VANCOUVER, BC – A berth in the United Soccer Leagues (USL) Premier Development League (PDL) Western Conference final four will be up for grabs on Wednesday, when Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-23 meet Victoria Highlanders FC in a single-elimination playoff match at Royal Athletic Park in Victoria. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. PT.
Armed with identical 8W-3L-3D regular season records, the British Columbia rivals came in at second and third respectively in the USL PDL Northwest Division – Victoria earned the second seed after winning the season series between the two teams.
Two Northwest Division teams will qualify for the Western Conference final four. The Northwest Division champions Kitsap Pumas have already secured their berth, while Wednesday's British Columbia derby will determine the division's second and final entry.
WHITECAPS FC U-23
One month into the 2014 PDL campaign, Whitecaps FC had had a few wins slip through their grasp on stoppage-time goals against and some unfortunate luck led to a 0W-3L-3D record. At that point, the coaching staff maintainted that if the young squad kept playing the “Whitecaps Way” and stuck to the system, the results would come.
And, boy, they did.
From that point forward, the ‘Caps rattled off a dominant eight-match win streak to close out the regular season, taking down clubs with a combination of a ferocious attack and stifling defence.
Vancouver’s goal differential over the win streak is almost as impressive as the streak itself, as they tallied 24 goals of their own, while only allowing four markers against (including four clean sheets). In terms of their offensive production, Cody Cook and Niall Cousens led the way with 10 and seven goals respectively.
The ‘Caps are riding this momentum into Wednesday's matchup, but even with their recent success the Blue and White aren't taking the importance of this match for granted.
"It's the time of the season now where you have to win to move on,” Whitecaps Fc U-23 assistant coach Steve Meadley told whitecapsfc.com. “It's a part of learning the game as well and learning to win. That's the state of the season that we are at right now and that's what we are hoping to do."
VICTORIA HIGHLANDERS FC
As good as Whitecaps FC U-23 have been of late, Highlanders FC are coming into this matchup almost as hot.
With their most recent win over Seattle Sounders FC U-23, a 2-1 match in which a Sounders own goal in stoppage time was the deciding factor, Victoria capped off a five-match unbeaten streak to close out their season. In fact, they earned four wins and a draw in the last three weeks of the campaign.
“We know Victoria will be a strong challenge,” Meadley said. “We know that they enjoy giving us our game and we look forward to that."
Victoria's streak was highlighted by a 7-0 drubbing of fellow Northwest Division rival Lane United FC on June 21. Highlanders FC distributed the ball well and demonstrated the depth of their scoring ability, as six different scorers put up goals for Highlanders FC.
Striker Blair Sturrock led Victoria with five goals this season, followed by Carlo Basso and Cam Hundal with four. Hundal and Highlanders FC teammate Alex Rowley are both products of Whitecaps FC's youth system.
Last season, Highlanders FC finished first in the Northwest Division and reached the PDL final four thanks in part to the play of Brett Levis, who led the team with 12 goals. Levis, a native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is now a member of Whitecaps FC U-23
Victoria earned the Juan de Fuca Plate, a head-to-head competition between the British Columbia-based PDL clubs during the regular season, after winning two early-season matches against the 'Caps – 3-2 in the season opener and 5-4 in just the third match of the year.
“We were unfortunate the last times we played with Victoria, so I think we owe them a result,” said Whitecaps FC U-23 head coach Niall Thompson. “We are looking forward to this game."