Riding high after qualifying for the prestigious Colonist Cup, the Senior boys soccer team took part in the Island AA Tournament November 5-6 at UVic. Unfortunately, an event that began with great promise ended in despair, as a 1-1-1 record produced only a third-place pool finish and an unexpected early elimination.
Things began brightly enough on Day 1, with South #2 seed SMUS easing by an admittedly short-staffed Brentwood team 5-0. Under little pressure, the Blue Jags dominated territory and possession, with Michael Baart (2), Brian Im (2) and Ryan Cui scoring goals. Bryce Fenton, deputizing again for the ailing Aidan McCleary, made one fine save early on but had relatively little to do in recording the shutout.
In the afternoon, SMUS faced Mark Isfeld of Courtenay. The Ice had dropped a close 2-1 decision to Gulf Islands in its first game, and so faced a must win situation. Their hard graft – against a weak Blue Jags defense – produced two goals late in the first half and another just after intermission made it 3-0, leaving SMUS on the ropes.
Eventually, Baart, from the penalty spot, and then Graeme Hyde-Lay, cleaning up in fine fashion a loose ball from a corner kick, closed the margin to 3-2. There were several more close calls, with Hyde-Lay heading inches over the bar on two occasions. Yet, with no further change to the score line, SMUS had both missed a glorious chance to secure a position in the playoff rounds and left itself a mountain to climb the following morning.
Anticipating that Isfeld would defeat Brentwood in its own final pool match, SMUS arrived at Day 2 with a very clear mandate. Though various tie break permutations existed, a two-goal Blue Jags win over North Island #1 Gulf Islands would see them top the group, move straight into the tournament final and qualify direct to the Provincials. Even a 1-0 victory would see the team through to the bronze medal match.
However, for SMUS, again playing without the injured Matty McColl and Gavin Maxwell, and with Kieran Large out sick, breaking down the Gulf Islands defense was always going to be a tough proposition. And so it proved. An early Im shot from some 25m forced a quality save. Then, midway through the second half, Saeed Shokoya was unlucky not to draw a penalty kick after being tackled from behind in the box. Yet, though all the players competed hard, the game ended in a scoreless draw.
A tiny sliver of a chance remained for SMUS to claim a pool runner-up finish, if Brentwood could somehow upset Isfeld. But it was never to be, as three early Ice goals removed any drama in the 3-1 win.
So, SMUS, which at full strength would have been considered by many a very legitimate provincial AA contender, must now look to the Colonist Cup on November 12 for solace. Kick off, against GNS, is set for 6:30 pm at UVic’s Centennial Stadium.