June 3, 2018: Victoria Highlanders @ TSS FC Rovers

Rovers Victoria
30 GK Mario Gerges 1 GK Nolan Wirth
12 DF Omar Rostant out 64' 2 DF Callum Montgomery goal 90'+1
16 DF Brendan Skinner 20 DF Peter Schaale
17 DF Alejandro Varela 14 DF Gordon Hall
2 DF Janko Vong 3 MF Cory Bent
23 MF Nike Azuma out 46' 16 MF Thomas Shores
22 MF Patrick Metcalfe out 58' 10 MF Marcus Campanile
6 MF Rahid Rahiem out 58' 12 MF Mitchell Popadynetz
8 FW Zach Verhoven goal 17' 23', out 69' 11 MF Isaac Koch out 61'
18 FW Nick Soolsma 23 FW Cam Hundal out 72'
14 FW Daniel Sagno out 46' 17 FW Stuart Heath out 61'
13 FW William Raphael in 46' 6 MF Francesco Bartolillo in 61'
21 MF Marcello Polisi in 46' 8 FW Mackenzie Cole in 61'
5 DF Connor Guilherme in 58', yellow 71' 9 FW Chris Rushworth in 72'
10 MF Matteo Polisi in 58'
11 FW Aidan Moore in 69'

Coming off a 2-1 win in Saanich, their first ever road points in the league, TSS FC Rovers had one hand on their first ever Juan de Fuca Plate when they returned home to Swangard Stadium for the second leg on Sunday, June 3. Rovers were in superb form compared to an underachieving Victoria, but the Highlanders were building momentum with some decent performances and history was on their side: no previous Juan de Fuca Plate had been decided before the final game, despite years of three-legged round robins.

Festivities began with a women's friendly between the TSS FC Rovers women's team and a scratch squad of Victoria Selects. It was a rainy afternoon and many Rovers stars were away on international duty, but despite this a decent crowd watched TSS take a good 3-2 win over a plucky adversary. This, it turns out, was a sign.

Both TSS and Victoria had played and won the previous Friday. Rovers made widespread changes, with only winger Daniel Sagno retained in the starting eleven from their victory over Calgary. Victoria had beaten Seattle and head coach Thomas Neindorf opted to not change a good thing, with only Stuart Heath replacing Owen Pearce in an unusual apperance up top for the long-time centreback.

Neindorf may have miscalculated, for almost from the word "go" TSS looked quicker. The pace of Zach Verhoven and Sagno out wide in particular was almost immediately challenging the Highlanders back three, not creating any clear-cut scoring chances but always being very close. A 16th-minute Gordon Hall header off a Marcus Campanile free kick represented the Highlanders' best early chance, but it went straight down goalkeeper Mario Gerges's throat.

Mere moments thereafter, the Rovers struck. Nike Azume played a clever ball off to Verhoven who made a fabulous turn off Tommy Shores, took a few steps, and blasted a long-range shot straight through Victoria goalkeeper Nolan Wirth. Wirth, a Canadian senior international, former professional, and 2012 Juan de Fuca Plate Champion, was left with his head in his hands rather than the ball as TSS took a vital 1-0 lead.

Seven minutes later Verhoven did it again. A first-rate stroll by former Toronto FC player and Rovers skipper Nick Soolsma pushed two Victoria defenders back, but they lost track of Daniel Sagno bursting down the right. Soolsma found Sagno perfectly in stride, the defense veered, and Verhoven sprinting down the left was left hopelessly unmarked. This time Wirth, abandoned by his defense, had no chance, and the Rovers took a 2-0 lead in the first half-hour.

This ended TSS's breakneck dominance but they retained an element of control. Omar Rostant came up from the backline to put away a Verhoven pass but was correctly flagged just offside. For Victoria one of the few standouts, captain Callum Montgomery, got a half-chance from a header then cleared a Nick Soolsma shot just before the line. Finally in the thirty-eighth minute, Mario Gerges served a kick straight to Hundal, who stolled through the TSS defense, forced a save, collected his own rebound at the touchline, laid it off to Cory Bent, and drew Gerges's second save in as many seconds. That chance gave the Highlanders some pep in their step for the next few minutes; on 43' Hundal managed to slip through an unusually passive Rovers defense to get in clear but, again, was denied by Gerges.

Victoria had been growing into the game, but the second half bit the breaks on that. The sun had fully emerged but it did not shine on the Victoria Highlanders.

The best early chance for either team was Soolsma's as, from a Peter Schaale foul, he clipped a free kick off the top of the crossbar from 19 yards. Hundal remained dangerous for Victoria, but lacked support, Past the hour mark Victoria again got a save out of Gerges as substitute Francesco Bartolillo's first touch was to nearly toe a long seaching pass onto the target, and a careless turnover by Connor Guilherme to Hundal was slung out to Bent, who on the Highlanders' best chance of the night hit the shot low into Gerges, who pounced nimbly upon the rebound.

With players slipping around the damp grass, and a couple clean but crunching tackles from the likes of Marcello Polisi, veteran Vancouver referee Rubin Smilev had no problem giving Rovers' Connor Guilherme a yellow card for trying to tackle two or three Highlanders simultaneously in the seventy-first minute. But play tended to remain on the right side of clean and both teams finished with eleven men.

Though the traveling Lake Side Buoys urged their team on passionately, the Highlanders struggled to get back in, while the Rovers generated the bulk of the chances even with a two-goal margin. Soolsma in particular ought to have put a cherry on top in the eighty-eighth minute when he broke in nearly alone, dribbled around Wirth's desperate charge, but lost out to the fast-recovering Schaale. Not until the first seconds of stoppage time did Victoria finally strike: a corner kick by Mitchell Popadynetz bounced off Gerges's hands and onto the foot of Callum Montgomery at point-blank range. The Rovers defenders half-heartedly claimed a foul, but it was questionable and in truth both Victoria and Montgomery deserved a goal.

They did not deserve two, though. TSS passed away the remaining minutes of stoppage time casually and when the final whistle blew the Swanguardians set off their pyro and celebrated the first silverware in club history. In a cloud of smoke, surrounded by jubilant fans, Rovers supporter Paul Sabourin-Hertzog and Highlanders supporter Rituro presented Rovers skipper Nick Soolsma with the 2018 Juan de Fuca Plate. Aidan Moore became the latest member of the two-time Juan de Fuca Plate winners' club, following up his 2017 triumph with Victoria.

Scoring Summary

17': 1-0 TSS FC Rovers. Zach Verhoven [1] (Nike Azuma)
23': 2-0 TSS FC Rovers. Zach Verhoven [2] (Daniel Sagno)
90'+1: 2-1 Victoria Highlanders FC. Callum Montgomery [1]

Match Reports

Joshua Rendle for the Victoria Highlanders: Highlanders drop Juan de Fuca Plate contest versus TSS FC Rovers.

Full Match Video