Despite less than ideal weather conditions, the annual Vikes vs. Vancouver Whitecaps showdown still managed to entertain a crowd of 2 500 at Centennial Stadium on Feb. 16, 2014.
The Whitecaps brought a full roster to the island, including former English Premier League star Nigel Reo-Coker, and Canadian national team member Russell Teibert.
The Vikes meanwhile showcased a pair of outgoing seniors in Bobby Eng and Andrew Ravenhill. Both players were part of the Vikes 2011 CIS Championship team and went the distance in one of their final games in front of the home crowd.
Unfortunately for those wishing for precision gameplay, wind gusts of over 50 kilometres per hour constantly disrupted the teams’ attempts to execute their game plans, with normally routine passes and touches going well off course or out of bounds.
As expected, the Major League Soccer (MLS) side controlled the majority of the play, dominating shots and possession throughout the game. The Vikes managed to stick around solely through the play of goalie Noah Pawlowski, who turned aside eight of nine shots.
The highlight of Pawlowski’s first half came at the 15-minute mark, when he robbed Jamaican national forward Darren Mattocks on a breakaway. The second-year Victoria native later made an impressive save on Nicolas Mezquida from close range to keep the game scoreless.
The Vikes did get a solid chance of their own before the half, with a long-range shot from midfielder Craig Taylor forcing a full dive from goalie David Ousted. The shot skimmed just wide however, sending the two sides to the locker rooms with zeroes on the board.
With the second half underway, and his starting squad still unable to break through a resolute Vikes defense, Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson determined a change was in order. The resulting scene was reminiscent of a substitution usually seen in an American football game, with nine new players coming on to try and give Vancouver a spark.
One of the fresh faces, prospect Omar Salgado, had a good chance from inside the box as the second half drew on, only to see another shot turned aside by Pawlowski, this time with his foot.
Just when it appeared UVic would weather both the literal and figurative storm however, the Whitecaps struck a goal in the dying moments. Once again on the attack, Salgado crossed a ball from the left side to a streaking Andre Lewis. The seventh overall pick in this year’s MLS Super Draft made no mistake, slamming a one-timer shot from six yards past a helpless Pawlowski.
The Whitecaps erupted in celebration at the last-minute goal, while the Vikes were left stunned to see what would have been a remarkable result slip away. Despite the finish however, Vikes players still felt proud of their efforts.
“It shows a lot of character,” said Vikes midfielder Cam Hundal on pushing Vancouver for a full 90 minutes.
Andrew Ravenhill, playing for one of the final times in Centennial Stadium, also praised his teammates’ efforts. “I think it says a lot about the pride of our team,” said the defender. “To show up here after being up for 24 straight hours traveling from Miami, and then come out here and hold a pro team to 1-0, it’s quality.”
The Vikes effort is even more impressive in light of the fact they had just returned from their Florida tour the night before kickoff. UVic went an impressive 2-0-1 against the southern American opposition, including a 6-0 thumping of St. Thomas University.
Hundal believes the travel, while grueling, helped the Vikes put together the solid defensive effort that was on display for the first 89 minutes. “We kind of practiced that while we were there in preparation for this game,” he said. “It’s something you got to do when you’re playing against strong opposition like this.”
At the helm of the Whitecaps this season is Carl Robinson, a former Welsh national player who served as assistant coach on the team last year. The 37-year-old rookie head coach was pleased with the outcome of the day.
“On another day, we might have scored eight or 10 goals, so I’m very v`pleased with the way we played and built up,” said Robinson.
Robinson went on to laud the meaning that the annual showdown with UVic carries. “It’s massive,” said the coach on making the trip to Vancouver Island. “It’s an important part for us as a club coming out to a community and doing things like this.”
The Whitecaps have a final preseason game on March 1, after which their fourth MLS season will begin March 8, with a visit from Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls. The Vikes meanwhile will close out their 2013-14 campaign by hosting the annual Keg Cup, scheduled to run the weekend of March 22–23.