Powell River Villa has regained its status in the top tier of Vancouver Island Soccer League, without having to play a game.
A ninth place finish in the 2019/2020 season had relegated Villa to Division 2, along with the 10th place finisher in Division 1.
According to Villa coach Chris McDonough, Vic West, a team that finished sixth overall, has opted out of the upcoming 2020/2021 season. McDonough said the league gave Villa the first chance to claim the opening.
“Since we were the ninth place finisher, we were offered that spot in Division 1, so we took it,” said the coach. “It was kind of a hectic week. We had to come up with the answer pretty quickly but it was a club decision to stay up and something we are looking forward to.”
Due to the advent of COVID-19, the league has decided to eliminate promotions and regulations for the 2020/2021 season, which typically see the top two teams in each tier move up and the bottom two move down to lower levels. The decision guarantees Villa, which spent 2018/2019 in Division 2, two more years in the top flight.
“It gives us a little bit of certainty for the next couple of years,” said McDonough. “We want to play at the top level.”
McDonough said many members from last year’s team are not returning and he expects young players to feature prominently on the roster this season. The opportunity for them to develop at the highest level of soccer in the region will benefit them and the club, he added.
“It’ll be great for their development,” said McDonough. “There might be some tough games; there are no easy games. It is a men’s league, so it’ll be a step up for all these guys but we’re all willing to work on development and getting them up to speed.”
As a head coach, McDonough said fielding a younger lineup presents a challenge, but he and the coaching staff are excited to “get some new blood in there” and work with different players.
“There are going to be some challenges with guys not having experience at this level but we feel over the year we will be able to improve,” he added, “and everybody has some upside.”
Villa opens its season at home on Saturday, October 10. Victoria Highlanders will provide the opposition at Timberlane Park.
McDonough said the team will not be operating an admission gate or encouraging fans to come to the game because of coronavirus.
“We are responsible for the two teams and the coaching staffs of those teams and the referees, as part of our COVID plan,” he added. “It is a public park so we can’t close the gates off and stop people from coming in.”
McDonough said protocols set out by provincial health authorities and viaSport will be followed to ensure safety for players, coaches and officials, including no handshakes after the match.
“We can’t dress in our facility, so everyone has to come to the game with their stuff on, and we’ll have hand sanitizer at the game,” he added. “We will also be doing temperature checks before games and practises.
“We are pretty happy that we’re going ahead but there are a lot of changes as far as protocols for the game.”