June 23, 2017: Victoria Highlanders @ TSS FC Rovers
|30||GK||Andrew Hicks||1||GK||Simon Norgrove|
|22||DF||Mitchell Popadynetz||5||DF||Stuart Heath|
|4||DF||Alejandro Varela||12||DF||Ryan McCurdy||yellow|
|3||DF||Andre Baires||15||DF||Jonah Smith|
|2||DF||Janko Vong||6||DF||Elie Gindo|
|16||MF||Joel Waterman||14||MF||Owen Pearce||out 78'|
|21||MF||Marcello Polisi||17||MF||Iskander van Doorne|
|18||MF||James MacMillan||out 60'||8||MF||Francesco Bartilillo|
|8||MF||Matteo Polisi||21||MF||Blair Sturrock||out 68'|
|19||MF||Ryan Dhillon||10||FW||Andrew Ofosu||out 68'|
|9||FW||Daniel Davidson||out 60'||4||FW||Sho Goto||goal 88'|
|15||MF||Connor Hildebrandt||in 60', yellow 87'||9||MF||Solomon Constant||in 68'|
|14||FW||Kristian Yli-Hietanan||in 60'||2||FW||Paddy Nelson||in 68'|
|13||MF||Aidan Moore||in 78'|
The return of the Juan de Fuca Plate got the day it deserved: stunning, sunny, and warm in the picturesque confines of Swangard Stadium. The Swanguardians, a TSS supporters group, began the game with a pyro-heavy tifo display featuring a perhaps-presumptuous banner reading "we've come to take back what's ours." TSS Rovers were undefeated at home, while the Highlanders were undefeated on the road: that last record was a bit technical, since in late June Victoria was playing its first away game of the season.
With all that heat, the first minutes of the match were sleepy; Sho Goto for Victoria and TSS's Polisi brothers briefly considered launching major attacks but thought better of it. The Highlanders were full of running in the early minutes despite the conditions; in particular, 35-year-old professional veteran Blair Sturrock had an extremely intense first half despite his years and the weather. Maybe he was feeling it a little more than the others: he was the only player on either team to ever play a Juan de Fuca Plate (and a 2014 champion).
The Rovers were missing a number of important players. Three University of British Columbia students, most notably the 18-year-old outfield MVP Zach Verhoeven, were in China playing a friendly tournament with the Thunderbirds. The team was also in an injury crisis and another interesting attacking player, Mamadi Camara, was out for the season. The Rovers only named six substitutes for a home game, which gives you some idea. Not that the Highlanders are a totally stable outfit, with players returning from injury and Iskander Van Doorne, a flashy-haired signing best known for reaching a national U-18 final with Calgary Foothills, making his second ever PDL appearance.
Perhaps as a result, the first half could best be called "cagey." Victoria's Andrew Ofosu, a veteran of English non-League soccer, was looking to attack all half and had the best chance in the tenth minute, though his shot from a tight angle proved an easy save for Andrew Hicks. There was little else of note, besides banter between the Swanguardians and a strong contingent of travelling Lake Side Buoys who braved the awkward kickoff time to spend two hours riding a ferry on a sunny day.
In general Victoria was better in the middle of the park while TSS was better out wide, particularly through the contributions of Ryan Dhillon just back from injury. However final balls and finishing were missing from both teams, and all coaches would have doubtless been nursing dark thoughts at a game that had no right to be 0-0.
The Rovers improved in the second half. Victoria's Francesco Bartilillo made what was actually an excellent clearance on Rovers' striker Daniel Davidson as the big man strode through the box, but got just a bit of Davidson as he did right in front of the Swanguardians: their outrage was audible from Surrey. Highlanders skipper Ryan McCurdy was either losing the ball in the sun or short on confidence; either way he made a few questionable plays, including a perilous backpass to Norgrove that could have ended much worse. Most dangerous of all, newly-subbed-on Rovers forward Kristian Yli-Hietanan found fellow substitude Connor Hildebrandt somehow unmarked a step behind Victoria's penalty spot. Hildebrandt, who destroyed the Fraser Valley Soccer League, knows how to score goals, but with nothing but time and Norgrove helpless, he hit the post.
This would be costly, as Victoria was still dangerous. Another veteran, Vancouver Island Soccer League star Paddy Nelson, came on for Victoria and not only played a prominent role holding up the ball but started a skillful play that absolutely should have given Aidan Moore a goal. (Moore, who had only just been substituted on but accidentally wore a shirt without a number and had to rush back for a change, may have been distracted.) Bartilillo continued a strong game by forcing a good save from Hicks.
Finally, in the 87th minute, Hildebrandt went in for a 50-50 ball with a high foot against Victoria's Elie Gindo. The call came late, but Gindo stayed down and Hildebrandt received a yellow card. It looked like the challenge hurt, but was there a foul in it? The Highlanders fans thought "yes," the Rovers fans "no."
From well in his own half Ryan McCurdy bombed the free kick to Stuart Heath, who flicked a terrific ball on to Sho Goto, who half-volleyed on his left foot and beat Andrew Hicks to score the first Juan de Fuca Plate goal in over three years, since Goto's teammate Blair Sturrock hammered a long shot past Nolan Wirth in the 89th minute at Thunderbird Stadium. Simon Norgrove, who had been enjoying a half of abuse from the Swanguardians, turned around and sarcastically applauded the home supporters as his team took the lead.
The Rovers showed some fight in the dying minutes but were unable to find inspiration to match Goto's. Controversy or no, it was an excellent winner and the Highlanders would feel they earned the first three points of the 2017 Juan de Fuca Plate.
88': 0-1 Victoria Highlanders. Sho Goto  (Stuart Heath)
AFTN Canada: TSS Rovers see unbeaten home record end in late loss to Victoria Highlanders after "typical Canadian soccer game."
Victoria Highlanders: Goto's late goal sends Highlanders to 1-0 win over Rovers.