June 25, 2017: Victoria Highlanders @ TSS FC Rovers

Rovers Victoria
30 GK Andrew Hicks 1 GK Simon Norgrove
4 DF Alejandro Varela 5 DF Stuart Heath
5 DF Vaggeli Boucas 12 DF Ryan McCurdy
3 DF Andre Baires 21 DF Blair Sturrock
2 DF Janko Vong 15 DF Jonah Smith yellow 90'
22 MF Tim Hickson out 45' 14 MF Owen Pearce out 58'
21 MF Marcello Polisi 17 MF Iskander van Doorne out 72'
19 MF James MacMillan 8 MF Francesco Bartilillo
18 MF Ryan Dhillon 11 MF Eva Batousol out 45'
22 MF Mitchell Popadynetz out 58' 10 FW Andrew Ofosu out 76'
15 FW Connor Hildebrandt out 58' 4 FW Sho Goto goal 87'
16 MF Joel Waterman in 45' 9 MF Solomon Constant in 45'
8 MF Matteo Polisi in 58', goal 70' 86' 2 FW Paddy Nelson in 58'
9 FW Daniel Davidson in 58', goal 60' 7 MF Justin Donaldson in 72'
13 MF Aidan Moore in 76'

After a weekend of blazing sun and blistering heat, welcome waves of cloud closed in around Swangard Stadium just in time for Sunday evening soccer. The sky still glowed blue with summer splendour but the brilliancy was touched up by the stirring swirls of cloud stained by the coastal sunset with, in what would turn out to be a fairly major omen, TSS Rovers red.

The prophecy only went so far. For one thing the Rovers came out in their black change kit. But then a change was appropriate, as the past Friday had seen the Rovers lose their first ever Juan de Fuca Plate tie 1-0 to the visiting Victoria Highlanders. A Victoria win and the Juan de Fuca Plate would remain in the capital for yet another year. Any other result and it would come down to the third and final game on July 9.

With only a day off between games both teams made a few changes. Most notably, Victoria moved veteran forward Blair Sturrock to centre back, alongside captain Ryan McCurdy. Sturrock has had a long and varied career, including a 2014 Juan de Fuca Plate title, but this may have been a first. Eva Batousol also drew in for Victoria in his Juan de Fuca Plate debut. TSS Rovers were still shorthanded with their University of British Columbia players busy in China but Edmontonian Tim Hickson, once a regular for the Whitecaps PDL team but never before involved in a Plate match, made his first start of the season. Regular centre back Vaggeli Boucas returned to the lineup. Connor Hildebrandt, who could have been Friday's killer substitute but hit the post, started up top.

As on Friday, the game began extremely quietly on a hot and humid evening. The 621 fans in attendance waited half an hour for the first real chance, when Victoria's Owen Pearce spun magnificently off Janko Vong and stung a shot that Rovers goalkeeper Andrew Hicks did very well to save. Twelve minutes later, Rovers got a half-chance right back when an accurate James MacMillan corner found the head of Alejandro Varela, who headed just wide. That was it for the first half, and neither team would have been happy: TSS was still behind in the Juan de Fuca Plate, while Victoria wanted a win to keep their slim PDL playoff chances alive.

The second half also began slowly, but things would improve. Near the hour mark MacMillan forced a fine save from Simon Norgrove, and the rebound fell almost to Connor Hildebrandt's feet. Hildebrandt, rushing the ball, fell over and failed to get there, and was immediately substituted off for Daniel Davidson. This would be important. Only two minutes later Rovers deep-lying playmaker Joel Waterman, a half-time substitute himself, hit a 40-yard pass out right into the stride of crafty winger Ryan Dhillon. Dhillon made a couple steps, cleanly beat Stuart Heath, and floated a cross to Davidson, whose first touch of the match was to head the ball into the bottom corner and put Rovers up 1-0, tying the Juan de Fuca Plate.

The Highlanders did not take this lying down. Instantly upon the restart, veteran Paddy Nelson forced a good save from Hicks with a 25-yard low drive. From the resulting corner, with the Swanguardians' smoke still filling the field, Hicks made another terrific save off the head of Sho Goto. The humidity was oppressive, players were flagging and mistakes were creeping into the game, and for ten strong minutes it looked like the Highlanders might well take advantage.

Unfortunately, we were in for another first-rate Juan de Fuca Plate controversy. In the 69th minute yet another Rovers substitute, Matteo Polisi, dribbling around the corner of the 18-yard box, failed to skip past a challenge by Victoria's Iskander van Doorne and went down easily. There wasn't much in it and the referee had so far let the players play, but this time he pointed to the spot. Polisi, taking his own penalty, hit an easy drive low and right as Simon Norgrove guessed wrong to put Rovers up 2-0. There were shades of Friday night in the decision, when Victoria's goal came as a result of a dubious foul call: the Highlanders fans were outraged by the decision and even the Rovers support, standing right behind the goal where the incident took place, seemed not to expect the penalty until it was awarded.

Yet again Victoria came inches from revenge, as Sturrock (who was proving an improbably brilliant centre back) bombed a long diagonal ball from almost his own half to Sho Goto, who had he gotten a couple inches closer to the ball would have had the goal at his mercy. But despite pushing Sturrock up once Aidan Moore came in and mustering some crunching challenges, Victoria was limited to long-range shooting and not-too-close crosses for fifteen minutes. Then, while the Highlanders had men forward, a Waterman pass found Daniel Davidson leading an odd-man rush with Matteo Polisi and Ryan Dhillon up against only Ryan McCurdy and Jonah Smith. Davidson stroked a low cross that Polisi slid into for his brace and an insurmountable 3-0 Rovers lead with four minutes remaining in normal time.

For the third time the Highlanders immediately tried to reply. For the first time they succeeded. After Marcello Polisi gave away a foul (no doubt about this one), Nelson hit a free kick that Goto ran onto perfectly and touched neatly past Hicks. The goal did not change the Juan de Fuca Plate situation and Victoria played hard and fast trying to even the goal difference; leading up to a goal kick, with the Rovers ball boys busy playing keepy-uppy, Simon Norgrove ran straight into the Swanguardians to get the ball himself. Jonah Smith took a yellow card for, apparently, German suplexing Ryan Dhillon. There was no doubt about their intensity and effort, but it would not be rewarded and the Rovers won 3-1.

Rovers coaches Will Cromack and Colin Elmes, whose substitutions won the game, took deserved plaudits as their squad seized a one-goal aggregate advantage in the Juan de Fuca Plate. The final match on July 9 would decide everything, but that extra goal ensured that a draw would mean a trophy for TSS.

Scoring Summary

60': 1-0 TSS FC Rovers. Daniel Davidson [1] (Ryan Dhillon)
70': 2-0 TSS FC Rovers. Matteo Polisi [1] (penalty kick)
86': 3-0 TSS FC Rovers. Matteo Polisi [2] (Daniel Davidson)
87': 3-1 Victoria Highlanders. Sho Goto [2] (Paddy Nelson)

Full Match Video