Cowichan Steelheads player Paul Mycroft steals the ball during last Saturday’s loss to UVic Alumni. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Niners edge into top spot

Cowichan holds first place by two goals

With goal differential possibly meaning everything in the tight Vancouver Island Soccer League Masters A final standings, the Cowichan Craig Street 49ers gave a boost to their chances of winning the title by beating the Saanich Fusion Internationals 8-0 last Saturday.

At 13-1-1 with two games left, the 49ers have the same record as Gorge FC Backfit, but now hold a slight 48-46 edge in goal differential. Cowichan went into the game six goals back of Gorge, but moved ahead thanks to their offensive explosion against the Internationals. Gorge, meanwhile, beat Vic West 3-1.

The Niners might have scored even more, but the game was called a little early, somewhat to the consternation of a team for which every goal is vital.

“We’re in a situation where we are trying to be respectful,” Cowichan coach Kevin James said. “But when the league comes down to goal differential, we needed to score as many as possible.”

Darcy Penner staked the Niners to a 1-0 lead just a minute and 42 seconds into the game, by far the fastest opening goal of the season for a team that is notorious for starting slow. It was 3-0 at halftime, and Cowichan added five more in the second half. Brad Peterson finished with three goals, while Penner, Stu Barker, Todd Vass, Sebastian Titone and Darren Meiner had one each and Preston Johnny earned the shutout.

The day before the game, James had 13 or 14 players committed to playing in the road game at Tyndall Turf. He pleaded with the rest of the team to see if they could change their other plans to accommodate the team, and ended up with four more players as a result, which amazed him.

“It’s great to see everyone buying in,” the coach said.

The battle for first place in Masters A goes beyond Cowichan and Gorge, as UVic Alumni is also within striking distance with 34 points and three games left.

“This will go right down to the wire,” James said.

Cowichan’s other Over 35 team, the Masters B Cowichan Steelheads, missed a chance to give the 49ers some breathing room as they lost 4-1 to UVic Alumni at Dave Williams Field on Saturday night. Jim Noon had Cowichan’s only goal. The 3-7-3 Steelheads remain in the middle of the Masters B pack with two games left, including a visit to Nanaimo’s Masters A team this coming Sunday.

The Niners have this week off, then play Vic West at home at 6 p.m. on Feb 10. Vic West is the top B team, and managed a scoreless tie against UVic Alumni earlier this month. Vic West is also the same team that Cowichan beat in overtime to win the Tony Grover Cup last spring.

“It will be a really, really tough game,” James said. “We need everybody on board for that one.”

No matter who the opponent is, the 49ers will bring everything they have.

“Whether it’s Vic West, Gorge Masters B, Gorge Masters A, or whoever, our whole outlook is that whoever we are playing, we play as if they’re one of the top teams and we’re the underdog,” James said. “After losing the league by two goals last year, our goal this year was to win the league. We still can do it. We’ve just got to get results the last two games here.”

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