Ryan McQuillan, Highlanders Communications

June 4, 2013, Victoria, BC (ISN) – The Victoria Highlanders entered the 2013 season looking for experience to compliment a returning core of players, while also looking to place atop the Northwest Division. To achieve that, the Highlanders went out to pursue 27-year-old striker Riley O’Neill.

The six-foot three-inch striker, originally from Vancouver, B.C, was drafted by the Colorado Rapids in the third round of the 2007, but following his rights been traded to Toronto FC, O’Neill was drawn to the spotlight and big stage of European soccer. O’Neill would play for several clubs, including a two-year stint with MYPA of Finnish Veikkausliiga, where he scored 12 goals over two seasons.

June 8: Highlanders face Crossfire.

“Wanting to play at the highest level, the world stage, that’s what drew me,” says O’Neill. “That’s what I wanted, that was my goal. My best options were going straight over to Europe and building from there so that’s what drew me to go directly overseas. The competition in Finland was not as good as it was in Germany. In the German clubs the competition was more fierce and intense; in the Finish clubs it was still tough and a lot of hard work, but not compared to Germany.”

Born and raised in British Columbia, O’Neill had always been connected to home, friends and family. When his MYPA contracted had ended, O’Neill wanted to return to the high-intensity play of the German leagues, but following unsuccessful negotiations he looked into a return to North America.

“It’s been different for sure, different atmosphere, different players and I’m playing in the center mid position,” says O’Neill. “It’s not more of a leadership role because I had that as well in Finland but it’s different. It’s a shorter season so games are more important but it’s been fun so far and I’ve enjoyed being home. It’s a little easier playing with players at a bit higher level; there’s more of an understanding to the game than players who are younger and more free flowing; sometimes you don’t know what they’re going to do. It’s different in that sense but adjusting has not been a problem.”

Since joining the club, O’Neill has made his presence felt on the Highlanders roster, scoring three goals and playing every single minute of the 2013 season thus far.

“Players of Riley’s abilities don’t come around very often to the PDL level,” said Highlanders General Manager Mark deFrias. “I think his quality and composure on the field bring a calming effect to the entire team. He’s a veteran player with a lot of good experiences over in Europe and I think that he can help the players we have learn the game and improve their skills. We want to be able to see a player like Riley provide that leadership on and off the field.

The game will also feature the Peninsula Co-op Highlanders women taking on TSS Academy at 4:30pm. O’Neill and the Highlanders square off against the Washington Crossfire this Saturday, June 8th at 7:15pm at Royal Athletic Park. For more information please visit www.victoriahighlandersfc.com