Vancouver Island Soccer League is making plans for a return to play later this month. Regular season kickoff will be a couple weeks later than usual due to COVID-19.
“viaSport is the provincial back-to-play program we have to abide by, so there are a bunch of protocols and the schedule is going to be a bit different,” said Powell River Villa coach Chris McDonough. “We will play in pods of four teams, then take a two week break, then regroup with another four teams.”
McDonough said he expects the first game to be played the last weekend of September, providing the league follows measures provided by provincial health authorities. Villa will face each team in its pod in a home and away series.
“VISL hasn’t come out with a league schedule yet,” said McDonough, adding that whether the first game is at home or on the road has not been determined. “We just got the notice last week so we’re just scrambling around a bit, trying to get organized, as we didn’t really know what to expect as far as when the league would start.”
The 2020/2021 campaign will be a “bit of a reboot” for Villa, according to the coach.
“We’re going to bring in a bunch of younger players to kind of reload for the season in Division 2,” said McDonough. “I’m pretty excited to get some new faces in there.”
Despite a turnover in players, McDonough is confident the eventual roster will feature a strong group of new and returning players.
“We have a pretty good pool of players ready to go this year,” he said. “We haven’t really nailed it all down yet but last year we relied on quite a few out of town players, especially for our road games, so hopefully we can move away from that and get the younger kids some minutes in the league.”
Villa has also added to its coaching staff, bringing former player and coach Tony Leach on board as an assistant.
“Tony has been involved a lot with youth soccer, so he’ll bring in some players that way, and just give us more support; it’s going to be good,” said McDonough. “He has a ton of experience playing at the highest amateur level so we’re excited to have him on board.”
Villa earned promotion from Division 2 to Division 1 after the 2018/2019 season and spent one year in the top flight. The club finished 2019/2020 in the bottom two of top division and were relegated to the second tier.
Returning to Division 1 in 2021/2022 will be the goal for players this season, said McDonough.
“That’s where we want to be and that is our overall goal, to get to Division 1 and be a competitive team up there,” he added. “This year, I think that is attainable, so we intend to try to compete for those two spots to get promoted again.”
Significant rule changes include throw-ins being replaced by kick-ins. The league will provide masks and sanitizer to make sure all team members are being as safe as possible.
“It is definitely going to be a different year,” said McDonough. “The league is trying to figure out the scheduling, and that will probably be a bit of a challenge for them to get everything to line up, but we’ll see how it goes.”
Villa players have been training casually and keeping fit over the summer, according to McDonough. Twice per week training sessions start this week.