Soccer is back…at least for now. Hopefully being outdoors helps us get through the whole season unscathed! It also means my Completely Baseless Predictions are back!
Checking in on the Fraser Valley Soccer League (FVSL), their top division has undergone quite a transformation, here’s a look at the runners and riders in the Premier Division and some thoughts on how they might fare.
But before we get into that, here’s my usual disclaimer:
It has been a lot of fun doing these predictions and previews over the last few years. Some people have enjoyed them, others not so much. All in all, though, I think it has been worthwhile and helped drum up some interest in the local leagues. It even seems to have helped spur the FVSL and VMSL to at least try to get some sort of regular media output going and hopefully that continues this season (perhaps interested parties can post those articles here for enjoyment and discussion). With all this in mind, I think now is the time for me to wind up this little venture – but before doing so, let’s take a look at the three top divisions in the lower mainland.
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!
To say it has been a transformative off-season for the FVSL and its Premier Division would be an understatement. Only three teams remain from two seasons ago, one of which has undergone its own internal reorganization. This may be the most difficult table to predict this season with all its unknowns, never mind trying to figure out who is coming back in any sort of playing shape post Covid. The FVSL is once more beginning their season with the Soccer City Cup competition, so while we will see the teams in action, the points will not begin to accumulate in the table for another month or so.
Here’s where I see the teams ending up come the end of the season:
1. FC Tigers Vancouver
The goal is simple here. After a loud and massively acrimonious break up between Tigers and Rino’s, the Tigers’ financier, Dr. Mohammad, has packed up shop and taken his show on the road to the FVSL. During a brief stint with Burnaby Metro Athletic, the Good Doctor provided decent evidence that his players can, indeed, compete with the best the Lower Mainland has to offer as he took a newly promoted Burnaby Metro side straight to the top of the Premier table during the handful of games played during the Covid-19 pandemic season of 2020/21. That relationship fizzled out as well, though, and now Dr. Mohammed and Tigers have turned to perhaps an unlikely new friend in the FVSL.
Considering that the FVSL were once the loudest voice in banging the drum against the alleged financial actions of Tigers, culminating with the ITC debacle of 2018, they are somewhat unlikely bedfellows. That said, it is a marriage of convenience of sorts. Tigers needed a landing spot and, irrespective of how the winter league goes and the level of competition they face during it, Tigers are all but assured of a spot in the Provincial Cup where they can seek their revenge directly on the VMSL and those who “wronged” them. On the flip side, after constantly being told they do not belong at the same table as the VMSL come Provincial Cup season, the FVSL, in Tigers, finally have a team they feel should be a favourite to bring the league its first ever Provincial title, especially given that Tigers were finalists in the most recent Provincial Cup competition, back in 2019.
One question mark remains the fate of the VMSL’s leading scorer from 2019, Farivar Torabi. Torabi was long loyal to Burnaby Metro, but finally chose to make the jump to Premier, where he clearly belonged, after three unsuccessful promotion pushes with BMA. Ironically, BMA actually managed to earn promotion to Premier after he left, and then one has to assume he was a driving force behind the short lived BMA/Tigers merger. The question now being, will he follow Tigers to the Valley? Or stay with his beloved BMA and try and help keep them up in the VMSL’s top flight?
Tigers will also be doing their level best to raise the profile of the FVSL and their full court press social media campaign has been underway for some months now. Some may accuse them of spouting baseless propaganda, but, agree or not, it certainly has people talking about the FVSL. Tigers, of course, broadcast their games live online and have reportedly offered to broadcast an additional FVSL Premier Division game weekly. All this has, reportedly, seen the VMSL counter by arranging some sort of rumoured video media for their top flight this season. So clearly Tigers are being heard. The goal here is trophies, though, and Tigers certainly start the season as favourites for all of the FVSL’s domestic hardware. Whether that can translate into inter-league success come April though, we shall have to wait and see.
2. Vancouver Whitecaps U19
Quite possibly this will be the most talented side in the league. This is the full on Whitecaps U-19 program with organizational resources, etc. Expect them to be well drilled and well coached as they look for regular competition for their “stars of tomorrow”. They have shown throughout the summer, through a series of friendlies, that they can compete with men’s teams, although there were some U23s involved in some of those matches (not that there might not be a few older boys involved throughout the winter as needed). That said, this group is still kids and the grind of the gauntlet that is the seven month Lower Mainland men’s league schedule is bound to wear on them at some stage.
Albeit, the median age in this division has decreased sharply with some of the new additions and that should help the ‘Caps kids. You hope the organization is still keen on the league in its now latest iteration with several new, unestablished sides. Presumably the Whitecaps couldn’t care less about trophies and will be focused purely on development. Notwithstanding that approach, you would expect their technical quality to be enough to see them competing at the top end of the table. Will we one day see any of this kids play professionally? That might be the truer measure of success.
3. Abbotsford United
It seems like an eternity ago, but Abby are actually the current holders of both the FVSL Premier Title and the Pakenham Cup. Since Abbotsford lifted those trophies, in 2019 and 2018 respectively, my how the landscape has changed. Gone are the teams they edged for their FVSL title in Port Moody and Coastal (both now having moved to the VMSL), and replacing them are the brash and ambitious Tigers as well as a slew of academy kids, headed up by none other than the Whitecaps.
During the FVSL’s brief run during Covid in 2020, Abbotsford were forced to compete with local Universities TWU and UFV. Not only did these sides square off on the pitch but, particularly in the case of UFV, they also did battle over players, with many of Abby’s title winning contributors lining up opposite them. With the college season back on, United will be counting on an injection of talent come November and will have their eyes firmly on defending their trophies. It definitely will not be an easy task, but with a strong core still intact from their title winning team, Abby will no doubt be very competitive.
4. Langley United
In a league of unknowns, sometimes you have to go with what you know. Rumours abound that with Surrey United once again retooling internally, many, if not all, their remaining veterans have headed over to Langley United. Supposedly many former faces from the Aldergrove United and Langley United teams that reached the Provincial Cup finals in 2017 and 2018 will be joining forces alongside some youth that has been nurtured by former Pegasus mainstay Ayzad Palani who now fully controls Langley United. Or that could all be totally wrong. Who knows?
Langley never were ones for the splashy, braggadocios, Tigers-style approach. Presumably they will be anchored by enough veterans that know how to approach the marathon that is men’s league and that might well be the advantage they need to scoop a top half finish and book themselves a spot at Provincials. Plus their Friday 8:30pm kickoff time is surely past much of their competition’s bed time.
5. FC Faly Academy
Technically Faly are still the reigning U21 Provincial Cup Champions, even if that title did come back in 2019. Their program has been growing in stature steadily over the past five seasons, and they are not quiet about believing they run an elite organization. It would appear that they will be operating a BC League 1 team on the North Shore, if and when that league ever comes to life. In the meantime, after conquering U21, Faly believed they should be handed a chance to join the VMSL in Premier, or at least Division 1. Stop me if you have heard this one before, the VMSL said no. So Faly found an opportunity via the “traditional” way of skipping rungs on the ladder – the “merger”.
Shaheen had long wanted promotion back to Division 1 and pounced after FASA (another one time star academy…) could not cut it at the top level, they themselves having bought a Premier spot from a Guildford team that called it quits. FASA’s relegation saw Shaheen take that spot over, thus freeing up their Division 2 spot, over which Faly assumed control. With a handful of teams opting out of play during the Covid season, thanks to Shaheen’s high finish in Division 2 the previous season, Faly got the chance to play in a Division 1 cohort. In six games they were beaten twice by recently relegated Columbus, got two wins off a lower table Westside “B” team and split their matches with newly promoted Serbia. Overall, not bad, but certainly not the barnstorming, swashbuckling results you would expect of a team with a high opinion of themselves and the ambitions to match.
After their taste of Division 1, evidently it was time for greener pastures, so out to the Valley they come where they get the direct access into the top flight they feel their pedigree deserves. With some men’s league exposure and experience already under their belt, they likely have a leg up on their fellow academy competitors. As with all academies, they are well coached and well organized. Again, though, men’s league is a different beast and a six game sample size is hardly an elite resume. It will be interesting to see their results through December and January. If they can stay focused and committed, a top half finish might be on the cards, along with an entry into the Provincial Cup. If not, look for them closer to the bottom, trading points with their academy contemporaries.
6. Surrey United
This once glorious program has been on a seemingly steady downward trajectory for some time now. In the latest twist in the saga, the former SAFC, come Langley, Red Bulls have been welcomed into the fold, along with their manager and lead spokesperson, Brock Dybhavn. The Red Bulls are not exactly world beaters, although they have managed to keep their heads above water since joining the FVSL’s top tier. However, one might argue that was due to the fact there always seemed to be one or two less than competitive teams down at the bottom off whom they could rely on taking points.
While Red Bulls have certainly earned the right to compete at this level, this does seem to wreak of desperation for the once storied franchise that is Surrey United. If it keeps the club on the field and competing, then fair play one has to suppose. It is tough to see this formula leading to the kind of success SU used to be synonymous with though. It will be very interesting to see how the coaching and management dynamics and responsibilities unfold throughout the season. Presumably there is a chance that SAFC and SU are a match made in heaven, although it is likely even odds that it is more like oil and vinegar. Trophies are likely a tough ask but, depending on how the academy kids all settle in, maybe there is enough here to push for a Provincial Cup spot?
7. Micro Footie Academy
Another former VMSL U21 side making the jump over to FVSL in order to play Premier. Evidently their loose affiliation with Inter in the VMSL was easily jettisoned and they come into the FVSL’s top flight on the back of a 4-1-1 Covid U21 season record. With limited, if any, men’s league experience under their belt, it could well be a baptism by fire for the young group.
Micro Footie slipped in somewhere around the time Chilliwack and Greater Vancouver dropped out and Coastal headed for the VMSL. Exactly which one of those teams MFA are stepping in for is unclear and, frankly, not important. The reality is this has the inescapable look that they are here to, quite literally, make up the numbers. However, a foot in the door is a foot in the door and they do say to never look a gift horse in the mouth. Maybe this might just be the break this group needed to establish themselves as a local heavyweight, but it feels like this all might well be a tough ask for this group.
Again, though, perhaps Micro Footie, like all the other academies, actually have this whole thing figured out and they will all walk the group. It seems unlikely, but anything is possible.
8. Premier Academy
Of all the sides in the FVSL’s Premier Division this season, this one might just present the most unknowns. It is entirely possible that Premier Academy have put together a top caliber roster and will take this league by storm. However, when rumours are flying around about possibly folding a week before the season starts, it is not usually the best harbinger of success. To that end, Premier have apparently enlisted the help of Ultra Soccer League side “Playaz in Paris” to fill out their ranks.
By all accounts, “Playaz” are the top dogs in the Ultra League, but given that Ultra Soccer is not a BC Soccer affiliated league, it is tough to get a read on just where that might put them overall. Furthermore, there is a question as to how these two groups will mesh, assuming Premier Academy are still involved beyond simply using their name. Who is calling the shots? The “Playaz” staff, or the Premier staff? These are not the best questions to have looming ahead of your season debut (against Whitecaps U19 no less).
It seems likely that this group might well find its way to a few wins this season and there is probably a good bet they will enjoy those successes rather loudly. The real question is, if this is as much of a fly-by-night an operation as it is currently appearing to be, will these players, who are used to winning regularly in the Ultra League or receiving academy level coaching, stick it out through the cold winter months if they end up being the league’s whipping boys?