The game with the big ball and the sport with the little ball have learned to co-exist at Royal Athletic Park.
But not without some compromises.
The return of baseball to Royal Athletic has affected the 14-game 2013 schedule for the Victoria Highlanders of the United Soccer League Premier Development League, which was unveiled Tuesday.
“We had to be more creative with our scheduling,” said Highlanders general manager Mark deFrias, whose club will share Royal Athletic Park with baseball’s Victoria HarbourCats of the West Coast League.
The HarbourCats open on June 5, so the Highlanders have front-loaded their schedule with home dates in May and early June.
“It was done by design,” said deFrias.
Six of the Highlanders’ first seven games will be at home from May 4 to June 14. The club’s only other home date will be the final game of the season on July 13 against the Portland Timbers, affiliate of the pro MLS Timbers.
The Highlanders will play six consecutive away games from June 21 to July 7.
“We’re quite pleased with the schedule,” said deFrias.
“We want to get results early in the season with the support of the local fans and build momentum from there. And perhaps our final home game in July against the Timbers will be make-or-break for the playoffs.”
The top-three teams in the PDL Northwest Division advance to the post-season with No. 2 playing No. 3 in a semifinal with the winner advancing to meet the regular-season champion. The Northwest playoff champion advances with the other eight division champions to meet in the brackets leading to the league’s title game. There are 65 teams spread across North America in the PDL, an under-23 development league allowing some over-agers.
“We have three MLS affiliate teams in our division [Timbers, Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps] and the Kitsap Pumas are also always a power, so it’s a tough division to battle out of,” said deFrias.
Highlanders head coach Steve Simonson concurred.
“If you get out of this division, you’re set to do well the rest of the way in the PDL playoffs because this is such a strong division,” he said.
“The way the schedule is set up, it allows us get on a roll at home and gain fan support. Sure, the schedule is front-loeaded at home but the games are spread out nicely. And that Portland game could be an important one to finish off with in July.”
Simonson replaced World Cup veteran Ian Bridge on the Highlanders bench midway through last season. The team won four games and drew one over its final five fixtures to finish three points out of a playoff spot.
“We expect to return 50 to 70 per cent of last season’s roster and add in a few new faces,” said deFrias.
The GM and head coach did not rule out recruiting some off-Island players, which the Highlanders have done to good effect in the past.
“If we bring in a few players [from outside] in key positions to bolster what we already have, we can be a good team,” said Simonson.
Meanwhile, Sasa Plavsic of the Highlanders has been selected to take part in the 2013 USL PRO combine this week at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where top amateurs looking for MLS or USL pro contracts will be graded. Plavsic, a dynamic midfielder who plays in the CIS for the University of Fraser Valley, scored four goals last season as a Highlanders rookie.
CORNER KICKS: Highlanders season tickets are $60 and give you automatic ownership of the team in the manner of FC Barcelona and football’s Green Bay Packers. Season ticket holders own 30 per cent of the Highlanders. All fans are welcome to attend the club’s AGM to be held Monday at 7 p.m. at the Gorge Soccer Association clubhouse at 240 Hampton Rd., where the members of the board from the season ticket holders will be elected.
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