After a week off, Victoria Highlanders hosted their 2nd match of the season at Centennial Stadium on a warm & sunny Friday afternoon. There was a fair-sized crowd that looked to be larger than the home opener, helping to create a better atmosphere. With autographs once again being offered after the match, a live singer for the national anthems, and some kids from Alberta down as ball-boys, there’s definitely been some moves at consistently putting together a more professional experience for fans.
Before I get into the match, I want to talk about a surprise soft-launch of the new kit. There had been some discussion previously that Highlanders were seeking a new kit deal, but beyond a short exchange that basically amounted to we’re looking into it, or my own errant query:
@Shawn_R_Gray Great questions Shawn! There’s always the possibility of looking into new opportunities ??
— Highlanders FC (@HighlandersFC) January 8, 2017
Truthfully, I expected nothing from it. Switching to Dryworld seemed increasingly unlikely over the winter months after Dryworld’s failed foray into South America and England, with trouble concerning the supply of kit to their big-name partners causes some pretty devastating damage to the company’s reputation. Their social media team had to work exceptionally hard to delete the flood of disparaging comments. I had openly worried that this kind of damage would sink the still-small company. When the previous year’s kit was on display at the season ticket holder event, with no kit reveal during the evening, a new provider seemed increasingly unlikely. Imagine my surprise when Highlanders were on the field sporting new blacks from Dryworld, and swapping their purple keeper’s kit for a bright orange one. Both were pretty sharp kits, and with Highlanders planning to open up sales of kits online for pick-up at the matches, I know I’ve got my eyes on one of each.
As for the game itself, there’s actually been a fair bit of coverage on it already. Coach David Dew started a different group of players this match, even bringing a usual Jedi-sub, the veteran Blair Sturrock, into the starting lineup. After getting through the anthem and player introductions, the difference in height, or rather, the lack of difference in height, between the two teams was quickly commented upon. During the previous match against Lane United, Highlanders seemed to dwarf a substantially shorter squad. It quickly became apparent that there would be no height advantage this week.
The lads played decently, but there were some pretty noticeable differences beyond height that became apparent throughout the match. First, the ball spent a lot more time in the air with long-passes & clearances playing a greater role in the match. As a result, it seemed like neither team really had possession particularly long before a turnover. Highlanders still seemed to have some difficulty challenging for the ball, as a Sounder managed to trip over the ball, get back up, and recover it before any Highlander could come close for a retrieval.
The second thing that quickly became apparent was that this was definitely not Lane United. Sounders U-23 were a lot better at dribbling (with a few hilarious exceptions in front of the Lake Side Buoys), shielding, passing, and challenging for the ball than the team from Eugene. From the few dangerous-looking shots on Seattle’s goal, you could tell that their keeper was a lot better at his game too. On the flip-side, the American squad had just as much trouble shooting on Simon Norgrove, Highlander’s keeper, as the Canadian side had shooting on their solidly-built keeper, Cameron Frost. If it wasn’t for a lucky deflection off a defender in the 86th minute by Adam Jones, this match could very easily have ended in a deserved draw.
With Victoria falling 0-1 to Sounders, that tempers some expectations that soared following the 4-1 victory over Lane United. Sure, the first match had some pretty stellar play and a wonderful result, but PDL’s Northwest Division is a very challenging field. With Highlanders set for a double-header against division-leading Calgary Foothills FC this upcoming weekend, the team is going to be challenged to come up with favourable results.