In what could be one of Powell River Villa’s most important matches in recent history, 90 minutes or more will decide if the soccer club returns to Vancouver Island Soccer League’s Division 2 or remains in Division 3.
On Sunday, July 23, Villa hosts Victoria’s Fernwood Town with the winner earning the right to compete in the higher division for the 2017/2018 season.
Villa was dropped to Division 3 at the conclusion of last year’s regular season due to a last-place finish in Division 2. The club earned only six points after posting a disastrous record of one win, 12 losses and three ties.
On Sunday, all of that could change.
“It is a challenge match,” said Villa president Jamie Zroback, who will also handle coaching duties.
Cowichan FC dropped out of the Division 2, allowing last season’s Division 3 runner-up, Fernwood Town, to challenge Villa for the spot opened up by Cowichan’s departure.
The winner will play in Division 2 and the loser remains in Division 3.
“We can only use our lineup from last season,” said Zroback. “We’ll have 12 or 13 players for the game.”
Zroback is coaching because player/coach Dean Thorsell is unavailable and last season’s coach Mario Paul has been replaced by former coach Chris McDonough.
As the team’s coach for the upcoming season, McDonough is ineligible to be on the sidelines as the same rule limiting players to those on last year’s roster also applies to the coaching staff. McDonough will take over after Zroback fills the position for the one-game playoff.
“It’s a very tough position to fill,” said Zroback. “It takes a lot of time and the travel is what most guys can’t commit to. We’re very thankful Chris has stepped up to take the position.”
In the last few weeks McDonough indicated he wanted to take over, said Zroback, who added that the club appreciated the job Paul did last season.
McDonough coached the team for three seasons before Paul assumed the duties prior to last season. While McDonough led the team, Villa moved up from Division 3 to Division 2.
“Some of the players approached me and asked me to do it again and I said I’d do it for the year,” said McDonough. “That’s my commitment right now. I’ll reassess after that if they want me back.”
Villa can compete in Division 2, even with a lineup that will likely be younger this season, according to McDonough.
With stiffer competition at the higher level, he said some younger players would have limited playing time, but he is confident Villa will field a good team for the upcoming season.
“I’m familiar with a lot of these players; I’ve coached some of these guys,” said McDonough. “It’s great having youth players coming through the system.”
The challenge game is also the first time Villa takes to the field since the deaths of former teammates Braxton Leask and Dylan Buckle. The team plans a moment of silence to honour Leask and Buckle prior to kickoff.
Game time is 1:30 pm at Timberlane Park.