VANCOUVER, BC – In their first match on home soil this season, Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-23 (0W-2L-2D) fell to provincial rival Victoria Highlanders FC 5-4 at UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium. The victory gave Victoria their first ever Juan de Fuca Plate title in the annual derby between the British Columbia teams in the United Soccer Leagues (USL) Premier Development League (PDL).
The spirited crowd was treated to a nine-goal affair between the two sides, including six goals in the first half.
It all began on the fourth minute when an attempted clearance from Vancouver’s backline was intercepted by Victoria and played into the path of Cam Stokes. The Richmond, BC native cooly slotted the ball into the bottom left corner just outside of the reach of Nolan Wirth.
The visitors added two more goals inside of the opening 10 minutes, one on a blast from their centre back Ryan Ashlee after some good work from the striker Carlo Basso, and the second on a terrific strike from Basso himself.
On 19 minutes, Cody Cook replaced Brett Levis as the University of Saskatchewan attacker picked up an injury.
The substitution appeared to inject new life into Niall Thompson’s side, as the Blue and White got one back in the 20th minute. The goal came courtesy of Kianz Froese, who did brilliantly to dispossess Ashlee before pirouetting around Victoria ‘keeper Elliott Mitrou. The Manitoba native capped off the play by emphatically slamming the ball past a helpless Highlander defender.
After the goal, Whitecaps FC continued to dictate the flow of play and controlled possession well, pressuring Victoria into their own third. However, the ‘Caps were caught on the counterattack on 34 minutes, as Basso doubled his tally, getting on the end of a well-placed cross from Andrew Ravenhill.
However, the heart-stopping first-half action didn’t stop there as Whitecaps FC pushed on to find their second goal of the afternoon, and the sixth goal of the half. Froese was influential once more, as he played a deftly-weighted ball through to Reynold Steward, who had his first shot stopped by Mitrou, but wouldn’t be denied on his second attempt.
Just as the first half began, the second half opened with a goal within four minutes of kickoff. A harmonic passage of play from the Blue and White that began with a give-and-go at the top of the box between Mitch Piraux and Mark Baldisimo resulted in an outstanding team goal as Baldisimo played a selfless pass across the six-yard box to a wide-open Niall Cousens, who made no mistake to pull the home side within 4-3.
Two minutes later, Cousens caused havoc in Victoria’s box again. The UBC Thunderbird appeared to be brought down in the box, but his appeal for a penalty was turned down by the official.
On 62 minutes, the Blue and White came agonizingly close to an equalizer, as Piraux had his shot handled by Mitrou. A delightful exchange in the buildup between Cousens and Froese led to the chance.
Whitecaps FC completed the comeback in the 72nd minute, as the danger man Cousens brought the ‘Caps level, finishing from close range after the chance was generated by Stewart. It was the Blue and White’s third unanswered goal and all the momentum was on their side.
But it was ultimately not to be for the 'Caps, as minutes from the final whistle, Highlanders FC re-established their lead. A rocket of a strike from substitute Blair Sturrock secured the three points for the visitors and served as the insurance goal they needed to hoist the Juan De Fuca Plate following the match with a 8-6 final aggregate score combined between the two sides in their two matches this season.
Those in attendance at Thunderbird Stadium were treated to a cameo from first team midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy when he entered the game in the 67th minute, replacing Mitch Piraux. Ballouchy was acquired by the ‘Caps in the offseason in Stage 2 of the 2013 MLS Re-Entry Draft, then signed with the club in January.
Tonight was Ballouchy’s first competitive match since undergoing surgery back in August of 2013.
“I felt good, the knee felt strong. Now it’s a matter of getting back familiar with game situations,” said the Moroccan midfielder after the match.
Whitecaps FC U-23 return to action in just five days versus Kitsap Pumas this coming Wednesday, May 28 at Percy Perry Stadium in Coquitlam. Kickoff for that match is scheduled for 7 p.m. PT.