The Victoria Highlanders played their home opener at Centennial Stadium on a slightly cloudy May 15. Coming off a resounding stomping by Kitsap Pumas that was flipped from an L to a W due to a boardroom forfeit, the team had high hopes of performing well at their new home. With an attendance of 482, the 5000-seat stands seemed as sparse as the cheering, which was solidly concentrated to the bag-piping Lake Side Buoys at the center of the South Stands.
The visiting Calgary Foothills took their time to find their footing. With much of the first half looking like an extended feeling-out of either side. Only a handful of kicks were on-target from either side, with the Foothill’s keeper looking pretty solid in net. With neither team really pushing themselves, experienced fans were left to wonder at the Highlander’s lack of cohesion. With defensive gaps and few coordinated pushes toward the Foothill’s net, the fact that the team had only started to practice a couple short weeks earlier was readily apparent. Despite Highlanders being slightly up on possession, the first half finished off with both sides still looking for any chance to put one away and steal the match.
The second half did not start well for the Victoria Highlanders. The Englishman, Robert Hyams wearing Foothills #16, put one into the net breaking the scoreless match. Highlanders responded in the 55′ with a cheeky shot directly at the net, but it was handily stopped by a somewhat surprised looking keeper. The teams continued to press each other with an increasingly motivated Victoria-team trying to find their way back. With half the Highlanders squad subbed throughout the remainder of the match, a few good good corner kicks started to look dangerous. Unfortunately for the Highlanders, Calgary’s Nico Pasquotti was able to clinch a second goal, providing the team with some additional insurance.
The youth and inexperience of the Highlanders were brutally obvious throughout their first match. Having only assembled the team two weeks prior to their opening match, the team had a steep learning curve and they weren’t quite able to make up the training deficit. Following games, during a trip through Oregon, demonstrated a team learning from their mistakes and growing quickly. The Highlanders now sit in 4th in the Northwest Division at 1-1-2, their “win” coming from the boardroom forfeit of their first match. Conversely, the Calgary Foothills are top of the division with 3-1-0. With the next Highlanders’ home match happening on June 5th with a rematch against the Kitsap Pumas, it’ll be interesting to see just how far the team has come in a short time.
We will also be watching how the experience in the stands grows over the season. Centennial Stadium is huge compared to the attending crowd. The first match was dry due to a licensing dispute with the University of Victoria, and there were few options in the way of concessions and swag (unless you wore youth sizes). The Lake Side Buoys definitely brought the noise, but there didn’t seem to be much local soccer community support as no youth teams attended the match to cheer the Highlanders to victory.