Cowichan LMG Brad Archibald is back for his 13th season of Vancouver Island Div. 1 soccer. (Citizen file)

Cowichan LMG Brad Archibald is back for his 13th season of Vancouver Island Div. 1 soccer. (Citizen file)

Still the team to beat: Cowichan LMG makes some changes

Div. 1 and Div. 2 teams join forces

This is going to be a different kind of season for Cowichan LMG, but as head coach Glen Martin points out, his team still holds the league title, and the players are determined to hang on to it as the Vancouver Island Soccer League season begins this weekend.

“It will probably be a bit of a struggle at the start,” Martin said. “But we’re still the team to beat. We’ve won the league three years in a row. Hopefully we’ll get through the first half of the season in a decent position.”

LMG lost several players from last year’s Div. 1 championship team, and the Div. 2 champions, Cowichan United, folded, so the remaining players from the Div. 2 team joined up with what was left of LMG.

“We weren’t going to make it unless we combined the teams,” Martin explained.

Much of LMG’s core from recent years is back, including captain Brad Archibald, about to begin his 13th season in Div. 1 and 14th season playing for Martin, and the Big Three of Paddy Nelson, Cooper Barry and Craig Gorman, who combined to score about 70 per cent of the team’s goals last season. Also back are Kevan Brown, Mason Chang, Anton Bucher and Steve Scott. Among those who aren’t back are player-coach Tyler Hughes, who retired, Dan Cato, who is fighting fires in the Interior, Luca Klotz and Sam Beswick.

Ryan Flynn, who won a pair of Div. 2 titles as United’s head coach, is now on board as Martin’s assistant, and 2016-17 Div. 2 MVP Darian Achurch will tend goal for LMG. Also moving up to Div. 1 are Jose Muro, Jordan Korven, Stevan Zorich and Tanner Dobson, as well as Jacob Ready, who last played for the Div. 2 team in 2015-16.

Depth may be an issue for the team, specially in the early going, before a handful of players, including Colin Knight, Russell Lederer, Jamie Taylor, Joel Harry and Govinda Innes, return from the Vancouver Island University team, so Martin is just hoping to hang in with the rest of the league for a while. He expects to make several call-ups from the Cowichan U21 team that Hughes now coaches.

“It will be a work in progress,” Martin said. “It will be week to week to week.”

The top division should have more parity this season, Martin added, rather than being dominated by two or three clubs. He still wants his team to be among the best in the regular season and continue taking a run at the provincial championship.

“We don’t want to have to make the Jackson Cup final to make provincials,” he said. “Being in the top two or three in the league is still important.”

LMG will start the season at home on the Sherman Road turf this Saturday with a 4 p.m. test against Westcastle United, a new team in Div. 1, promoted after finishing second to Cowichan United last season.

“We’ve played them in the past, but we don’t really know anything about them,” Martin said. “Teams change so much from year to year. We’ll just worry about ourselves and adjust to them as the game goes along.”

Also in action on Sherman Road this weekend are the Masters B Cowichan Steelheads (vs. Fernwood Dragons at 6 p.m. on Saturday) and the Div. 2 women’s team (vs. Prospect Lake at noon on Sunday).

Div. 3A Cowichan Red Arrow visits Prospect Lake on Sunday, and the Masters A Cowichan 49ers have a road date with Nanaimo, also on Sunday.