It all hinged on one game.
After a 4-0 win over Prince Rupert United and a 1-1 tie with the Surrey Royals – the same team they lost to 1-0 in the Coastal Cup final back in the spring – the Cowichan Valley Soccer Association’s U18 boys Gold team needed a win over a beatable Kelowna United team in their final pool game last Saturday to advance to the championship match at the provincial tournament in Penticton last week.
Although Cowichan threw everything they had at Kelowna, especially in the final minutes, they couldn’t manage a goal and had to settle for a 1-0 loss and a chance at fifth place.
"I couldn’t have asked for more," head coach Bill Keserich Jr. said. "We were just unfortunate in that one game that we couldn’t score. We hit crossbars, had balls cleared off the line, shots blocked. It’s definitely frustrating when you’re the better team and you don’t get the bounces. To win in soccer, you need skill, hard work and luck. We just didn’t have the luck that time."
It wasn’t easy, but the Cowichan players regrouped after that emotional loss and beat Williams Lake 3-2 on Sunday. Cowichan led 2-0 before Williams Lake battled back to tie the score. Finally, Brydon Sampson capitalized on a penalty kick to restore his team’s lead, and that goal stood up as the winner.
"Obviously, they wanted to go out on a winning note, but the momentum when you’re playing for fifth and sixth isn’t the same as when you’re playing in the finals," Keserich said. "That game should have been over in the first half. We probably should have won 10-0."
In addition to Sampson, Cowichan got outstanding performances at the tournament from Paris Holland, Amish Dobson Josh Jones, Taylor Martin and goalkeeper Tao Browne.
"Everybody played great, don’t get me wrong," Keserich said. "But those guys really stood out."
The loss to Kelowna was one of just two defeats for the Cowichan team all season as they won 23 times and also played to a pair of draws.
This marks the end of youth soccer for all the U18 players, but Keserich hopes they continue playing the sport at some level.
"I’ve coached nine of them for the last six years," he said. "They’re a pretty tightknit group, more like a band of brothers."