The Cowichan 49ers had their most challenging match so far in the Vancouver Island Soccer League masters season, but managed to keep their perfect record intact.
Not only were the Niners facing their most formidable opponent to date, they also found themselves down a man for more than half the contest. The 2-1 final score was Cowichan’s closest result yet, by a significant margin, but head coach Kevin James was pleased with the way the team responded to the situation to beat the CB Red Barn Bobcats.
“I was really happy with the way we reacted to going down a man for 50 minutes,” he said. “It was good to have a bit of adversity. We responded well to the adversity of being down a man.”
Based on previous experience, the 49ers knew they would be in for a challenge visiting the Bobcats in their home park.
“They seemed like they have a good core group of guys,” James said. “They play well together. They were exactly what I thought they’d be and what they’ve been in the past; they roll up their sleeves and play hard.”
The 49ers opened the scoring when Darcy Kulai redirected a corner kick by George Thorne to make it 1-0. The game continued on in much the same way until around the 40-minute mark, when Cowichan’s Darcy Penner was sent off with a red card, meaning the team was down to 10 men for the remainder of the match.
“When you’re playing a good team, being a man down makes it even tougher,” James said.
The Niners changed their formation to cope with the disadvantage and the Bobcats capitalized on it in the second half. At that point, they returned to their previous setup and attacked a bit more, which paid off when Stu Barker scored his league-leading 16th goal of the season.
“We knew what to expect,” James said. “They’re a hard-nosed group they’ve had there for a few years now. Certain teams always play you tough, and Cordova Bay always plays us tough. We’ve been winning games comfortably, and we knew we couldn’t be too comfortable in this game.”
A perfect six-for-six so far, the 49ers have one game left in pool play as they visit the Fernwood Dragons at Victoria’s Central Park at noon on Sunday. Fernwood, who Cowichan has never played before, is challenging for a spot in the A division — which the 49ers have already clinched — so they will be motivated.
“It will be a big game for sure,” James said. “It would be nice to get the three points. That’s what we’re aiming for.”
The Cowichan Steelheads are officially out of contention for a berth in the A division going forward following a scoreless tie with Castaways Juniors at Blanshard Park on Sunday. Now with two wins, one draw and three losses, the Steelheads tied for fourth with JDF Alliance, who they will face in their final game of pool play Saturday at 8 p.m.