The Saanich Fusion’s top men’s soccer team is entering a new era as it turns to new head coach Ian Bush and associate coach Matt Carr.
Bush and Carr come into the program after Steph Steiner led the team for 10 years, including the past five straight seasons contending for the Vancouver Island Soccer League’s top honours at the Division 1 level. Under Steiner, the Fusion won the league title three straight years from 2012 to 2014 and finished third the past two seasons. The Fusion also made three straight trips to the Jackson Cup Island championship final, winning it in 2014.
But after 10 years, Steiner, now 40, is looking to step away to focus on his full-time role as the Saanich Fusion technical director as well as owner-operator of the World Cup Soccer academy with Brett Hyslop.
“The team is in good hands with Bush,” Steiner said. “Bush is very passionate about our club, a great guy, super good coach, and he’s totally into it.”
Bush, 35, comes to the team from a grassroots approach that is unlike Steiner’s.
Steiner will always carry legendary status in the South Island soccer scene. He was the only player to score a goal in the 1996 national university final, propelling the Vikes to the Canadian championship. Thirteen years ago, Steiner helped rebuild the Gordon Head Div. 1 men’s side (before it merged with Cordova Bay to create Saanich Fusion), and has helped it qualify for the senior men’s provincials for the past 10 years.
But Bush knows that, and is building his reputation as a coach one season at a time. With seven trophies in three years, he’s off to a solid start.
“There’s a lot of little things you can do to get better,” Bush said. “I film every game and re-watch them, then email players the hot links. It’s part of the little things you can do to gain two, three or five per cent, because soccer is such a low scoring game, that per cent is enough to get you a lot of points at the end of the season.”
Last year, Bush and Carr coached the Fusion U21 men’s team to the George Smith Challenge Cup Island championship, and led the Fusion’s Harris Dodge Div. 3A men’s team to a division title, earning them promotion into Div. 2. While the Fusion Harris Dodge team fell in the George Pearkes Div. 3 Challenge Cup final, it’s the promotion to Div. 2 that will benefit the Fusion program.
“It’s something I’m proud of,” Bush said. “It’s important to have that ladder [in the VISL]. It means you don’t have to cut players, you can refer them to the appropriate team for development and availability.”
Bush is on the board of the Saanich Fusion and started with the club as a coach a few years ago. He has his Provincial B coaching certificate, standard for this level of coaching, and is proud to come through the ranks.
As a teacher, he was at Reynolds secondary the last two years where he also coached the junior girls team and, with J.J. Atterbury, helped the Reynolds senior boys finish fifth at the 2015 provincials.
“I feel like coming up through the ranks helps me earn my credit,” Bush said. “It takes a lot of trial and error to make mistakes and learn.”
This year, like any, the Fusion are expecting to lose a few core players. The team has remained strong the past two seasons but hasn’t been the same as 2014 when VISL stars Patrick Nelson and Cooper Barry made it a league powerhouse. Those two have since helped Cowichan FC to a Jackson Cup and are on the cusp of a dynasty.
While it’s not reasonable to expect the Fusion to challenge Cowichan for the title in 2016-17, Bush does put pressure on himself for a successful season.
“I’m told we’ll lose a few guys, and that’s typical with any coaching change, but we will return Chris ‘Tower’ Peereboom on defence, a Jackson Cup MVP, and [former VISL rookie of the year] Leo Falzon, so we already have pieces of a strong team.”
To fill in the gaps, Bush will turn to some of the U21 players that he and Carr coached. There’s also players moving to town that have already emailed him, as well as Reynolds grads looking for a spot in the VISL’s top division. Continuity within the club happens to be a focus of Bush’s in his role as a board member with the Fusion.
“As a club, there is a struggle not to lose players after U18,” Bush said. “Parents invest so much in their children and then after U18, they quit. In might be even more severe on the girls’ side.”
Bush is one person at the club who’s trying to bridge that gap between the younger players and the U21 and adult levels.
“Bush is a good choice for our club with all he’s done,” Steiner said. “He’s done a great job with Div. 2 and U21, a logical choice to continue on with the program. He keeps good relationship with the younger players there.”
In the meantime, tryouts for the Saanich Fusion’s Div. 1 men started Aug. 17.
“If you tell me this team is a cohesive group working to get better at the end of the season, that’s fine, thats what I want,” Bush said. “But at the same time, do I want to come sixth? No.”