VICTORIA 3 NORTH SOUND 1
Striker the mascot celebrated his birthday on Friday night at Royal Athletic Park with a cake, a bevy of mascot friends and a second straight victory for his Victoria Highlanders.
The Highlanders, backed by 1,379 fans, overcame a stubborn group of North Sound SeaWolves 3-1, and remain neck and neck with the Portland Timbers U23 on top of the Northwest Division of the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League at 5-1-1.
The Highlanders took a few minutes to find their form on the night, and they nearly paid for the slow start. Desperate to notch their first win, the SeaWolves (0-1-6) opened hard, and Nicholas Hamer came within inches of giving his team the lead when he slammed the ball off a post.
“It was a tale of two halves,” North Sound coach Ed Moore said. “I think in the first half, we created a ton of chances to score. In the first five minutes, we had two that clattered off the crossbar.”
“We put even one of those away, it’s a different game.”
After the early scare, the Highlanders kicked it up a notch and scored with their first shot on the North Sound net in the 10th minute. Coming from the left side, Craig Gorman deked around SeaWolves goalkeeper Dylan Faber and found a wide open net.
“I think we were a bit nervous,” Highlanders’ Scottish import pro Blair Sturrock said, noting the first five minutes were a wake-up call. “We’re on this run of wins, and we needed to keep that going, because we’re going on the road soon.”
“But then we settled down and started playing football.”
Looking as strong as they did in their 2-0 victory over the Washington Crossfire last week, the Highlanders kept attacking and kept possession.
A nice sequence of passes resulted in Victoria’s second goal, when Sturrock edged his kick inside the far post in the 22nd minute, for his first goal as a Highlander.
With the lead, the Highlanders seemed to relax slightly, and the SeaWolves were more than ready to pounce. Victoria goalkeeper Elliot Mitrou faced some precarious situations, particularly those involving dangerous North Sound midfielder Brad Jacobson. The Highlanders also got lucky.
On one attack, Mitrou got tangled with a teammate, while the ball rolled across the width of the goal, with Zachary Hammond in hot pursuit.
The second half was all Highlanders, but the SeaWolves didn’t quit. Despite being frustrated, the visitors closed the gap to 2-1 in the 83rd minute, when David Durrant rolled the ball off the fingertips of Mitrou.
“They’re a team that just stays in it,” Sturrock said.
Suddenly, it was a close game. But the Highlanders tightened ranks, and Jordie Hughes, with his seventh of the season, scored at the 90th minute to seal the victory.
The Highlanders now face four straight games on the road, beginning on Friday with a rematch against the SeaWolves in Edmonds, Wash., followed by the Kitsap Pumas on Sunday.
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