Thursday, August 1, 2013

2013 PDL Finals Preview Part 1

This is a collaboration effort between the Lake Side Buoys and three other football writers/bloggers from around the PDL. This will be a four part series showcasing the participating clubs that qualified for the 2013 PDL Finals in Austin, TX August 2-4. All VHFC supporters knows that the USL PDL is not given much press. This collaboration will bring PDL Finals to the forefront and highlight a great year for all our clubs. Because this is a collaboration effort, all four club profiles/previews will be posted on each of the writer's sites for all to see. I hope you enjoy the reading and looking forward to the PDL Finals in Friday as I am.

First club preview is our very own 2013 Northwest Division and West Conference winners, Victoria Highlanders FC

Written by Michael Schlodder
President of the Lake Side Buoys Supporters Group
Secretary of the VHFC Supporters Board

Victoria Highlanders FC
            Manager: Steve Simonson           2013 season: 1st NW Div. (8-4-2)     
            Best off season signing: Blair Sturrock (SCO)  One to watch: Brett Levis (CAN)

Club History
The Victoria Highlanders FC, based out Victoria British Columbia Canada, was formed back in 2008 through the vision of Alex Campbell Jr. He wanted to bring competitive football to Victoria, both entertainment on the pitch but also to grow an academy style basis here for the local U11-18 and a have a competitive women’s program. He realized that the youth are the future for this sport and he wanted to bring the best coaches/trainers to Victoria. Victoria, and Vancouver Island in general, is football frenzy geographically. Football is played throughout the calendar year from men and women to children. No matter where you go through the city, you will always find a kick about or even a 5-aside match going on somewhere. As of 2013, Victoria Highlanders FC have become the first soccer team in North America to be part supporter-owned (30%). We have an elected Supporters Board which is a democratic not-for-profit society of supporters, committed to strengthening the communities' support of the club. A strong working relationship with the club put forth in an effort to providing a true supporters' voice to ownership and senior management at the club. The club sees this as an opportunity for the Supporters' Board to assist the club in growing our membership base, and the best way to do that is to allow for opinions when decisions are being made.

Currently the club’s First Team plays their home matches at Royal Athletic Park, a multi-sport complex, just on the outskirts of the downtown core. Royal Athletic Park was first built in 1908 and has hosted numerous sports throughout the years, most notably matches at the 2007 FIFA U20 World Cup. 

(RAP during 2007 FIFA U20 World Cup Canada)

Going into the 2013 season, the Highlanders were undefeated in their last five matches. The current manager Steve Simonson took over as interim manager in mid-2012 and changed the side’s style of play from long ball passing to a patient build up pass through the middle and wings. The club signed a variety of talent, both in experience and age, from throughout British Columbia, western Canada and overseas prior to the 2013 season. There is a large contingent of University Of Victoria men’s soccer program on the First Team but that just continued to follow the ethos of the owner of local development.  The club finished the 2013 regular season as Northwest Division winners (8-4-2, 28pts) in a division comprised of three clubs that are feeder systems for MLS clubs.
(Possible starting XI v Thunder Bay on Friday)
The Highlanders goalkeeper and back four are by far one of the strongest in the Northwest Division if not in the Western Conference. This was proven throughout the 2013 season. Leading from the back is keeper Elliot Mitrou. He is a presence in between the woodwork, commanding the back four with a good vision of the match. It’s noticed that he can see weaknesses and gaps in the opposing side and exploit it using his commanding presence. He is agile and is quick to get from one post to the other, not afraid to take a knock or two in the process.

The center backs of captain Tyler Hughes and Ryan Ashlee are one of the tougher CB pairings in the NW Division. They are the Knights for our back four. They have a chemistry and work ethic that allows one another to know where the other player is without even talking. Both of Hughes and Ashlee started all 16 matches and have played every minute of the 2013 season showing their longevity. The left and right backs, Andrew Ravenhill and Kalem Scott respectively, are the stalwarts on the wings. Neither of our wing backs has a problem making runs from time to time with good results. Our back four are strong both in the air and on their feet. They are willing to go to ground if needed and can out muscle almost any striker or midfielder that comes into the 18 yard box.

Player(s) to Watch
There are numerous players to watch on the Highlanders’ First Team. University of Saskatchewan standout and first year midfielder Brett Levis has been a complete revelation for the club this season.  Levis leads the club in goals scored (12), assists (5), shots (51) and has started every match so far in 2013. Levis is strong on his feet. He shows both brilliance with his dribbling techniques and his pure natural speed on and off the ball. Plus Levis’ shooting range and power can be compared to the top players in MLS and NASL, if not lower league football in England. The other player to watch is former U20 Canadian member Riley O’Neill. The midfielder has been the general for the Highlanders this season. He is strong in the air using his height as well as his strength to his advantage. As well, O’Neill uses the wings to his advantage when he is allowed to go for runs from time to time. But his strongest asset is his vision of the match unfolding in front of him. His passes are crisp, accurate and weighted precisely.

The so called X-factor for the Highlanders is the depth of experience and team unity we have. We have players who have played in Scotland, England and Scandinavia bringing a wealth of knowledge of the European game to our shores. We have players who are young and have the willingness to learn from the older players, soaking up the knowledge and experience like a sponge. Then reproduce it on the pitch on match days. But what is a sight to see is the team unity. How this little club has bonded and come together in such a short time frame to not just win on the pitch (first ever NW Division and Western Conference titles in club’s history) but win off the pitch as well. The growth in support from the local community has grown immensely over the last few years. The Lake Side Buoys (the unofficial and only supporters' group of the Highlanders) bring the European flair and environment to each and every home match, plus some away matches. Unfortunately, no Lake Side Buoys will be making the trip to Austin to support our lads. Just this season alone, we broke the highest attendance for a home match twice. The most recent mark of 2,347 at the home finale v Portland Timbers U23. Football has never been more popular in Victoria and on Vancouver Island.