The BC Soccer adult provincial championships get underway this weekend, and two of Cowichan’s three qualified teams will be in action at home.
Cowichan LMG will kick off the senior men’s tournament at the Sherman Road turf at 1 p.m. on Saturday, followed at 4 p.m. by Cowichan United’s first game in the U21 provincial tournament. The other provincial qualifier, the Over 35 Cowichan Craig Street 49ers, have a bye through the first weekend of play.
After winning Div. 1 of the Vancouver Island Soccer League, Cowichan LMG is a seeded team in the men’s tournament, but their draw is still a tough one, beginning with West Van FC this Saturday. West Van finished third in the Vancouver Metro league’s Premier Division with 12 wins, five losses and five draws, scoring 43 goals and allowing 20.
“They’re a very, very strong team,” LMG head coach Glen Martin said. “We will have our hands full. We can do it, no question about it, but we’ve got to be at our best.”
Cowichan has faced West Van once before, in a 2013 provincial semifinal at McAdam Park that Martin calls his team’s “biggest game ever.” LMG still has three holdovers who played in that match: team captain Brad Archibald, Kevan Brown and Colin Knight. West Van won that game 3-1, then went on to lose in the provincial final.
The top three teams in the Metro league are all in Cowichan’s half of the provincial bracket this year, but Martin wouldn’t have expected anything less.
“If you want to win provincials, you have to beat a real good team sooner or later,” he said. “You might as well do it right away.”
If Cowichan wins, they will host the winner of an all-Island matchup between Nanaimo and Lakehill the following weekend, but Martin doesn’t want to think about that yet.
“You never want to look ahead,” he said. “Every year there’s major upsets.”
United, Cowichan’s first-year U21 team, which won the George Smith Cup last month, hosts EDC Burnaby in their provincial opener. Cowichan finished a close third in the VISL U21 division, while Burnaby placed fourth in the Vancouver Metro U21 Division with a 12-4-2 record, while out-scoring opponents 65-27.
Hughes hasn’t sought out any scouting reports about the Burnaby team, and will focus on getting his team to play their game.
“We don’t know much about the team, but we’re not really concerned,” United head coach Tyler Hughes said. “We know once you get to provincials, if you want to win, you’ve got to win four tough games. We’re going in thinking this will be the toughest game all year.”
Cowichan will look to capitalize on hosting the match, which is likely to be their only home game in the provincial tournament, regardless of how far they go.
“It’s a big advantage on a few fronts,” Hughes said. “You’re at home in front of your fans, at your home field where you practice twice a week. You don’t have to wake up early and catch a ferry. There is an advantage. There’s usually not a lot that separates teams in provincials; every advantage will help us.”
The upstart young team is hoping to build on their victory in the George Smith Cup as they proceed to provincials.
“We’re excited,” Hughes said. “We haven’t played a formal, competitive game since the cup final. We’re a young, fairly inexperienced team. Playing in the cup game, hopefully that experience helps with things on Saturday.”
After their bye this weekend, the Cowichan 49ers will host the winners of Westside FC and North Delta SC Rangers the following weekend. Cowichan earned a seeding in the tournament bracket by winning the Island Masters A Division, then added a Tony Grover Cup championship.
“We’re pretty much home all the way to the final, if we make it,” 49ers head coach Kevin James said. “It’s a nice reward to get the first game at home.”
Westside finished third in the Metro O35 Premier Division, and North Delta placed second in Fraser Valley Masters Premier Division. James knows neither one will be easy to beat.
“When you get into provincials, every team is going to be solid,” he said. “There are no weak teams in provincials.”
James has done a bit of research into his team’s potential opponents.
“Both teams give up very few goals,” he said. “They will be strong defensively. It will be a chore.”
Regardless, he is confident in his squad.
“We’re good,” the coach stated. “We’re the top team off the Island. We’ll play hard and play 45 minutes and 45 minutes. We’ll make adjustments as the game goes on.”