The new Vancouver Metro Soccer League (VMSL) season kicks off this weekend and we’ll be covering it comprehensively here on AFTN once again from start to finish, with weekly round ups, previews, and of course, our videos from various matches around the lower mainland.
We continue our build up to the new season today with a look at the Division 1 runners and riders, courtesy of Canucks4Ever from the Take The Piss forum.
First of all, my Standard Disclaimer:
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…so get over it!
There’s an interesting twist in Division 1 this season as, for the first time, only eight of the twelve teams will be eligible for promotion. Thanks to new call-up rules instituted last season, teams are able to use other squads within the club to call up reserve players and this means that it is more likely for clubs to have “B” teams in Division 1. Of course, those teams are not eligible for promotion unless their affiliated Premier teams suffers a concurrent relegation and in that boat this season are Metro Ford, Rino’s, NorVan and Inter/Chile. It will be interesting to see how that might shape a potential promotion race come February. For now though, let’s take a shot at outlining where teams stand heading into the season.
(1) Burnaby Metro Athletic FC
Metro enjoyed the first half of last season making up part of a four-headed monster (along with promoted sides NorVan and Guildford, plus third place Columbus) that pulled away from the rest of the league. However, some crucial losses to their promotion rivals, coupled with points dropped to lower table teams during the second half of the season, meant that the Burnaby boys ultimately finished a distant fourth place. Led by former Whitecaps prospect and UBC standout Navid Mashinchi (pictured above), this team has worked its way up together over the past handful of seasons from Division 3 and are now close to taking that next step to the top tier. Assuming they have learned their lessons about the amount of focus required throughout the entire season, whether playing a top team or one fighting to stay in the league, this is likely this group’s best chance at promotion. Only one of the two demoted teams is eligible for an immediate return to the top flight which means at least one new face could be joining the big boys after this year and it would behoove Metro to grab this chance with both hands.
(2) Burnaby Selects White Eagles
Perhaps a surprise pick at number two, but the former Serbian White Eagles had a very strong finish to their season going 6-1-2 down the stretch. More impressively though, they boasted the league’s second highest goals for, bested only by league champions NorVan Lions. The Burnaby boys tallied 68 goals in 22 game with Vuk Erbez netting 18 of those. Goals win games and, despite this only being their second season back at this level, if they can clean up the defensive lapses that led to them dropping points over the first half of the season, there is no reason to think they won’t be in the conversation at the top of the table come February. A return to the top flight would no doubt be a well received achievement among the club’s ethnic fan base who have been forced to watch their old nemesis, Croatia SC, thrive while they have been mired as low as Division 2 in recent years.
(3) ICSF Columbus FC
It came down to the final day last season, but Columbus missed out on an immediate return to the top flight by a narrow one point margin. The Italians looked to have taken control of the promotion race after they completed the double over Guildford on February 9, but just a few weeks later they threw it all away when they were held to a draw by White Eagles. Guildford just needed to win out and they did so, meaning Columbus will play another season in the small time. Their talisman, the seemingly ageless Steve Deblasio, led the league in scoring with 22 goals in 22 games during the previous campaign. That accounted for over one third of the club’s offensive output however, which would likely indicate that Columbus are going exactly as far as Deblasio takes them. With no formal youth feeder affiliation, nor any other open or U21 teams within the club, there is not likely to be a sudden influx of youth into the side. If they drop points early in the season those may ultimately prove costly in any promotion race Columbus hope to be in come the New Year. If Deblasio performs at that MVP calibre again this year, they will be in the conversation at the top, but if he is off the pace or suffers an injury, it could be a tough season in East Van.
(4) Rino’s Fury
An atrocious start to the season had the Fury follow up their debut Division 1 campaign, that saw them finish in third, by spending the early part of the 2017/18 season mired in a relegation battle. They would ultimately rally for a top half finish, but will still likely be out to prove that last seasons 0-0-4 start was an aberration. Assuming that they do not repeat that woeful opening stretch this year, the Vancouver boys should be in a strong position to challenge higher up the table. This group is an experienced bunch at this level, though they are, theoretically, capped here due to the fact that Rino’s Tigers play in Premier. That being said, perhaps, should they wind up in a promotion spot at the end of the season, there could be some disassociation deal. In the meantime they need to focus on making sure they surround leading goal scorer Pablo Zubiria with whatever Premier castoffs that they can convince to stay in order to start the season with a bang.
(5) NorVan Storm
The Storm got into Division 1 one way or another last season and, after taking a few weeks to find their legs, asserted themselves well enough at this level. A respectable seventh place finish has established them in the league and now they will look to continue to grow. This is a winning group, having had good success at the Division 2 level as Cup champions, one assumes the plan is to, ultimately, continue to grow the team and push higher up the table. Last season’s promotion of fellow NorVan side, Lions, means that Storm are trapped in Division 1, but Premier may just prove a bridge too far for their clubmates, which would leave the door open for the Storm in coming years. Not likely to be a top side this year, but if they can climb the table and improve over last season it should set them up well going forward.
(6) Westside FC
The much rumoured deterioration of the club’s relationship with UBC varsity saw them limp to a last place finish in Premier along with the relegation that accompanies such a finish. While there are no doubt a few holdovers among the players that loyally fought to the death last season, this has all the hallmarks of a full rebuild. An alarming fall from grace once more for a club that has enjoyed the highest highs of the amateur game, winning four Provincial and two National titles, and seemed to be creeping back in that direction when they reached the Provincial semi-finals just a season before their relegation. Challenging for promotion this season seems like a very stretch goal, barring some sort of miracle recruiting drive. Look for this group to be in mid-table, plus or minus a few positions.
(7) Coquitlam Metro Ford Lupi
The “forgotten” players in Coquitlam have put the VMSL on notice after they walked through both Division 3 and Division 2, picking up a pair of league titles, the Division 2 Cup, and a heartbreaking Provincial B silver medal along the way. The journey for this group of friends has seemingly reached its apex however, given that Metro Ford have a well-established team already in the top flight. With organizational changes at the top in Coquitlam, these players, who once found themselves frozen out at the highest level of the club, may suddenly have a path to Premier. Will this group be able to hang on to their top players if the allure of Premier football comes along? I suppose only time will tell. What is more true, however, is that Division 1 has long seen many “all-star” Division 2 sides come in thinking that they can walk this league just the same as the lower levels, only to learn that Division 1 is not for the faint of heart. Their talent and camaraderie should see them safely survive at this level and, maybe, push higher up the table.
(8) Bingers Army
Another year, another Division 1 campaign for the Army. Despite a 15+ year run at this level, it all looked to be potentially coming to an end last season. It took a great escape to avoid the trap door to Division 2, as Bingers went 4-1-1, after losing the first game of the New Year to last placed GN North Delta, and finished eight points clear of the drop. Known as the “old men” of the league, the Army has slowly brought new, more youthful faces into the fold. Expect Bingers to once more impact the promotion race, they always seem to take crucial points off at least one of the contenders, and to push for a finish closer to mid-table than relegation. There’s been rumours that UBC may be referring players to the Army’s camp rather than Westside, if true, that can only further help to bolster their cause.
(9) Club Inter EDC Burnaby “B”
The Inter/Chile merger has left this new entity with a team in Premier and a team in Division 1. Given that EDC were relegated and Inter have gone through a restructuring, it stands to reason that the best talent remaining between the two squads will, obviously, be playing in the top flight. What, if any, player pool that leaves for this team is uncertain. Rumours are that is will be comprised of mostly former EDC U21 players and with the new club not entering a team in the U21 division for the upcoming season, their actions would seem to support this. Chile’s U21s have been a top side at that level, winning the league two seasons ago and finishing just four points off the top last season. No doubt, however, that Division 1 will be a step up for this group. This team is a wildcard, but, until the “Evil Empire” can prove it belongs at this level, they would do well to just focus on staying in the league.
(10) FC Romania
The Romanians rode a strong first half of the season to a place in the top half of the table and a very slight outside shot a promotion. They were also the first team to put a chink in the armour of the, then perfect, league champion NorVan Lions. However, once they were all but confirmed to be out of the promotion race and safe from relegation they checked out and coasted down to an eighth place finish, ending the season with nine straight losses. Romania does not boast significant star power. Their leading scorer, Daniel Caraiman, and his 12 goals accounted for more than a quarter of their total offense. Their next highest goal scorer netted only four times, and the list gets smaller from there. It seems most likely that Romania will be either mired in a relegation battle, as they have been before, or follow a similar trajectory of reaching safely and taking their foot off the gas entirely.
(11) Vancouver Greencaps
The division’s other debutantes, Greencaps will bring their workmanlike approach and Irish influence up with them after a convincing league win in Division 2. Their league form last season was spurred by their somewhat unlikely Provincial B Championship the season prior and it has been a return to happy days for a club that seemed destined to compete at higher levels when they first arrived on the VMSL scene, but then faded from the limelight. Division 1 will be a challenge and the goal for any promoted side is always to survive and then build. While you certainly won’t be able to fault the Vancouver boys efforts this season, the big question remains: will they have enough quality to find the goals and, ultimately, the points that they will need for safety?
(12) GN Sporting Club
If ever a team seemed destined for relegation is has to be GN. The Surrey boys are rumoured to have lost the majority of their side to a new team taking up residence in the FVSL Premier Division and they are also rumoured to have lost their coach to the recruitment drive over at CCB. Sporting have only just barely survived the drop the past two seasons and, if these rumours are true, it is very difficult to see how they are going to be able to dodge the trapdoor this season. Perhaps new management has opened the door to a new talent pool and we will see GN start to climb the table, rather than simply cling to life at this level. On the face of it though, it seems likely that this will be the end of their, I believe, seven year stay in Division 1.
The Division 1 action kicks off with five games this weekend, then one midweek. You can find the full fixtures for the season on the VMSL website HERE.