalfests, however, with just four goals scored in their first five games and only two conceded, and it’s that defensive play that could be the most beneficial to them down the home stretch.
And talking of home stretches, the Highlanders will finish the season with four of their last six matches being played at Victoria’s Centennial Stadium. Last season the team struggled on the road, but with seven points taken from their first three away matches, if they can be strong at home they have to be favourites to clinch that much-prized top spot.
All four of their goals have come from different players, with Anthony Preston, Gregor Smith, Michael Henman, and Coby Gysbers all on the scoresheet. David Schaefer and Javier Sagaste lead the team with two assists each.
(2ND) VANCOUVER WHITECAPS ACADEMY
The Highlanders defeat at the weekend leaves the Whitecaps as the only unbeaten side in the division, but their record of two wins and three draws isn’t good enough to see them claim the top spot and they sit second, one point behind the league leaders from Victoria.
Last Saturday’s 1-0 win at home to TSS could prove to be a crucial result, and not just for both of those teams, come the end of the season. That victory, along with a 4-2 win at home to Altitude have accompanied draws with the Highlanders, Rivers, and Harbourside so far and their mixed form has made them a team hard to work out as just how good they are this year.
Michael Hennessy has been their standout performer in the early part of their season, notching four goals and two assists, while Joven Mann, Koji Poon, Nik White, and Chris Album have all contributed a goal each. Poon is also tied with Hennessy as the assist leader with two.
It’s been a strange season for Unity so far. Their 2-2-2 record sees them sit in third but they’ve been on the wrong end of a heavy 4-0 defeat at TSS before following that up by handing out a couple of thumpings of their own with a 5-0 victory over Nautsa’mawt just two days later and then a 7-0 shellacking of Rivers last weekend.
Unity are now the highest scorers in the league with 15 goals, six more than second placed Whitecaps. Leading the way for them is Victory Shumbusho who has six goals to his name, including a hat-trick in that big win over Rivers. Nine other players have contributed a goal each, while Tommy Powell is the assist leader on two.
The club’s affiliation with fellow Langley based Vancouver FC as part of the CPL’s pilot downward player movement program should also work in seeing players like Shumbusho shine and catch some eyes. The former UBC forward, who very much should be on the books of a CPL side right now and probably would be if it wasn’t for some injury concerns around him, is exactly the kind of goalscorer many clubs are searching for and his performances already this season may see him make a move in July or August.
Somehow currently sitting in the fourth and final playoff spot, Nautsa’mawt have been a bit of a puzzle this year. Their 2-2-2 record has seen them score only three goals this season, being kept off the scoresheet in four of their matches, including their first three games of the year. They’ve also kept four clean sheets, which has seen them pick up the vital points they have.
Ethan Gopaul leads the scoring for the side with two goals, with Connor Robillard the only other player to grab a goal so far. Logan Chung and Eric Lajeunesse have one assist each.
(5TH) TSS ROVERS
Many people’s favourites to top the table come the end of the regular season, TSS Rovers have had a very mixed start in their bid to defend their title. It would be easy to point at the distraction of the Canadian Championship and having two different coaches have them perform in two different ways in matches – the aggressor in League1 and the counter attackers in the cup.
While that plays a part, TSS have struggled to break down teams that come to Swangard looking to defend and get numbers behind the ball and they’ve been kept off the scoresheet in three of their five matches so far this season.
They’ve lost 1-0 to key challengers Highlanders and Whitecaps, but hit four in back-to-back wins against Harbourside and Unity. With Swangard unavailable to them in July and August, their unbalanced schedule sees them play all seven of their home games by their ninth match, finishing with five games on the road, the last two of which are grueling trips to the island.
If they’re going to be back in the Canadian Championship next year, they’re going to have to do it the hard way and can’t afford to drop too many more points. They need to take nine points from their next three matches – at home to Rivers on Saturday and then a home and away series with Altitude.
Last year’s L1BC Golden Boot winner, Erik Edwardson, leads the scoring charts again for TSS with three goals, all coming in the win over Harbourside, while Ivan Mejia and Massud Habibullah have two goals each and Matteo Polisi has one. Edwardson also leads the team with two assists, while five players have one each.
The new boys on the block are already halfway through their inaugural season having crammed seven matches into their first month. They currently sit two places and just one point back of the playoff places, but having played more games than anyone else in the division they need to have a very strong second half of their season and turns their draws into more than the one win they have to their name so far.
That win came at home to Nau’tsamawt in their third match of the campaign, with draws against Unity, Nautsa’mawt, Altitude, and the Whitecaps also contributing to their seven points so far.
Defensively, aside from a 4-0 trouncing at TSS, Harbourside have looked fairly strong, keeping clean sheets in three of their seven games. The problem has been at the other end of the park where they’ve only managed four goals this season and have been kept off the scoresheet in four of their matches.
Only two of their four goals have come from open play, with Suka Behery leading the team with two goals, one from a penalty. Billy Bagiopolous is the only other player to score from open play while Charlie Purcell is also on the goalscoring board directly from a free kick. Noah Bilodeau has registered the first and only assist for the team so far in their inaugural campaign.
It’s been hard to tell just how good or bad Rivers are this season. Their two wins, one draw, and two defeats from their first five matches sees them sitting down in 7th place in the standings but just three points off top spot, and they could be another team to benefit from having a strong home stand to finish off their season, with four of their last five matches being played in Kamloops.
They’ve scored seven goals so far this season, with Finn Marshall and Ayman Sahmuddeen leading the way with two apiece.
It’s certainly not been the start to the season that head coach Faly Basse or anyone connected with Altitude FC hoped for or expected. An impressive performance in a 1-1 draw with CPL side Vancouver FC in a preseason friendly had hopes high for what the team could achieve this season, but much like their slow start last season, the results just haven’t been there to kick off the new campaign with just two points to show from their first five matches.
Those points have both come with home draws, 1-1 against Unity and 0-0 with Harbourside this past Sunday. The team suffered a 2-1 road defeat to Rivers in their season opener, along with a 4-2 loss at the Whitecaps and a 4-1 home loss to Rivers.
Open play goals have also been hard to come by for Altitude, with only two of their five goals this season not coming from penalties. Athos Di Siqueira and Sairoob Sairoob lead the scoring for the North Shore side with two goals apiece, with David Rodriguez Zegarra also finding the net for Altitude this year. Connor Hildebrant and Wiz Chavula both have one assist on the year so far.