An exhibition match against Cowichan LMG was just what the Craig Street 49ers needed going into a crucial stretch.
Desperate for wins in order to keep their Vancouver Island Soccer League Masters A title hopes alive, the 49ers took their training to the next level last week when they took on the Div. 1 champions. The pace and skill level of LMG inspired the 49ers to play smarter and quicker soccer in their must-win match against Vic West’s Masters B team on Saturday.
“We took a lot of pace and moving the ball quicker into the game against Vic West,” 49ers head coach Kevin James said. “It’s good to have the relationship we do with the Div. 1’s. I think it benefited both teams.”
Using what they learned from LMG, the Niners got a little closer to clinching the Masters title by beating Vic West 7-0 at Dave Williams Field on Saturday.
“It was probably the best game we’ve played all season, all the way around,” James said. “It was a solid effort. Everybody contributed. All the bodies got in and everybody did their job.”
Stu Barker wasn’t expected to play on Saturday, but managed to fit 45 minutes of soccer around some other commitments, and scored three goals in the first half. Brad Thorne added a pair, and Neall Rowlings and Brad Peterson each scored once. Rob McIntyre and Preston Johnny combined for the shutout. Former LMG standout Tyler Hughes, making a rare appearance in 49ers silks, was picked as Cowichan’s game MVP.
“He made a huge impact out there,” James said of the stalwart defender. “He set up three or four goals, at least.”
Cowichan last faced Vic West in the Tony Grover Cup final last spring, which the 49ers won 2-1 in extra time. The 49ers were a little more dominant this time around.
“It was nice to get a bit more confidence playing them,” James said. “The turf was a huge difference-maker. It was a little faster, and there’s more skill involved. It showed what we’re made of.”
The other two contenders for the Masters A title squared off on Monday, with the UVic Alumni beating Gorge 3-2. Gorge was all but out of the race already, but the loss to UVic was the final nail. The 49ers need a tie or win in their finale on Feb. 24 to clinch the league, but if Cowichan loses and UVic beats Nanaimo the next day, Cowichan and UVic will move into a tie that would be settled by goal-differential.
The 49ers opponent on Feb. 24 will be Gorge’s Masters B team, who haven’t won a game this year and have been outscored by a 63-goal margin, but James plans to prepare for them the same way he would for a Masters A side.
“On paper, they haven’t had a good season, but that doesn’t change our mindset,” the coach said. “Sports is where upsets are made. They have nothing to lose, and we have everything to gain.”
Prior to their league finale, the 49ers will start their Tony Grover Cup defence this Saturday at 6 p.m. at home against the Saanich Fusion Masters C team.