One of the first sports championships awarded since the pandemic started goes to Nanaimo.
The Nanaimo United Div. 1 men’s soccer team won the Jackson Cup this past weekend, emblematic of Vancouver Island Soccer League supremacy.
United defeated Lakehill 2-1 on Saturday at Westhills Stadium in Langford.
It was the first game action in six months for United, which had fought its way through a tough draw in the early part of the Jackson Cup playdowns this past winter and made it to the semifinals before the pandemic caused a shutdown.
“Full testament to the club. Administratively and [with health and safety] guidelines, Nanaimo United was on the ball, unbelievably,” said Kevin Lindo, coach of the Div. 1 men. “We were one of the first organizations to get going again on the Island.”
Two of the four Jackson Cup semifinalists couldn’t field a team, so the VISL advanced Nanaimo United and Lakehill to the final. Nanaimo had three solid weeks of training, then couldn’t practise the last week leading up to the cup final because of the air quality.
Lindo said players returned from the shutdown rusty but fit.
“I’m really fortunate. I have an excellent group of individuals who lead healthy lifestyles,” he said. “They understand the commitment and what it takes to be part of a Div. 1 squad.”
In the final, Nanaimo got goals from Colin Jacques and Daragh Fitzgerald to take a 2-0 lead at halftime. They made some changes to the game plan that didn’t work and Lakehill halved the lead to 2-1, but “we plugged some gaps and showed a lot of character,” Lindo said.
The final minutes were back and forth, but time expired and Nanaimo United won its second championship in four years but also just its second of the millennium.
Geoff Hackett was the winning goalkeeper and Mike Greenaway was MVP.
Lindo said the league did a good job with health and safety protocols, spending money for masks and temperature checks. The cup finals were played in a stadium where fans were not allowed.
“I think a few sneaked in and around the perimeter, but technically no,” Lindo said.
With the 2019-20 season over, the 2020-21 season will start right away, with teams separated into cohorts and getting ready to get right back out on the pitch in early October. Until then, Nanaimo United can continue to celebrate winning a hard championship to win.
“It means a heck of a lot to us, winning this Jackson Cup,” Lindo said. “It really does mean a lot to the alumni players, to the community, to the current players and all the future young soccer players that are coming through the club right now. It’s going in a very exciting direction.”