“It was a typical Canadian soccer game,” was TSS Rovers head coach Colin Elmes’ take as he watched his side lose their unbeaten home record in a late 1-0 defeat to Victoria Highlanders at Swangard Stadium on Friday night.
After three years, one month, and one day, the Juan de Fuca Plate was back being contested for, but the action on the pitch didn’t live up to the occasion in an often drab affair devoid of too much quality football from either side.
It was a match that was awaiting someone to stamp their authority and presence on it throughout and in the end it came down to one late moment of magic from Sho Goto to secure the three points, with an 88th minute strike that sees the Highlanders record their first away win of the season.
With the game seemingly heading to a goalless stalemate, the Japanese forward got on to a Stuart Heath headed knock down to turn and volley first time past Andrew Hicks, giving the Highlanders one hand firmly on retaining the Plate.
But TSS only have themselves to blame as masters of their own downfall after failing to find the net from 16 shots on goal, hitting the post twice in the process, in a match that they will feel they should have won. On a night with better finishing and more telling final deliveries, they would have.
“Not a lot of clinical moments around the goal,” Elmes told AFTN after the match. “Both teams directed a lot of ball towards the net, but none of them were terribly impressive. Not one of our best performances. We did a lot of good things but a lot of it in the soft areas of the field, where you’ve got an extra player advantage and stuff.
“When we entered the attacking third, there was always something kind of off about it. We either weren’t attacking in the right place, based on how the players were organised, or didn’t get enough bodies forward, or somebody’s in a good goalscoring position and they don’t recognise it and they go sideways or backwards and whatnot. Learning curve.”
Victoria started by far the better side in the hot conditions, with a strong opening ten minutes that saw them take the game to TSS without really threatening too much.
Hicks was forced into an early leg save from the dangerous Andrew Ofosu, but the Rovers had the better chances with Alejandro Varela having two good chances from headers and Simon Norgrove turning a low Joel Waterman shot onto the post and out for a corner.
Neither side could break the deadlock, in what was already feeling like a one goal game, and although the Highlanders again started the brighter team in the second half, the Rovers soon took over and were looking the most likely to open the scoring.
TSS had their half chances and squandered some good opportunities in front of goal and promising breaks, but they came within the width of the right post from taking the lead when a low Kristian Yli-Hietenan cross came to an unmarked Connor Hildebrandt 12 yards out in front of goal, but his shot crashed off the woodwork with the goal gaping.
It was to prove a costly miss with Goto punishing TSS with the winner four minutes later. Despite some late forays forward by the home side, there was no way back and Victoria claimed only their second win of the season, leaving Elmes bitterly disappointed.
“Some of our opponents have come in here and have had more of the ball than we’ve had,” Elmes said. “We had a ton of the ball today and there were too many moments where it was just too pedestrian. There were a lot of people moving, getting themselves into attacking positions, but you’ve got to threaten the goal a lot more when you have that much of the ball.
“We had two, maybe three, A chances tonight. Obviously Connor hit the post there late, but when you leave teams hanging around, because you can’t get the business done in the final third of the field, that’s what happens. A free kick. a good knock down header, and a good finish.”
It was another bare bones squad for TSS Rovers, with players like Eric de Graaf and Mamadi Camara out with season ending injuries, and missing their UBC Thunderbird players who are in China right now for a prestigious university soccer tournament in Beijing (and winning their first match 9-0!).
That left limited options on the Rovers bench to change things up and the absence of some of the players was most definitely felt.
“The guys are pretty disappointed right now,” Elmes admitted. “As we are as well. That game was there [for the taking]. You bemoan the missing players. Our friend Zach Verhoven would have had a field day today.
“Ryan Dhillon is a similar player to Zach, but he’s coming back in to it. Still not fully fit. Still not fully in sync. He had a bunch of moments there where that final decision or final pass or final touch were a little bit off. He’s going to get better for sure.”
Despite the loss, Elmes paid credit to the Highlanders, and his long time friend, Victoria head coach Dave Dew, for their late win, but vowed that his squad would “quickly dust themselves off” for the next meeting between the sides in two days time.
“Good for the Highlanders,” Elmes said. “They came in here, first road game, they’ve been struggling to get results at home, lost a couple late. Now they’ve won one in the last couple of minutes of the game, so full credit to them.”
The teams get right back to it, and TSS Rovers have a chance for early revenge and to tie up the Juan de Fuca Plate rankings, when they meet again at Swangard Stadium at 7pm on Sunday evening.