June 29, 2018: TSS FC Rovers @ Victoria Highlanders
|1||GK||Nolan Wirth||1||GK||Andrew Hicks|
|14||DF||Gordon Hall||out 84'||4||DF||Eric de Graaf||out 60'|
|2||DF||Callum Montgomery||goal 86'||17||DF||Alejandro Varela||out 66'|
|20||DF||Peter Schaale||16||DF||Brendan Skinner|
|17||DF||Stuart Heath||5||DF||Connor Guilherme|
|23||MF||Cam Hundal||out 75'||6||MF||Rahid Rahiem||out 52'|
|6||MF||Francesco Bartolillo||out 60'||21||MF||Marcello Polisi||yellow 29'|
|5||MF||Cody Gysbers||out 66'||3||MF||Erik Edwardson|
|16||MF||Thomas Shores||out 87'||10||FW||Matteo Polisi||out 72'|
|8||FW||Mackenzie Cole||out 75'||18||FW||Nick Soolsma|
|22||FW||Joshua Walter||14||FW||Daniel Sagno||out 66'|
|12||MF||Mitchell Popadynetz||in 60'||22||MF||Patrick Metcalfe||in 52'|
|11||MF||Isaac Koch||in 66'||2||DF||Janko Vong||in 60', yellow 85'|
|21||FW||Blair Sturrock||in 75'||8||MF||Zach Verhoven||in 66'|
|9||FW||Chris Rushworth||in 75'||19||DF||Danylo Smychenko||in 66'|
|15||DF||Jonah Smith||in 84'||11||FW||Aidan Moore||in 72'|
|10||MF||Marcus Campanile||in 87', yellow 90'+1|
There's no polite way to say it: this was the first meaningless game in Juan de Fuca Plate history.
The Plate itself had been decided over three weeks earlier, when TSS FC Rovers beat Victoria 2-1 to guarantee the championship. Their players had danced around Swangard Stadium before a backdrop of pyrotechnics, celebrating well into the evening. The third leg would be a dead rubber, the first in the Plate's history. Worse, with the Calgary Foothills U-23s running away with the PDL Northwest Division while Victoria and TSS both struggled around .500, there were few meaningful league implications: an outside chance at the playoffs, that was all.
So how do you fire yourself up? No doubt the Highlanders, who could easily have won the first leg, wanted to prove they were better than their record. Teenage forward Joshua Walter was making his first home start after joining the PDL roster the previous week and doubtless wanted to impress. For the Rovers, 2017 team MVP Andrew Hicks was making his first start of the Plate, a few other players were trying to prove they belonged in an always injury-ravaged lineup, and besides it was just a beautiful day on a beautiful campus in a beautiful city. Go play some beautiful soccer.
The game started pleasantly enough. The Highlanders, given their troubles, looked confident on the ball, with Nolan Wirth cheekily slipping an on-the-ground clearance past Matteo Polisi with perfect and justified confidence being the highlight (though he'd pay for that attitude later). But both teams looked like they knew what they were doing. In PDL, the principle that teams round into form as the season goes on is false as often as not, but for these two it was true. It didn't mean a surfeit of chances, but it was good cagey play. Erik Edwardson would try to set up Nick Soolsma, but Peter Schaale would have him covered. Cam Hundal and young Walter combined to show some substantial skill, but the Rovers would get back to defend in numbers and force Stuart Heath into a low-percentage cross. That kind of thing.
There were no great scoring chances. The best early came in the 27th minute, when Erik Edwardson (having a dangerous first half) found himself with space, took Stuart Heath apart, and crossed to Matteo Polisi's feet, but Heath recovered admirably to block Polisi's shot. Then in the 31st minute, Alejandro Varela fouled Cam Hundal a millimetre outside the box; with the ball resting on the line Callum Montgomery got the free kick through an inexplicable parting of the Rovers wall but it was a dribbler that Hicks easily scooped.
Not long after, on a break with Nick Soolsma, Matteo Polisi blazed one of his trademark low bullets just wide. Taking the goal kick, Nolan Wirth served it straight to Rovers' Rahid Rahiem, who played Polisi back in. His back to goal, Polisi was clawed at by both of Peter Schaale's hands, and had he gone down he might well have drawn a penalty, but he kept his feet and it came to nothing. If the Rovers felt hard-done by their luck evened out moments later: Marcello Polisi, already on a yellow, carelessly leapt with his boot attacking a ball by Walter's face, barely avoiding kicking the young man in the head but bringing him down with his crotch. Without doubt Marcello should have been sent off, but he got only a talking to.
Another bad Wirth clearance led to a Rovers half-chance late in the first half, and in general the Rovers appeared to have the balance of the play, but 0-0 at half was no crime.
The second half began with Cam Hundal, who'd spent the entire Plate trying to recapture the form that made him a three-time champion, getting an open shot in the area but underestimating TSS's Andrew Hicks, striking a low shot straight into the fast-moving keeper. It boded well for Victoria, who grew gradually into the game. Callum Montgomery would have scored off a corner in the 58th minute had Varela not put his body on the line to take Montgomery on. Marcello Polisi, getting careless again, accidentally fell on Thomas Shores's head and once again got no more than a stern chat. The Highlanders, meanwhile, were desperate for a win, bringing in both Chris Rushworth, who after his awkward red card in the first leg had shown improvement in the PDL season, and veteran Blair Sturrock, officially appearing in his fourth Juan de Fuca Plate. Stuart Heath, gunning it to keep a ball in play, plowed into the fourth official's shelter near the touchline and was down for a moment before recovering. The Rovers were still in the game but Victoria was showing more fight.
In the 85th minute, the chance came. Isaac Koch and Mitchell Popadynetz combined to put the bobbling ball onto the foot of Chris Rushworth, and in marking him Janko Vong got just enough of his arm on Rushworth's head to bring him down. In May, Rushworth had been the goat at Centennial Stadium, flying off the handle and getting himself needlessly sent off, turning a 2-2 draw into a 3-2 loss. But he made good his chance for redemption and, from the spot, Highlanders captain Callum Montgomery sent Hicks the wrong way. 1-0 Victoria.
From there on, with the late lead in their pocket, Victoria made sure their fans had nothing to worry about. Rushworth was beyond the Rovers defense's ability, a decent hooked shot from Popadynetz wound up high and wide, Isaac Koch forced a good stoppage time save from Hicks, and young Walter forced an even better one with almost the last kick of the game, being robbed blind by the Rovers goalie after a great cross by Rushworth. A goal by the kid would have been the only thing Victoria missed from a perfect night, but their fans probably left happy all the same. The Highlanders, who were never bad enough to deserve a whitewashing, got a very good 1-0 win to close out the 2019 Juan de Fuca Plate.
86': 1-0 Victoria Highlanders FC. Callum Montgomery  (penalty kick)
Joshua Rendle for the Victoria Highlanders: Highlanders down TSS FC Rovers in massive rivalry win.