The 2019/20 Vancouver Metro Soccer League (VMSL) season kicks off this weekend and we can’t wait. There’s new teams, new players, new hope, and some great local football that we can’t encourage you enough to get out and take in over these fall and winter weekends. We’ll be bringing all the action again in our weekly written round-up and You Tube highlights videos, so to get everyone in the mood we’re going to bring you two season previews over the next two days – one for the Premier Division and one for Division 1 – courtesy of Canucks4Ever over on the Take The Piss forums. If you haven’t checked that site out yet, make sure you do for all your local, national, and international football banter (not for the easily offended!!). We’ll kick things off with a look at the runners and riders in Division 1 hoping for promotion to the top flight, or at the very least avoid the drop.
The days are getting shorter, the sun is sitting lower in the sky, and the air is slowly becoming palpably crisper. All this means that the final days of the summer are waning away and the VMSL season is once more upon us. That must be a sure sign as well that it is time for the return of my… Completely Baseless Predictions.
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!
Once again this season only eight of the 12 teams in this division will likely be eligible for promotion. NorVan, Rino’s, Coquitlam and Inter, all remain artificially ceilinged off, barring the simultaneous relegation of their respective Premier teams. That said, this did not seem to hurt the competitiveness of the division last season, so there is no reason to expect that it would be a factor this year. With both relegated teams undergoing total overhauls, this is shaping up to be possibly one of the most wide open promotion races in recent memory. Let’s take a look at how things could potentially shape up.
(1) Burnaby Metro Athletic
Installed as preseason favourites as well last season, Burnaby limped out of the gate before rocketing back into the promotion race. Ultimately, though, they came up just short with a third place finish, meaning they are back for another go this year. While it was a slight improvement on the previous season’s fourth place finish, it was still nothing more than a near miss for a team who must be beginning to feel as though their window to reach the top flight might just be starting to close. With no clear powerhouse coming down from Premier seeking an immediate promotion back to the top flight, the opportunity for Burnaby surely cannot get any better than it is now.
However, their hopes may lie with the decision of last season’s top scorer Farivar Torabi. His 20 goals from league play led the way in Division 1 and accounted for nearly half of the 47 tallies that Metro produced as a team. That type of goal scoring prowess is sure to draw attention from some of the region’s top teams and that is exactly what happened, as Torabi spent the summer playing PCSL with Rino’s Tigers. He proved that his abilities in front of goal are, in fact, able to translate to a higher level and never was that more evident than when he scored all four of Tigers’ goals in their cup final win over Victoria Highlanders. His play was enough to earn him the offer of a spot with Rino’s VMSL Premier outfit for the winter and all indications are that he is undecided on where to play next season, with sources advising that in a recent pre-season friendly between Burnaby Metro and Rino’s Tigers, Torabi played for neither side. With Torabi among their ranks Burnaby are surely favourites to top the league this season; without him though they likely fall back into a pack of similarly skilled clubs all vying for the chance to go up.
(2) Richmond FC Hibernian
Sadly the VMSL has lost another of their longer serving franchises as, following relegation from Premier last season, Hibs have folded. Though the team will still technically compete this season, they are now “Richmond FC Hibernian” in name only as management has been assumed by Mike Mosher and his UBC Varsity staff. While it appears that, at least for the time being, this team will still be playing home games in Richmond, all indications are that Mosher will be using this spot as a sort of “Junior Varsity” set up. This is something that the UBC program has been keen to establish for a few years now, with Mosher said to have had feelers out for a spot at this level in the past.
Having finally secured his spot, it will be interesting to see just how the program uses it. Conventional wisdom says that it would be a great place to park red shirts, prospects, Thunderbirds alumni, and rotate squad players who are stuck on the bench during U Sports games. Whether or not, following the completion of the college season, it might be used as a way to keep first team UBC players sharp remains to be seen. Rumours are swirling that the “Richmond” squad could be slated to have as many as 30 or more players signed to it. Will there be an established first choice side for this group? Or simply a constant revolving door of players using the VMSL for match fitness? Another question worth asking is just how hands on will Mosher be himself in running this team? Is he planning to be on the touchline for matches when he does not have a first team conflict? Or is he turning the reins over entirely to his staff? The same could be asked about training. There is surely no way that a squad of 30 plus players would be joining in along with UBCs first team, but is Mosher planning to provide coaching personally for the “Richmond” group as well? Or will that too be potentially downloaded to a staff member?
There are so many unknowns here that based on the UBC pedigree alone they could wind up challenging for a top place in the division, especially without any other clear cut favourites. Certainly if this squad is trotting out a handful of UBC Varsity first-teamers come November then they will be a top side. On the other hand, if this is purely a development squad made up of 18-year-olds and fringe players then they could well struggle at this level. Lots to be revealed with this group then in the coming weeks and months, but one thing you can guarantee is that with UBC as the foundation they will be well organized and well drilled and, at this level, that is often times enough to pick up a result.
(3) Westside FC
After the top three last season, the next four teams in the middle of the table all finished within five points of each other. At the bottom of those four sat recently relegated Westside in seventh place. However, a look at the table shows that five of their seven wins came during the second half of the season, as well as an impressive Imperial Cup performance away to NorVan Premier where they forced the top tier side into extra time. After a tumultuous break up with their long standing ties to UBC, a situation that helped to pave the way for their exit from the VMSL’s top flight, the Vancouverites took some time to blood in new players who needed to establish themselves at this level. A strong second half likely indicates that they should come into this season feeling much more settled.
Additionally, they led the division with an astounding seven draws in 22 matches last year which would suggest they perhaps have a slightly higher ceiling than their fellow mid-table cohorts. If they can find another gear this season and manufacture a way to turn some of those early season draws into wins they could well find themselves in contention at the top of the table come the New Year. When you include the fact that Division 1 lacks any real clear favourites and you note that the recent trend has been for Premier teams to go back up at the second time of asking (see: Columbus, NorVan, and Westside last time they went up), there is no reason that the Westsiders should not feel bullish about their chances.
(4) GN Sporting Club
The VMSL’s ultimate wild card. The Surrey/Delta boys could just as easily challenge for promotion as be mired in a relegation battle. Last season’s fourth place finish surely exceed expectations after only narrowly avoiding the trap door in each of the two preceding seasons. Can they replicate that form again this year? Or maybe even improve it? Again, like Westside, GN must surely be looking at their competition and be quietly bullish about their chances to contend for promotion. However, just like their seemingly perennial Jekyll and Hyde routine in the standings, their week to week form is also often entirely unpredictable. They can just as easily play a tight game against a top side one week and then either drub or get drubbed by a lower mid-table outfit the next.
What GN lack is some star power that they can rely on to score goals week in and week out. Ameet Kaila looked as though he might be that man when he raced out with six goals through the first seven games of the season, however, he did not score again and Jaspreet Bains ended up as GN’s top scorer for the year with just eight goals. With Guildford FC folding from Premier, there were perhaps a few players who fit that mold at this level available in GN’s neck of the woods, however, they would have faced competition from both VMSL and FVSL Premier sides for those players. More than likely the squad will be similar to last season, and, thus, GN are likely headed for a similar finish. Again though, given the competition this year, perhaps a level of performance akin to the one they put in over the previous campaign might be enough to have them looking even higher up the table this time around.
(5) Rino’s Fury
With Binger’s Army suffering relegation from Division 1 last season after seemingly having played at this level for 113 years, Rino’s now take up the mantle as the league’s resident stalwarts. Trapped here by virtue of their high flying cousins in Premier, Rino’s Tigers, one can always rely on the Fury to put in a quality effort, week in, week out, irrespective of the fact that promotion is unattainable. However, that fact often hinders them slightly once the teams in contention to go up seem to find that little bit extra, whilst Rino’s do not necessarily have that gear to go to when required.
The Fury can certainly beat any team on any day and should be quite likely to emulate another of Binger’s trademark characteristics, a knack for being able to throw a wrench in the promotion race just when it looks as though things are threatening to become settled at the top. Of all the teams at this level though, the new UBC/Richmond agenda may hurt them the most given that, based on their proximity and connections via first team players, the Rino’s squad quite often fielded a few UBC hopefuls. It would appear that those resources will now be exclusively managed by UBC and their own VMSL berth, so perhaps the Fury might suffer a slight drop in quality as a result. Still, expect another solid campaign for Rino’s and teams, especially those that finds themselves in the promotion race, would do well not to sleep on this lot.
(6) NorVan Storm
It was a bit of a case of second season syndrome for the North Shore boys last year. After scraping and clawing any way they could to get into the league, the Storm followed up an inaugural mid-table finish by spending the majority of the first half of last year propping up the table. It took until the stretch drive for the Storm to pull themselves out of the relegation battle but, in the end, they finished well safe in ninth. A mid-season coaching and management shake up seemed to be the catalyst for the resurgence and, assuming that structure has remained in place and had an off season to build, it stands to reason that NorVan should return to their former competence straight away this season.
They too, however, are hindered by the fact that they cannot get promoted, although, of all the sides in those circumstances, NorVan may have the most likely hope of finding themselves in a simultaneous promotion/relegation situation with their first team still establishing themselves back in the top flight after promotion a year ago. Regardless, a solid mid-table, bounce back season seems likely for the Storm.
(7) Vancouver Greencaps
Speaking of second season syndrome, Greencaps are headed into their sophomore campaign at this level this season. An impressive mid-table, sixth place finish surely exceeded expectations after their promotion campaign in Division 2. The Irishmen from year to year are generally heavily influenced by a case of visas in versus visas out as their revolving door of overseas players is not exactly a model for sustainability and continuity. The ‘Caps are always up for a match and will given anyone a game on their day certainly, but they also do not take themselves too seriously, unless they have suddenly decided to increase training to twice a week this season and start a real push to climb up to Premier.
Their penchant for signing players who are only in the country short term also often leaves them short around long weekends when players want to capitalize on their opportunities to enjoy the best BC has to offer away from the football pitch. Of course, the Greenmen are never far from the league’s naughty list as well with, in fact, Eric Spring still having three games to serve from last season, presuming he has remained with the club for this year, and discipline issues can often add to Greencap’s player crunch. All that being said, the ‘Caps will still surely amass their share of points again this season and another mid-table finish should be within reach.
(8) Westside FC Sierra
The first of this season’s new boys to the division rings in at number eight. Sierra came out on top in a hotly contested Division 2B last season and earned the step up to Division 1 at the first time of asking after joining the VMSL from the Burnaby Men’s league at the beginning of last year. Like seemingly all newly promoted sides, Sierra will surely be brimming with confidence coming into the campaign and they will be all but certain that they can compete immediately with the top sides, no doubt expecting to contend for promotion almost straight away.
It is a well sung verse in these parts and many have come before Sierra singing just as loud, only to be confronted with the rigours of this division. Sierra will likely lean heavily on 19 goal man and leading scorer Brian Stewart to help get them established at this new level, though it will be quite something indeed if he is able to continue at that torrid goal scoring pace in Division 1. Look for some eye catching early season results from this group who will be hard working and self assured, however, once the dog days set in they are likely set up for a bit of a self correction.
(9) Coquitlam Metro Ford Lupi
One group happy to see the finish line last season was the then newly promoted Lupi. The Tri-Cities boys picked up just a single league point in the New Year and did not win a league game after December 2. This included matches against all four sides that finished below them in the table and this run of form saw them drop like a rock from the top of the table all the way to an eighth place finish. They did have a bright spot when a first round Imperial Cup win over last placed Bingers (who they would then lose to in their final league outing despite the Army already being relegated) set up a date against Premier side West Van. Lupi acquitted themselves well and looked set for a stunning upset before a last minute equalizer set the stage for and extra time loss and set West Van on their way to eventually lifting the trophy. That was as good as it got for Metro Ford though down the stretch as the gloss was well and truly off by the time they limped over the finish line.
Lupi was formed as a group of players who had been frozen out by the long term hierarchy with Premier side Wolves and was a bunch of buddies keen to prove they could hang with the big boys. An impressive ascent from Division 3 and through Division 2 attracted others with roots in Coquitlam to the squad and the team proved that they did indeed have something to offer, as evidenced by their meteoric rise that was capped when they sat atop Division 1 for much of the early part of the season. However, in an almost poetic irony, they very team they set out to prove something to was now the reason that they could not climb any higher. With Wolves in Premier, Lupi are yet another team trapped in this Division. For a group of buddies training once a week that is not necessarily the worst fate, but in terms of attracting the kind of talent needed to compete at the top of the VMSL Division 1 table, it can prove to be a bit of a fly in the ointment. Like Westside, Lupi also led the league with seven draws last year. However, their second half results along with their negative goal difference would likely indicate a team set to turn more of those draws into losses than into wins this season. If that proves to be the case, Metro Ford could be primed for a fairly significant sophomore slump.
(10) Vancouver Strikers
The other newly promoted side, Vancouver Strikers, took a somewhat different path to promotion than their cohorts in Sierra. Strikers rode a 15 game unbeaten run all the way to the winter break, only dropping points in a pair of draws with second place Metropolitan. Come the New Year, though, it was a different story. Strikers struggled and ended up essentially coasting to the finish line with hard charging Metro running out of track with which to catch them. Unlike their scintillating pre-Christmas form, Strikers won only two games after the turn of the calendar, both against bottom teams, and essentially ran out the clock on the students, eventually clinching promotion the second week of March before a forfeit by already relegated GN North Delta added some breathing room to the final point totals.
Strikers have no doubt spent the summer recruiting and preparing for life in Division 1, but, one presumes, they likely remain mostly that same veteran group that was the core of their promotion winning team. They will certainly be game to compete with the Div. 1 boys, but one cannot help but wonder if they will be able to produce the quality needed to be successful at this level on a weekly basis. That being said, the first measure of success for any newly promoted team is finding a way, any way, to stay up. If Strikers cannot handle the adjustment to go from being favourites and winning most weeks to having to scrape and claw and remain focused on the big picture despite suffering some losses, then they are likely doomed to pick up essentially where they finished in terms of form last season and that could make it a long year. However, if they are able to shift their mindset, then there might just be the points they need out there to survive.
(11) Atletico Santos
Much has been written on the new direction of Campo Atletico following their all but certainly historic relegation from Premier with just one point and 116 goals against, accounting for a -102 goal difference. After returning mid-season to resume control of Campo, enigmatic coach Eduardo Azmitia (pictured above) has now fully taken the reigns of Campo and will lead them into this new season. His first act was to re-brand the club and the team is now known as “Atletico Santos.” A much bigger task would appear to lie ahead in re-making the club, as following that abysmal performance last season in the VMSL, Campo had a similarly inept summer campaign and Santos have been rumoured to be struggling to compete during pre-season friendlies.
Through it all, it has been maintained that Santos have a squad of players ready to compete at the Division 1 level, but based on all the available information, it is tough to see where that team is hiding. Azmitia’s abilities to lead and motivate his players has long been his strength and, no doubt, he will likely try to use all the negativity surrounding his team from the outside to galvanize the squad. Will it pay off and help to create a team that not only survives, but thrives at this level? Only time will tell. For now though, it is hard to see what has been currently on offer from Santos finishing anywhere but among the relegation places.
(12) Club Inter EDC Burnaby B
Rounding out the table is what has seemingly become the red-headed step child of the Inter-Chile merger. This spot is left over from when EDC was relegated from Premier two seasons ago. Chile were desperate to find a way to stay among the VMSL’s elite as it was deemed important in order to maintain the academy work that head coach Claudio Ramirez conducted. After the merger, Ramirez solely associated with the Inter EDC “A” side in Premier and now, this season, his EDC academy website appears to be sitting dormant, with dated registration information still soliciting interest in the 2018 season. Perhaps there has been a further shift in the club’s alignment as they have brought on a new U21 side, however, this squad is to be associated with Micro Footie Academy, which one would presume to be in direct competition with EDC.
While the inner workings of Inter-EDC may not have the most baring here, what is clear is that all the while this “B” group in Division 1 sits largely ignored. There is little if any player sharing between the two Open division sides and, for all intents and purposes, this squad seems to be ostensibly autonomous, if not superfluous. They could certainly use some help from somewhere though as they finished last season losing 10 of their final 11 games. Their season was essentially saved after a massive relegation “six-pointer” against Binger’s Army was abandoned and Inter were awarded the win. The only thing that kept them up after that was the inability of the two sides below them, Binger’s and Romania, to pick up any significant points down the stretch. It is unlikely that will happen again this season meaning that, save for some sort of internal club overhaul, it could well be a long season for Inter in Div. 1.
It’s set to be another exciting Division 1 season, with two promotion spots to the Premier on the line. And talk about the VMSL Premier Division, we’ll be back with our season preview and predictions for that later tonight.