A new-look Cowichan LMG team will take the field this Friday to kick off the Vancouver Island Soccer League Div. 1 season.
Cowichan has had a remarkable run in recent years, winning multiple league titles and Jackson Cups. The high-flying trio of Paddy Nelson, Cooper Barry and Craig Gorman led the way during much of that span, Nelson becoming Cowichan’s all-time leading goal scorer. Those three players have taken their show to Bays United. Along with a couple of other notable departures, it adds up to what head coach Glen Martin calls a “rebuilding year.”
“We lost a lot of players,” Martin said. “And we didn’t have a lot to begin with.”
Also changing jerseys is Anton Bucher, who left Cowichan for Gorge FC. Longtime Cowichan defender Brad Archibald will miss the season with a torn ACL. Martin isn’t exactly left scrambling to replace them, but he does have to be a little creative.
“We’ll be using a lot of U21 players,” he said. “There’s some good, young talent coming up.”
Darian Achurch returns to backstop Cowichan after a stellar 2017-18 season, and the team should be strong defensively in front of him. The biggest impact will be felt on the forward lines.
“We will struggle to score goals,” Martin acknowledged. “It will be a different style of play. It will be a hard-nosed defensive style. We’ll grind out every game. We’ll make sure we’re competitive.”
In addition to Achurch, returning players include the steady Kevan Brown, last year’s team MVP Steve Scott, 2017-18 all-star Jordan Korven, and veterans Govinda Innes and Jose Muro. Keevan Webb, Colin Knight and Russell Lederer will be back full-time after joining the team midway through the season last year, which is what Joel Harry will do this year. Also back is defensive stalwart Jesse Winter, who returns as captain after two years on the sidelines with injuries.
“It’s gonna be fun,” Martin said. “It’s a good group of guys. We’ll enjoy our soccer and do our best.”
It’s not like Cowichan wasn’t a contender prior to the arrival of Nelson, Barry and Gorman for the 2014-15 season. The team won back-to-back Jackson Cups in 2011 and 2012, and reached the finals in 2010 and 2014. The high-powered offence, however, propelled LMG to four straight league titles.
“Before we had those guys, we finished second, second, second,” Martin noted. “It wasn’t like we weren’t any good before we had them. They put us over the top because of goal-scoring.”
Times are changing, but it doesn’t have to be for the worse.
“Every team in the league has a nine- or 10-year run that comes to an end,” Martin said. “I’m not saying ours is over, but it will be different.
“We’re still Cowichan FC, four-time league champs in a row, going for five. We’ll see what the 2018-19 version of Cowichan is.”
The new era begins this Friday when Cowichan plays host to Fernwood Town, newly promoted from Div. 2, on the Sherman Road turf at 8 p.m.
“We’ll see what they bring,” Martin said. “New teams are usually excited and ready to go.”