Men’s First Team: 2014 Year In Review
[Photo credit: Armando Tura/ApShutter.com]
VICTORIA – After 2013’s most successful campaign in team history, Victoria Highlanders FC entered their 2014 Premier Development League season with expectations at an all-time high. The Victoria squad once again impressed throughout the year, finishing just a point shy of their 2013 point total with 27 and just behind Northwest Division champion Kitsap Pumas SC.
An early exit from the playoffs was quickly erased as Victoria hosted the largest friendly in club history, entertaining over 6000 fans at the University of Victoria’s Centennial Stadium.
The Highlanders kicked off their campaign in a Salish Sea Derby against Vancouver Whitecaps U-23 at Royal Athletic Park in Victoria. An entertaining affair saw a last-minute comeback-victory from Victoria in a thrilling match to open the season. The game was highlighted by Wesley Barrett’s late goal off the bench to tie the game in the final minutes before Victoria was awarded a penalty shot to secure the victory.
Two weeks later, Victoria entered their second match of the season against expansion cousin Pumas. Featuring a radically different roster than the one that missed the 2013 playoffs, Kitsap took the Highlanders all the way to the final minutes of the second half for the second straight match. Down 1-0 late, it was Barrett once again for the home squad, who forced a late through-ball to teammate Blair Sturrock who then deposited the ball into the net to salvage a draw and valuable point in the process.
Victoria would earn three of a possible four points the following weekend May 23-24, earning a thrilling 5-4 shootout victory against Whitecaps before drawing 1-1 with Washington Crossfire back home at Royal Athletic Park. The Whitecaps game appeared to be headed in the way of a blowout as Victoria opened with four straight goals before Vancouver answered back with four goals of their own. The resilient Highlanders found yet another late goal to earn their second win of the season, with Sturrock striking in the 89th minute off a through-ball from teammate Ian Greedy.
The late game heroics were non-existent in the Highlanders’ first multiple game road trip of the season, May 31 – June 1 as Victoria headed to face both the Pumas and Crossfire. Looking to push their winning record to four with a pair of victories, the visiting squad instead found a wall of defenders that they were unable to penetrate, dropping consecutive losses by 1-0 and 2-0 score lines to drop their season record to 2-2-2 on the season.
Needing a win to avoid digging themselves into a hold just seven games in, the Highlanders welcomed Major League Soccer affiliate Portland Timbers U-23 to RAP on June 7. Their previously absent offence ignited in the match, with Highlanders’ Cam Hundal and Andrew Ravenhill each scoring their first goals of the PDL campaign, while Sturrock increased his team scoring lead to three goals. Splitting duties in net with ‘keeper Elliot Mitrou throughout the year, Brandon Watson’s hopes of a clean sheet nearly came to fruition before a late penalty kick was awarded to Portland. With the 3-1 win, Victoria moved back into third place in the Northwest division.
Next up for Victoria was the Puget Sound Gunners (a rebranded North Sound SeaWolves) squad. A strong second half highlighted the match as the home side registered three unanswered goals in the second half of play en route to a 4-1 victory, their fourth of the 2014 campaign. Goal scoring was spread across the map for the victors, with Cam Hundal, Ryan Ashlee, Blair Sturrock and Ian Greedy all notching goals to finish the two game home stand with back-to-back victories.
With ambitions to once again crack the top of the table heading into their next weekend of play in Washington, the Highlanders suffered a hard-fought defeat on the road against Portland Timbers U-23 the following week. Several posts and near-misses came back to bite Victoria, while the Timbers capitalized on two late goals to capture a 3-1 victory.
Perhaps frustrated with the outcome of their match, Victoria exploded on offence the following day as they faced expansion side Lane United in the first-ever meeting between the two clubs. Six different Highlanders posted goals for Victoria in a 7-0 rout, with Cameron Stokes notching a late brace to embarrass the home team for their fifth win and third in four games.
With the end of the Premier Development League regular season just around the corner, Highlanders FC next welcomed division rival Sounders U-23 to Royal Athletic Park on June 28. Neither side was able to capitalize on the opportunities throughout the match that included several by Highlander Cam Hundal, as Victoria’s Brandon Watson and opposing netminder Jefferson Caldwell both refused to allow a goal past them, resulting in a 0-0 draw in front of 1457 fans. The single point was a valuable one that positioned Victoria four points out of first-place with three games remaining.
Needing to win out their season to have a mathematical chance to capture first-place Kitsap Pumas and the red-hot Whitecaps U-23 squad, the Highlanders did just that. Going on a three-game winning streak to close out their 2014 PDL regular season campaign. The winning streak concluded in the most dramatic of fashion, as a last minute own-goal by Sounders U-23 at Sunset Stadium earned the Highlanders a late victory. The win matched the Whitecaps with 27 points, with Victoria holding the tiebreaker needed to finish in second place and host their first ever PDL home playoff match in club history.
A quick turnaround did little to deter the Highlanders’ faithful, as a packed crowd gathered to support their squad in PDL playoff action. Unfortunately for the home side, things did not go as planned. Early strikes to the back of the net that included goals for former Highlander Brett Levis and teammate Niall Cousens were too much to overcome, as the ‘Caps overwhelmed their Cascadia rival to post a 7-2 victory and eliminate the Highlanders from the playoffs.
It was an unfortunate ending to the Highlanders 8-3-3 PDL campaign, but the team was not quite finished yet. They would rally to host legendary Scotland side Glasgow Rangers FC just days later, in a match that did not disappoint to say the very least. The international friendly was arguably the most important match to date for the Highlanders, who now direct efforts towards the development of young local talent through the fall and winter at the Highlanders Youth Academy.
The 2015 Premier Development League season will be here before you know it! Early bird specials on Season Tickets are still available for purchase. For more information please visit www.highlandersfc.ca or call 250-590-8432.
2014 PDL REGULAR SEASON STATS
Record: 8-3-3 (2nd Place, Northwest Division)
Playoff Record: 0-1 (7-2 defeat to VWFC)
Goals For: 32
Goals Against: 18
Goal Leader: Blair Sturrock (5)
Assist Leader: Andrew Ravenhill (4)
Awards/Titles: Juan de Fuca Plate (8-6 VHFC aggregate score over VWFC)