Having fallen short in the Jackson Cup Vancouver Island Soccer League Div. 1 championship game on Sunday, the Saanich Fusion are happily entering the provincial senior men’s A Cup soccer championships as underdogs.
Cowichan FC squeaked out a 4-3 win to edge the Fusion in the centennial Jackson Cup game at Royal Athletic Park. With 1,038 fans, it was a record turnout for modern-day senior men’s soccer on the Island, part of a weekend of VISL and Lower Island Women’s Soccer Association trophy matches.
The Fusion entered the weekend headliner at Royal Athletic Park as the defending 2014 Island champs but were by no means the favourite, having rejigged the roster with just seven returning players from the 2014 winning team.
Among those departed players are VISL offensive threats Cooper Barry and Pat Nelson, who joined perennial powerhouse Cowichan FC. Barry scored in the final, and Nelson set up the winner, as the duo enjoyed back-to-back Jackson Cup victories.
“It wasn’t on a bad note, they left on good terms,” said Fusion co-coach Steph Steiner. “They just wanted to try something different, they had friends there and we held no ill will towards them.”
Returning to the Fusion from last year were Cardin Davis, who scored the club’s first goal on Sunday, with Connor McManaman, Gord Elliot, Josh Menzies, Brian Taylor, Angus Hayman and captain Leo Falzon, last year’s VISL Div. 1 rookie of the year.
“Because of the retooling and season we had, I am just as proud of our club this year, even more-so, perhaps, than when we won the (VISL) and the Jackson Cup championship last year,” Steiner said.
Fusion centre back Chris Peereboom was named the Jackson Cup MVP despite being on the loser’s side as he headed in two of his team’s goals.
“Peereboom is one of our centre pieces, he really just has amazing will and drive, and fantastic passion for our club,” Steiner said.
The season tested the depth of Saanich Fusion’s program, as the Div. 1 team promoted six of it’s players from Div. 2, including Peerebrom, as 13 of its 20 players came through the Fusion’s youth system.
“You don’t get that very often and we’re very proud,” Steiner said.
It didn’t look good during training back in August, Steiner added, but by September it was a different story. The Fusion won its first three games handily and then drew its next two versus Gorge and Bays Utd.
By season’s end the Fusion were 10-5-3 with 33 points, third overall behind Cowichan (12-3-3) and Vic West (11-5-2).
The A Cup provincial round of 16 starts April 18-19 when the Fusion face ICST Pegasus out of Surrey, the second place team from the Vancouver Metro league.
“We’re going into provincials thinking this is a bonus round for us,” Steiner said. “We want to continue growing as a new group, moving forward together and learning from every game we play, and we’re hopeful to win a few rounds, our players work hard and believe in each other.”
The Island has five berths (up from four) in the 2015 senior men’s A Cup provincials, with Cowichan FC, Vic West, Bays Utd., and Nanaimo also playing in the round of 16. Fusion Old School, Gorge FC Backfit, UVic Alumni and Vic West all qualified for the men’s over-35 provincial round of 16.
Prospect Lake enters the A Cup women’s provincials with the Vic Athletics.
Gorge FC won the Over-35 Tony Grover men’s championship on Sunday in a penalty shootout over the Saanich Fusion (over-35).
Prospect Lake won the LIWSA premier leauge Terry Price Cup over Vic Athletics and Gorge FC won this year’s Doug Day Cup 1-0 in overtime versus Juan De Fuca.