By Alan Douglas/whitecapsfc.com
Vancouver Whitecaps Prospects Women opened their 2009 Pacific Coast Soccer League campaign with a 0-0 draw away to defending league champions Victoria Stars on Saturday afternoon.
The Whitecaps had the better of the play by far at Hampton Park in Esquimalt, BC, and were unfortunate not to take all three points on Vancouver Island.
With a young and mostly rebuilt squad, head coach Jesse Symons knew his side faced a very tough opener in the BC provincial capital. There is much history between these two teams, as the Whitecaps and Victoria have each won two of the last four PCSL Premier Division titles. In this corresponding match last year, Victoria prevailed 3-1, making this possibly the most difficult game of the season for the young Whitecaps side.
This year's Prospects has only eight returnees from last season, and only five were available for the trip to Victoria. That meant a traveling roster included 13 grade eleven players, and one grade ten player. The two biggest departures from the squad are powerful strikers Chelsea Buckland and Nikki Wright, whose athleticism and flat-out pace will certainly be missed. In their place comes a group of young players who excel at the short-passing possession game with their quickness and skill, having showed in preseason an ability to confound and frustrate the opposition.
Against the Stars, Symons opted for a 4-3-3 formation, which had worked well in 2008. The heart of the formation is the talented midfield, led by sophomore starters Natalie Boyd and Tessa Meyer, alongside highly-rated Nicole Setterlund, who is the youngest player in the squad, having just turned 16. With last year's joint goalscoring leader Alicia Tesan unable to make the trip, the central striker spot went to Janine Frazao, who primarily played down the right flank last season. Returning defender Carolyn Bell anchored a disciplined Prospects backline, which Symons feels is one of the team's greatest strengths this season.
The Whitecaps defence certainly did their job against Victoria, holding the home side to only a few shots from distance, and not surrendering a single corner kick. Young Prospects goalkeeper Gurveen Clair was rarely under pressure in recording the shutout in her first start for the Prospects.
At the other end, Whitecaps signaled they meant business early on. On the quarter-hour mark, forward Jaclyn Sawicki fired the ball into the back of the Victoria net, however, the goal was disallowed for a foul at the top of the Stars box.
On 25 minutes, a Whitecaps corner kick from Sawicki was headed on net by Jenna Di Nunzio, but the ball was cleared off the line by a Victoria defender. Frazao was causing all sorts of problems for the Victoria defence, but could not put away her chances, as it was scoreless at halftime.
After the break, Whitecaps switched to an even more aggressive 3-4-3 formation, looking to capitalize on their territorial advantage. They came closest on the hour mark, as Frazao beat the Stars keeper with her shot, but a Victoria defender got back valiantly and slid to hook the ball off the goal line.
In the end, the Whitecaps had to be content with a single point. Symons summed up the afternoon by saying "we kept the ball and had very good possession throughout the game, but we couldn't break down their keeper today; she did very well."
Next up for the Prospects Women is a trip to the Fraser Valley on Sunday, May 17, for an afternoon PCSL Premier Division encounter with Chilliwack FC at Exhibition Park.
Whitecaps Prospects Women
Gurveen Clair; Nikki Ambrose, Carolyn Bell, Jennifer Castillo, Mikyla Kay; Nicole Setterlund, Natalie Boyd, Tessa Meyer; Jaclyn Sawicki (Erin Uchacz 70'), Janine Frazao, Jenna Di Nunzio (Jenna Richardson 30'; Maryse Reichgeld 45')