It didn’t take long for The Wiz to start working his magic.
Paddy Nelson, hands-down the top striker in the Vancouver Island Soccer League for several years now, showed that he’s still No. 1 as he scored early and often to lead Cowichan LMG to a 5-1 season-opening win over Westcastle at the Sherman Road turf on Saturday afternoon.
Nelson finished with four goals and set up Craig Gorman’s marker as his team started off the 2017-18 campaign in impressive fashion.
“He was a bit of a dominant player,” LMG head coach Glen Martin said, noting that Nelson probably should have scored six goals instead of four. “He played for the [Victoria] Highlanders in the off-season, so he came in in mid-season form.”
As planned, Cowichan went after Westcastle right away, and Nelson struck in the fourth and eighth minutes, giving his team a 2-0 lead at halftime.
“It was good, but we felt we should have been in better position than 2-0,” the coach said.
Martin was still returning to the pitch after locking up the change room — entrusting the first few minutes of the second half to assistant coach Ryan Flynn — when Nelson completed his hat trick on a set piece.
Westcastle got one back not long after that when Cowichan coughed up the ball and Maurizio Abdi made good on a two-on-one break. The visiting team then lost arguably their best player on the pitch when Elliot Cuthbert received his second yellow card, and they had to play the rest of the match shorthanded.
Cowichan goalkeeper Darian Achurch, who was named the Div. 2 MVP last season, had a strong showing in his first Div. 1 appearance in a few years.
“He thought he should have had the goal they scored, but it’s pretty tough to stop a two-on-one breakaway,” Martin said. “We should have no problem with Darian in goal.”
Westcastle, which was promoted from Div. 2 after coming second last season, fielded a young team. Cuthbert, whose brother, Josh, played for Cowichan a couple of years ago, was the only player in Westcastle’s lineup that Martin recognized. The team has a ton of potential, though.
“They’ll get better,” Martin said. “Once they figure it out, they’ll take some points away from good teams. They have some good players; they should be OK.”
Cowichan’s lineup was bolstered by a pair of call-ups from the U21 team that will make its debut this coming week. Tyson Black and Miles Boulton both saw action late in the game. Carrying a small roster for the time being, Martin expects to call on the U21 team regularly.
LMG will play its first road match of the season in Nanaimo this Saturday. It will be a rematch of last spring’s Jackson Cup final, which Cowichan lost in extra time. Nanaimo opened their season with a scoreless tie against Comox last weekend.
“It’s always a tough game up there,” Martin said. “Nanaimo is looking to do good things this year. They won the Jackson Cup and they’re looking to be the next big thing. We know who they are and what they’ve got. We’ll worry about ourselves right now.”