From Victoria to Winnipeg and all points in-between, the summer soccer season is finally upon us.
Through most of this country, soccer only really gets started in late May as the weather is simply too awful to allow play in the early spring (the lower mainland being, of course, an honourable exception). So it's always nice, this time of year, when the sun is shining and you need only fire up your web browser to see results from some team from some far-flung corner of the dominion.
And it's been a good couple of weeks for western Canadian teams, too, with many of them compiling winning records. It's a treat when teams are playing soccer in places like Winnipeg and Edmonton. It's even more of a treat when those teams, particularly those in their first year, find themselves doing pretty darned well.
This Eighty Six Forever Western Canadian Round-Up is dedicated to WSA Winnipeg, who have begun their existence in tough conditions against some pretty good teams but have posted very respectable results. And, as always, if you have a competition west of Ontario you'd like to see this space following, drop a comment or an e-mail to the author using the link at the bottom of the page.
North American Soccer League
Western Canada's sole NASL club, FC Edmonton, is off to a heck of a start. The Eddies are currently running third in the league despite being most people's pick for the bottom two in their inaugural season: they're tied on points with second-place Minnesota but have one more win and two games in hand. FC Edmonton got their first home win of the year last Monday against the NSC Minnesota Stars, grabbing a well-deserved 2-1 victory on the strength of a brace by two-time former Whitecap Kyle Porter. Veteran goalkeeper Rein Baart returned to the nets in place of Lance Parker and looked very good, setting a lot of worried minds at ease.
Because this is the second division, Edmonton has a screwy schedule. That Minnesota game was their only match since the last Western Canadian Round-Up, and they next play tonight at 7:30 PM Mountain against FC Tampa Bay. Tampa is a decent team who already drew Edmonton 1-1 in Tampa earlier this season, but even a draw would move Edmonton into sole possession of second in the NASL (though well behind the Barcelona-esque Carolina Railhawks).
USL Premier Development League
- At the beginning of the year, the Abbotsford Mariners were expected to take up their traditional position in the basement of the USL PDL Northwest Division. That's pretty much what's happening. Abbotsford is winless through their first three games. Their only match in the past two weeks was on Sunday, where a modest crowd watched the Mariners lose their second home game of the season 1-0 to the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency on a goal by Ben Fisk. The Mariners put up a pretty spirited fight in the loss but there was no mistaking their inferior quality: still, I think they'll finish ahead of the likes of Washington or Tacoma before the season is through. Their next game is at home on Saturday in a winnable affair against the North Sound SeaWolves.
- To the extent that they count for this round-up (which is meant to highlight western Canadian teams that aren't the Whitecaps, who I already talk about all the time), the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency are off to a pretty decent start. The team's not usually in playoff contention but so far they're right up there with the division leaders. Vancouver drew an exciting game in Victoria 2-2 against the Highlanders thanks to goals from Michael Nanchoff and Caleb Clarke, then headed to Abbotsford to beat the Mariners 1-0 on their own ground. They're off until Friday, where they play Tacoma at Empire Field, then host the Highlanders for a return engagement on Sunday.
- As ever, the Victoria Highlanders are looking like one of the stronger teams in the division. But four games into the season and the results aren't quite showing it. The team's been victimized by playing against other strong teams early, and a 2-2 draw with the Whitecaps Residency at home was their only action in the past two weeks. Their next game on Saturday is at Lake Washington High School against the Crossfire.
The final western Canadian USL PDL team to start its season was WSA Winnipeg. Winnipeg played two games in two days at home to the Thunder Bay Chill, historically the best team in the Heartland Division, and they did the job! A 1-0 loss in the first game last Saturday was disappointing but hardly a shocker, but then the team came back in style to beat Thunder Bay 3-0 on Sunday thanks to goals from former FC Edmonton forward Kenny Sacramento, Amos Ganyea, and Ivan Garcia. All three Winnipeg goals came in the second half.
Both games were played indoors at the Winnipeg Indoor Soccer Complex, which is a full outdoor field underneath a roof. The next two games, both next week against the Des Moines Menace on Tuesday and Wednesday, are also now scheduled for the indoor complex. So say what you will about WSA Winnipeg, but they're way ahead of some teams in having their games be lighting-proof. For those interested in WSA Winnipeg, a visit to their official homepage is highly recommended just to see those remarkable jerseys, sponsored by fashion company Mondetta, that they're wearing into their first season.
- Six games into the season and, sadly, the first-year Victoria Highlanders Women may have already fallen out of contention. The Lady Highlanders have one draw and five losses with only two goals scored all year. The scores have been respectable and there have been some moral victories, but the results have been tough: losses throughout a three-game California road trip to Los Angeles, Pali, and Santa Clarita, followed by a 1-0 loss at home to the Colorado Rush. The team next heads on a two-game road swing into Colorado to take on the Rush and their state rivals the Force. Probably the team's main bright spot has been forward Liz Hansen, who scored one of Victoria's goals and assisted the other one. Keen followers of British Columbia womens soccer will recall that, last year, Hansen broke the PCSL premier women's single-season goalscoring record with the Highlanders: it's good to see her touch hasn't abandoned her in the move to the W-League.
- The Vancouver Whitecaps Women are off to a stronger start. The Whitecaps are 3-0-0 and lead the Western Conference having not yet conceded a goal all year. A 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders and 3-0 over the Colorado Rush have the Whitecaps all alone at the top of the conference, though they have yet to face the other strong teams. Their first serious test is tomorrow, when they travel to California to take on traditional powerhouses the Pali Blues.
Pacific Coast Soccer League:
To the surprise of nobody, the Vancouver Thunderbirds are early leaders in the PCSL Premier Men's Division. Four games in and Vancouver has won three of them, with the only loss a 2-1 setback on May 17 to Surrey United. Surrey United actually has a stronger claim to being the best team in the division today: they're ranked second on goal difference but are perfect through three games. In addition to their victory over Vancouver, Surrey's also knocked off Kamloops and Okanagan on a two-game road trip of the BC interior.
On the other end of the table, with three losses in three games the Kamloops Excel are off to another rough start. The big bright spot for Kamloops has been the performance of Chuck Noftal, who is in a four-way tie for the league scoring lead with three goals. The Okanagan Challenge have one win and three losses in their first four games, while the Mid-Isle Highlanders, Khalsa Sporting Club, and Victoria United are in a mid-table logjam.
The Vancouver Thunderbirds also have the early lead in the Premier Women's Division, having scored sixteen goals and conceded just two through five games. It's early but it looks like a three horse race for the title between the Thunderbirds, Surrey United, and the Vancouver Whitecaps Prospects. The Whitecaps Prospects, who last year were perfect until the championship game, have already hit an off-note this season: they drew 2-2 with the Thunderbirds May 25 to end a winning streak in the league that's extended over a calendar year.
Okanagan FC, with no points and a -9 goal differential three games in, look like the "have-nots" of the division this year. But the NSGSC Eagles have a -12 differential through five games and only a win over Coquitlam is keeping them out of early contention for the wooden spoon.