On Friday night, Victoria Highlanders FC made their 1st journey to battle TSS FC Rovers at Swangard. With the Juan de Fuca place resurrected now that there are teams on either side of the Salish Sea in British Columbia, the first meeting between these two teams would set the stage for a fresh rivalry between the mainland and the island. The two clubs contrast greatly, with Rovers choosing solely to focus on Canadian players (Canada First!) while Highlanders continue to round out some of the team with young talent from abroad (Canada & the World!), including just-signed Fabien Kuramata, originally out of Japan. Additionally, Victoria have just (re)started their academies with a reserve side in the PCSL and their new Futures program (Top-down development), whereas TSS are building up from their Academy (Bottom-up development).
The first half of the match was a great back-and-forth game. With Sho Goto now playing in the forward position opposite Andrew Ofosu, it was a bit of an adjustment for fans. This match wasn’t Goto’s first in a striker position for Highlanders, but we’re still used to seeing him playing defense. This new combination created some good chances and runs for Victoria throughout the half, with Rovers’ Popadynetz often playing spoiler and sending the ball back toward TSS’ MacMillan. A lot of danger was felt at the opposite end of the field as Dhillon and Waterman would often find ways to cut toward the net.
The most dangerous play in the first half came in the 21st minute as a bad give-away to Waterman in the Highlanders’ half sent him straight at the net. The shot would go just wide as a result of a minor deflection. Rovers were unable to capitalize on the resulting corner. As the first half entered its final 5 minutes, Highlanders’ lines began breaking down, causing fans some concern as that has been a consistent problem throughout the season. Despite a somewhat rough ending for the visitors, the half ended scoreless with both sides tied for shots. If I had to choose a side that seemed more dangerous, I would have to give it to the TSS, but just barely.
The second half had a very different feel to it, with Victoria piecing their lines back together. Although not overwhelming, Highlanders were definitely in control of the 2nd half. With Rovers forced onto the defense far more, there were a number of pretty close shots from the visitors. In the 54th minute, Pearce would rocket a shot just wide of the net. A bounce off the back of a TSS player in the 63rd minute, would find Goto’s foot but roll just a little wide of the net. In the 71st minute, Highlanders would have another close shot, this time from Pearce and flying above the net. Another blast in the 82′ would sail into the keeper’s hands. TSS would have its best shot of the 2nd half in the 84′ as Hildebrant would beat Norgrove, but find the post.
In the 88th minute, Highlanders would finally benefit from a late-game goal. A long-ball pass from the far end of the pitch would get bounced ahead off a head toward Sho Goto. The defender-turned-striker would put a great boot on it and send it deep into Rovers’ net. This would be the game-winning goal, sending Highlanders to their first road-win of the season, 1-0. It would also mark Rovers’ first loss at Swangard.
With a second match coming Sunday evening, Highlanders have the chance to lock in the Juan de Fuca plate before ever having to host TSS FC Rovers. The Juan de Fuca plate has always been awarded on the mainland (though not always to a mainland team), so if that pattern continues if that pattern continues, that would be great news for Victoria. With several games in-hand, Victoria is still in the running for the PDL playoffs, but TSS does have the opportunity to play spoiler. It’ll all boil down to what happens on Sunday night.