This past weekend, Victoria Highlanders FC hosted weekend double-header against Calgary Foothills FC. Both matches were held on absolutely gorgeous days, with everyone enjoying mild weather and sunny skies. Sadly, neither results nor attendance came close to what Highlanders were hoping to see. Friday had the better attendance, which was physically counted by 2 different Lake Side Buoys as being a little over 60 around kick-off, but grew somewhere between 150-200 by 15-minutes into the match. Sunday looked to be closer to the 150 mark, which is less than half of the 2017 opener. For those hoping to see a Canadian Premier League team pop up in Victoria, those numbers are not encouraging.
The match, on the other hand, had some good moments, and some devastating moments. Once again, Highlanders started a completely different line-up from the previous matches. The Friday night match actually started off with a great strike from Highlanders’ Owen Pearce in the 7th minute. With both speed and players to help, the shot sadly did not connect with a speeding Montgomery and was cleared off the line. Of great concern however was what did connect, as the 2016 MVP for Victoria saw his head make direct contact with the leg of one of Calgary’s players. Callum Montgomery laid nearly motionless for quite some time as Calgary’s keeper emphatically motioned for immediate medical attention. After a fair delay, Montgomery was able to walk off the pitch, but will likely miss most of the season due to his
(unconfirmed) concussion. Considering he had just managed to crack #18 on PDL’s top prospects list, we’ll all be rooting for him to get well soon so he can return to the pitch.
The remainder of the half featured some good attacking play from both sides. Although Calgary appeared to dominate in possession, Victoria consistently seemed to have great runs and chances. The home side was also fueled by loudly singing Lake Side Buoys (LSBs). Being proud Cascadians, the LSBs went beyond their usual chants and created a few specific to BC’s anti-pipeline stance. They did seem to get a little confused with an anti-LNG chant, as Alberta has no interest in LNG.
Around the 30′ mark, traitor Chris Rushworth attempted a solo run through his former team’s defense, but found himself thwarted by Stuart Heath. Highlanders managed a counter as a strike from Donaldson would go high. As fans were preparing to head for half-time food & drink late in injury time, Ali Musse would find the back of the net giving Calgary the lead. Although the second half would show some decent pressure from Highlanders, they were unable to find the back of the next, and Calgary would walk away with 3-points on the night.
Sunday’s rematch promised a chance at redemption for Highlanders, and it was heavily billed that way by the front office. Once again, Highlanders coach Dew fielded a different line-up. This time, he also experimented with a new keeper, Yuichiro Hayami, which although somewhat unexpected, was not completely out of the ordinary considering their usual #1, Simon Norgrove, wasn’t an impenetrable wall against Seattle or Calgary in the previous two matches. During the first half, Hayami managed some pretty spectacular saves following Bartolillo’s opening goal at the 6-minute mark. Despite leading through the half, Highlanders were consistently in the defensive zone as Calgary’s Nico Pasquotti’s speed would easily put him past Ryan McCurdy and the other defenders. Still, at half-time, Victoria led 1-0 and despite spending most of the half on defense, there were several occasions where it looked like a second goal would lock in the match.
The second half, unfortunately, was a completely different game. Despite some heavy anti-pipeline chanting from the Lake Side Buoys, Foothills seemed to find a clear right of way to pump goals through Victoria’s midfield. In the second half, it looked as though there were 2 strikers, and 8 early developmental defenders on the field. In the 53rd, Rushworth pulled Foothills level with a traitorous chip over Hayami and into the far corner. This was followed by Falaye pulling Calgary ahead with a strike from inside the box in the 73rd, and a late-PK from Jones would get them insurance. Jones’ original PK had to be retaken, but both shots handily defeated Hayami. Highlanders did not have many chances in the 2nd half, primarily because there was no one in the midfield to help feed balls from the defense forward. With the two strikers forced almost all the way to defensive midfield positions in order to retrieve the ball, the few chances were hard to obtain.
This is the Premier Development League. That means that players are not going to be perfect, as they are still learning and growing. For Highlanders fans, it’s important to stop, breathe, and remember that these players are very early in their careers, and the only way for them to get better, is to play more. That means Hayami needs time between the pipes, and occasionally the midfield will dissipate. Hopefully coach Dew will be able to better marshal the team as they return to training until the 18th when they host Portland Timbers U23. As for Calgary Foothills FC, they were a playoff team last year, and even this early in the season, I think we can be assured that they will be taking another run. Foothills’ players are a little further along in their training cycle, so it isn’t too surprising to see them put Highlanders 6-under.