Madison Thomas manoeuvres the ball in the midfield for Cowichan United during a LIWSA match last fall. (Citizen file)

Madison Thomas manoeuvres the ball in the midfield for Cowichan United during a LIWSA match last fall. (Citizen file)

Vancouver Island soccer leagues make plans to move forward

Schedules and cup draws are set in case adult soccer gets go-ahead

Vancouver Island’s adult soccer leagues aren’t sure when they’ll be able to take to the pitch again, but they’re making plans to resume the 2020-21 season just in case.

The Lower Island Women’s Soccer Association has posted a schedule for cohort play resuming on Jan. 15, while the Vancouver Island Soccer League has gone a step further and held draws for cup play.

LIWSA president Casey Tepper set up the schedule despite not knowing if the necessary authorities will give his league the go-ahead, which he expects to find out later this week.

“What we’re trying to do is have the players playing,” said LIWSA president Casey Tepper. “We need to have some kind of fun in all this.”

Neither league has played a game since mid-November due to stringent protocols due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like the women’s league, the VISL also has matches scheduled to resume on Jan. 15, depending on decisions made by Dr. Bonnie Henry, viaSport and BC Soccer.

“We really have to wait on what Bonnie Henry has to say, then we wait for what ViaSport comes out with and how everything gets interpreted,” VISL Vince Greco said. “So, hopefully we are back at it by mid-January, but that really depends on how numbers go and what is said come Jan. 8 when the present order expires.”

The VISL did kick off the New Year by holding draws for its five cup tournaments, including the Sir John Jackson Cup, the Tony Grover Masters Cup, the George Pearkes Challenge Cup, the George Smith U21 Cup, and the Div. 4 playoffs, although no dates have been set forth yet. All participating clubs in the men’s league declared for cup play.

The LIWSA has a virtual meeting scheduled for its clubs on Monday, Jan. 11 where Tepper plans to let them decide if they want to go forward with cup play, if it is permitted at all.

Tepper noted that the majority of frontline workers are women, which has caused about a 40 per cent drop in registration for the LIWSA. The league has addressed that by combining teams from various divisions into cohorts. Cowichan United, for example, is technically a Div. 2 team, but played its fall schedule in a group that included Div. 1 and Premier clubs.

“The idea right now is to have competitive soccer,” Tepper commented. “And not worry about the standings.”

Cowichan United had one win, two draws and a loss before pool play came to a halt. Also playing out of the Cowichan Valley was NIFA Pacific United FC, a new addition to the LIWSA, who lost all four of their matches but showed improvement.

Tepper was appreciative of the patience displayed by Cowichan United during the pandemic.

“The Cowichan group has been very, very good with us,” he said. “They’ve helped out and understood exactly what is going on.”

If and when cup play does get underway in the men’s league, it will be a mixed bag for the Cowichan teams. Cowichan has two competitive masters teams, but they are both facing challenging draws in the Tony Grover Cup tournament. The Cowichan 49ers will open on the road against UVic Alumni, a club that hasn’t lost a game in two years and which stripped the 49ers of the cup title they held for the previous three years.

“The cup draws are completely random, no seeding,” noted Neall Rowlings, a player for the 49ers and manager of all Cowichan adult teams. “We often don’t complain, and to be honest I am excited to play the best right out the gates.

“Only one year have we had them in the final, and that was [2019-20] where they beat us 2-1. They have not lost a game in two consecutive seasons. If we get enough time to train, we definitely have the team to win it all again.”

The Cowichan Steelheads will open on the road against Fernwood, who currently sit third in the masters division behind UVic and the 49ers. The winners of those two opening-round games will meet in the Tony Grover semifinals.

In the Jackson Cup, Cowichan LMG has drawn Gorge FC in the opening round. Cowichan managed to play four games in the first part of the season, winning one and losing three, while Gorge had two wins and five losses.

The tournament to watch for Cowichan Valley soccer fans could be the George Pearkes Cup, where the top-seeded Cowichan Farm Store Fury will face the winner of a play-in game between Nanaimo United and Juan de Fuca Spartans in the first round, while Quw’utsun FC will start at home against Prospect Lake United. With the Fury and Quw’utsun on opposite sides of the draw, it’s not impossible that they could meet in the final.

“[The Fury] got a dream draw, and they are having a solid season,” Rowlings commented. “If they can shore up their goals against they will be a force.”