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Riptide clinches league title

Cristantes soccer skills aid team to victory
Riptide clinches league title

Upper Island Riptide clinched its second consecutive under-16 Vancouver Island Premier League soccer title with a convincing 3-0 win over archrival Saanich Fusion.

The weather gods blessed Riptide with a firm Carihi High pitch in Campbell River, in comfortable six degree temperature and no wind on this January afternoon.

The duel began with Riptide determined to open the scoring and an early effort resulted in a favourable corner kick. From the right corner, left-footed Niko Cristante’s kick had the weight and trajectory that normally leads to happy endings. In this case Riptide defender Declan Arnold, sneaking in from the far side and in perfect position, struck the ball straight into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead at the three-minute mark.

With Riptide carrying the momentum, several efforts produced grade A scoring opportunities. Perhaps the closest, and certainly the most spectacular, opportunity occurred at the 32-minute mark. Defender Brandon Rairie, venturing into the offensive side, powered his way along the right and with a burst created a gap with the Fusion defender. This separation allowed Rairie to fire a crossing pass directly in front of the Fusion net. Teammate Cole Freeman headed Rairie’s crossing pass inches over the crossbar.

The first half ended 1-0 and Riptide held the edge in play and chances, outshooting Fusion 7-0.

The second half began with early opportunities for Saanich. However, at the 57-minute mark, Riptide defender Will Blouin-Comeau, working along the right side, found an opening and fired only to have it blocked. Pouncing on the rebound, Blouin-Comeau fired again into the back of the net for a commanding 2-0 lead.

For the first time in six meetings during the past two years, more than one goal separated the two protagonists. Not to rest on their laurels, Riptide players found another gear and stepped up the pace. In a sequence of beauty, from the midfield along the left line, Taylor Arbour dashed forward pushing the Fusion defenders back. Stopping quickly he passed back to Cristante. Cristante somehow found Derek Mellish on the far right side who quickly threaded the ball through the Fusion defenders to a spot only available to Anthony Vigernon. Vigernon finished the sequence and scored, 3-0.

Saanich Fusion is without question a top quality team with talent and determination to spare. On this day Riptide’s result was due to a full team commitment. Holding the Fusion to three shots on goal for the match speaks to the collective play of defenders: Ben Payne (perhaps his best game of the season), Ben Gastis, Ben Ruston, Arnold, Rairie and Blouin-Comeau. Offensively, Vigernon, in easily his best game, demonstrated a new touch to his ball control that offers tremendous promise. Cristante played midfield like a maestro dictating the terms of play, often creating chances where none had existed in contributing to two goals, such is his soccer intelligence.

With one game remaining, Riptide sits atop league standings with 33 points and a record of 10-1-3, with a game in hand on second-place Saanich, who is four points back. On Sunday, February 3, Riptide will finish league play versus Cowichan in a game also in Campbell River.