Story By Jai Rakic – ISN
Photos by Erich Eichhorn – ISN
Victoria, BC (ISN) – More than a thousand people packed the stands of Royal Athletic Park on Saturday night to watch the United Soccer League’s (USL), Victoria Highlanders men’s team go head to head with the Vancouver Whitecaps U-23s, with the Whitecaps prevailing 4-2.
After these two teams drew 1-1 during their last encounter on May 13th, neither side has really hit their stride but both remain in good contention to earn a playoff spot. The Highlanders sit in 5th position on the ladder, leading the 6th place Whitecaps by only one point in the USL’s Northwest Division – only the top four teams in the division advance to the playoff stage.
Former FC Aigle Switzerland player Sourosh Amani, now of the Highlanders, bring the ball up field -Erich Eichhorn image ( www.allsportmedia.ca )
With both teams having everything to play for and nothing to lose, the game was sure to showcase the skill and passion that these team’s possess.
The opening 20 minutes of the game saw few chances for either side as players slowly warmed to the game and became re-familiarised with their opposition.
The first real opportunity came In the 22nd minute when Whitecaps striker Caleb Clarke missed a golden opportunity to put his team in front after nodding a diving header just wide of the post after a superb cross found him in front of goal.
Clarke would have another scoring opportunity in the 30th minute after a nicely weighted through ball put him one on one with Highlanders goalkeeper, Elliott Mitrou, who came off his line to make a crucial save.
After a few close chances on their side of the pitch the Highlanders pushed forward and were awarded a penalty kick in the 33rd minute after a Whitecaps defender was penalized for a handball inside the box.
Highlanders forward, Ashley Burbeary, stepped up to take the penalty and drilled the ball low and hard towards the Whitecaps bottom right hand corner only to be denied by a great save from the Vancouver goalkeeper.
There weren’t many scoring opportunities for either side for the remainder of the half, and teams went into the dressing rooms with the scoreboard reading 0-0.
After the break both teams came out onto the field more determined and aggressive, each equally hungry for the win.
In the 53rd minute Highlanders forward Jordan Hughes, had the home fans on their feet after he sailed a one-timer just over the cross bar, to the relief of the travelling Whitecaps fans.
The scoreless deadlock was finally broken in the 60th minute after a string of good passes found Whitecaps forward Ben Fisk one on one with the keeper. Fisk finished strongly, firing the ball off his left boot and finding the side netting, in the top right corner of the Victoria goal. 1-0 to the visitors.
The Highlanders were quick to reply, levelling the score in the 64th minute when midfielder Craig Gorman found him self with the ball in front of goal, calmly finishing with a neat little chip over the head of the Whitecaps keeper.
In back play Vancouver midfielder Bryce Alderson was unhappy with a challenge made on him leading up to Gorman’s goal, he strongly protested the referee’s decision only to be cautioned with a yellow card. A few minutes later Alderson received his second yellow and was sent from the field, after breaking the defensive line early during a Highlanders free kick only 25 yards from goal.
Highlander Midfielder Craig Gorman dances around U23 WhiteCap player Saturday night at RAP – Erich Eichhorn image ( www.allsportmedia.ca )
The Whitecaps were down a man and the Highlanders were pushing hard for a second goal to secure the lead and In the 73rd minute it appeared they had one only to have it disallowed after the scoring Highlanders player was flagged for being in an offside position.
The Whitecaps were playing with ten men but continued to bother the Highlanders defense. Then Vancouver substitutes Michael Marousek and Jackson Coulton each scored a goal in the 76th and 82nd minute respectively, putting the visitors up 3-1. Highlanders Jared Stephens, made it 3-2 in the 90th minute and gave his team hope of snatching a tie in the final moments. But it was not to be. The Vancouver Whitecaps scored again in added time ending the game 4-2.
While this wasn’t the result the Victoria Highlanders were hoping for, they did show signs of greatness and will be eager to show their supporters that they are more then capable of reaching the playoffs, when they take on the 4th placed Washington Crossfire at home next Saturday night (June 16th).
See more of Erich Eichhorn’s Images from this game HERE