There was big news out of the Victoria Highlanders last night as the club announced they had sacked head coach Ian Bridge.
Bridge, 52 years old, is a former Canadian international, Canadian Soccer Hall of Famer, and icon in the Victoria soccer community. He is best known for his decade as head coach of the University of Victoria Vikes women's team, leading them to two Canada West championships and one CIS silver medal. Bridge was an assistant coach for the senior women's team in the Even Pellerud days and ran the Canada U-17 women's team for the 2010 U-17 World Cup cycle, recording 4 wins, 3 losses, and 1 draw in competitive matches as Canada fell out of the World Cup in the group stage.
Bridge was only the second coach in Highlanders history, leading Victoria through the 2010 and 2011 USL PDL seasons after inaugural coach Colin Miller left the team to join the Vancouver Whitecaps. After a mediocre 2010, Bridge led the Highlanders to their first ever playoff appearance in 2011, finishing second in the Northwest Division and losing in the first round to the Fresno Fuego.
Despite his 2011 success, Bridge is taking the fall for Victoria's tough record early in the season. With hopes of a Northwest Division crown, the Highlanders are instead off to a brutal start of 2 wins, 3 draws, and 4 losses, seven points out of the playoffs and ahead of only the winless Fraser Valley Mariners. The team lost one of last year's top scorers, Michael Marousek, to the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency, but has also seen reliable producers like Ashley Burbeary and Jordie Hughes fall off the face of the earth. A team which could score in bunches last year is now in the bottom third with the likes of Fraser Valley and North Sound, and the defense is only average. With a goal differential of only -1 the Highlanders are unlucky to be as low in the standings as they are; that said, they certainly haven't looked like playoff contenders.
The Highlanders head coach for the rest of the season will be Steve Simonson. Simonson is a career coach who was previously Victoria's head of men's player development and head coach of their U-20 and Reserve teams. Like Bridge, Simonson also has experience in women's soccer and was the Vancouver Whitecaps Women's Prospects head coach and assistant on the W-League team.
Simonson's been with the Highlanders since day one. His U-20s recently finished runners-up in the men's U-21 British Columbia Provincial Cup to the Port Moody Gunners, while the Highlanders Reserves are an undistinguished seventh in the Pacific Coast Soccer League this season. Simonson holds a Canadian Soccer Association "B" license and has coached soccer around the country; however, this is certainly his highest-profile position to date.
The Highlanders play their first game under Simonson Saturday at Royal Athletic Park against the Washington Crossfire.