Through all his experience in soccer — including playing professionally and internationally as well as several years on the backline for Cowichan LMG — Tyler Hughes had never seen a Vancouver Island Soccer League U21 match.
Until his debut as head coach of Cowichan United, the new addition to the U21 circuit, last Sunday afternoon.
“I had no idea what to expect,” said Hughes, who is assisted behind the bench by Darcy Kulai and Ryan Fusick. “I had never watched a game, never coached a game. But based on the group of players we’ve got, I was quite happy with what we’ve got to work with. Working with the Cowichan players so far has been a lot of fun.”
It all came together for the team in their U21 league opener as they battled back to defeat Vic West 2-1 at the Sherman Road turf.
Cowichan gave up an early goal in the contest, then got a tying goal from Luke Armstrong in the second half. The deciding goal came on a Cowichan corner kick that a Vic West player redirected into his own net.
Saturday’s match was United’s first in the U21 league, but it wasn’t their first as a team. A few days earlier, they had defeated Prospect Lake’s Div. 2 team in the opening round of the McGavin Cup tournament. Cowichan gave up an early goal in that one as well, but came back to make it 3-3 on goals by Armstrong, Kaine Dreaver and Oliver Bontkes, then held out for the win on penalty kicks.
Hughes is optimistic about the season ahead.
“It’s a good group of guys,” he said. “We usually get 16 or 17 at practice. It’s a very committed group, a hard-working group. As a coach, those are very important factors that you look for. A couple of our players have some very technical abilities as well.”
Hughes’s connections with Cowichan LMG don’t hurt the cause either.
“We’re offering our players an opportunity to train from time to time with the Div. 1 team,” he noted. “And Glen [Martin] has had a handful of players permitted up. It’s quite an opportunity for players who are maybe trying to get to university or Div. 1, or see how far they can go with it.”
United has a busy few days coming up. They have another league game at home on Sunday against Ladysmith’s Mid Isle Mariners, and then on Monday at 8 p.m. they play a McGavin Cup quarterfinal game against Div. 3A Cowichan Red Arrow. Both matches are at the Sherman Road turf.