The core of Cowichan LMG’s 2015 Jackson Cup-winning team will be back for the upcoming Vancouver Island Soccer League season, but head coach Glen Martin is always looking for ways to improve his team, and once again, he has a cast of new recruits that should help get the squad to yet another level of play.
Heading into last season, Martin added scoring stars Paddy Nelson and Cooper Barry to the roster. This year, he has bolstered the lineup with defender Ryan Ashley, goalkeeper Sam Hutchinson, and homegrown midfielders Mason Chang and Govinda Innes.
Ashley and Hutchinson both hail from Victoria, but spent the last four years playing for St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. Now that they’ve graduated, they’re back on the West Coast. Both of them had played with other Cowichan LMG players in the past — Ashley with the Victoria Highlanders and Hutchinson with Vic United — so it was an easy decision to play for Cowichan.
Hutchinson feels he brings a good level of experience to his new squad.
“Four years of playing at different ends of the country,” he said. “Knowledge from growing up on Vancouver Island, and the experience of playing soccer on both coasts.”
The biggest difference between soccer on the two coasts? One has snow, the other doesn’t.
Ashley, who has been a defensive partner of Cowichan mainstay Tyler Hughes with the Highlanders, took the opportunity to gently rib the veteran when asked what he brings to the team.
“Some youth, some speed to make up for Tyler,” he said. “Someone to run around where he tells me to go.”
Chang grew up in Duncan, but played most of his high-level soccer in Victoria.
“I played here until I was about 13, then I started commuting to Victoria to play,” he said.
Chang played in the Highlanders system for three years, where he also got to know Hughes. Martin invited him to try out for Cowichan LMG, and it wasn’t a hard decision to make.
“They’re number one in Div. 1,” Chang said. “I think that will push me. I’m one of the youngest guys here, if not the youngest, so I’ll bring a bit of youth to the team.”
Innes not only grew up in the Valley, in Lake Cowichan, but he has previous experience with Cowichan LMG. He played a season with the club five years ago, cracking the roster before he turned 17. Since then, he has spent four years playing in the German fourth division. This past summer, he played with Dallas City FC in the NPSL.
“Germany was amazing,” Innes said. “It was nice because you’re playing against the reserves for the pro sides. The way they think strategically is amazing. It was a bit of a culture shock.”
Innes’s mom still lives in the Cowichan Valley, so coming back here was a natural choice.
“It’s nice to come out and play with these guys again,” he said. “It’s also nice because they’re the best team.”
In addition to Hughes, Nelson and Barry, other veterans coming back from last year’s championship team include captain Jesse Winter, Kevan Brown, Dan Citra, Stu Barker, Steve Scott and Brad Archibald. Martin plans to start with a small roster and add players as the season progresses, including some from the University of Victoria and Vancouver Island University once their seasons are over.
“We’ll start with low numbers, about 13 or 14 guys,” the coach said. “It’ll be good for the guys at the start of the year; they’ll get lots of playing time. So far, we’re looking good. We have low numbers, but there’s quality there. We’re going to build on it as the season goes along.”
The idea is to peak for the playoffs, making another run at the Jackson Cup and continuing to pursue the elusive provincial championship. Cowichan has been to five of the last three Jackson Cup finals, winning three. They’ve been to the B.C. semifinals twice in that span, but haven’t been able to get over the bump to the last game.
“We’re the defending [Jackson Cup] champions, the defending league champions, there’s lots of motivation,” Martin said.
The players feel it too. Ashley says his main goal this year is to win provincials.
“I think everyone here wants to do that,” he said.