In a span of just two days, Cowichan LMG advanced to the Jackson Cup final and clinched the Vancouver Island Soccer League Div. 1 title.
On Friday, Cowichan locked up the Div. 1 title when Bays United beat Vic West 2-0, making it impossible for Vic West to catch LMG in the standings.
The next day, Cowichan won 2-1 over Gorge in the Jackson Cup semifinal to reach their seventh Jackson Cup championship game in the last eight years.
LMG head coach Glen Martin joked that his team just has a berth reserved in the tournament final, then quickly made it clear he was far from serious.
“It’s not that easy, believe me,” he said. “But we’re on an amazing run for Cowichan soccer.”
The teams took to the Hampton Park pitch in front of a big crowd on a cold, wet and windy night. Gorge opened the scoring about 15 minutes in, converting a penalty shot that no one saw coming after a Gorge player collided with Cowichan goalkeeper Scott Brown.
“I though it was going to be a free kick for us,” Martin said. “Most of the people there did, including their fans.”
The fact that the bizarre call happened early in the match made it easier for Cowichan to take.
“I was glad it didn’t happen late in the game,” Martin said. “We had time to recover.”
Just five minutes later, Paddy Nelson earned a legitimate penalty shot when he was taken down in the box. Nelson himself made good on the opportunity and tied the score. From then on, the game went back and forth, with both teams playing at a high tempo.
“That’s the way it should be in a semifinal,” Martin said.
In the 70th minute, LMG’s Anton Bucher sent a cross to teammate Cooper Barry, who headed the ball past the Gorge keeper, and Cowichan latched onto the one-goal lead. A late kerfuffle in the Cowichan end resulted in a red card to Gorge, who had to play the last five minutes down a goal and missing a player.
“We went into lockdown mode and held on,” Martin said. “The way we locked it down was something we’ve been working on in training, and it worked well.”
Brown played a strong game in goal, something Martin wasn’t surprised to see.
“He loves Hampton Park,” the coach recalled. “He told me that’s where he plays his best.”
Nelson and Tyler Hughes were among the other players who starred for Cowichan in the semifinal.
“It was a good team game,” Martin said. “It’s exciting to be back in the final.”
Cowichan will take on Nanaimo United in the Jackson Cup final at Royal Athletic Park on April 2. It will be Cowichan’s seventh final in eight years and the team will be looking for its fifth title in that span. Nanaimo reached the final thanks in large part to some upsets on their side of the draw, including Div. 2 Cowichan United’s win over Vic West, the second-place team in Div. 1, in the first round.
Not to be forgotten in the Jackson Cup excitement is the fact that Cowichan LMG won the Garrison Cup as league champs for the third season in a row. Martin feels that the Garrison Cup is better proof of how strong his team is than its impressive Jackson Cup record.
“To me, over six months, it shows who the best team is,” he said. “It means you’re consistent week after week. It shows you’re a well-prepared team. That’s what you need week after week.”
As league champs, Cowichan locks up a high seed in the provincial tournament, including a home game in the first round.
Although the league title has been decided, the team still has a handful of games to play. LMG played host to Bays United on Tuesday night, kicking off a busy stretch of four games in 12 days.
The team also has league games at Vic West next Saturday and at home against Comox next Tuesday, followed by the Jackson Cup the following Sunday.