Callum Montgomery could be the poster boy for what the Victoria Highlanders say they are trying to accomplish in the United Soccer League Premier Development League.
The St. Michaels University School graduate, headed into his sophomore U.S. collegiate NCAA Div. 1 season at UNC-Charlotte, scored the opening goal on a free kick in the Highlanders’ 2-2 draw Sunday afternoon against Portland Timbers U-23 before a season-high 579 fans at Centennial Stadium.
After the game, which dropped the curtain on the 2016 season, Montgomery was presented with the Lake Side Buoys Supporters' Choice Award as the Highlanders’ player of the year. He has been a youthful, but dominating, presence this season on the Highlanders’ back line and has his sights on bigger things.
When you do, you tend to take notice that six PDL alumni have been named to the 2016 MLS team that will play Arsenal on July 28 in the MLS all-star game in San Jose. According to the league, 189 players during the previous 2015 MLS season were PDL alumni.
“I want to take a run at it and see where it leads,” said the six-foot-two defender, who grew up in Nanaimo before transferring to SMUS in Grade 11.
The biology major has medicine in mind “if soccer doesn’t work out.”
Some think that it will work out on the pitch before he embarks on a medical or any other civilian career. Montgomery was named to the all-conference freshman team as he helped lead the UNC-Charlotte 49ers to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“Callum has only just turned 19, and the sky is the limit for him,” predicted Highlanders head coach Dave Dew.
Veteran Highlanders midfielder Riley O’Neill is happy to play mentor to players such as Montgomery, and also Highlanders attacking-midfielder Cam Hundal, the latter currently on pro trials in Germany, thanks to O’Neill’s connections.
“The game moves quickly and these young guys have to mature quickly,” said O’Neill, a former NCAA Kentucky Wildcats star and Canada FIFA U-20 World Cup player, who played pro in the Finnish Premiership and German second division.
“I would like to help guide this next generation of players . . . to help them take the next step.”
The Highlanders closed out the season against a Timbers U-23 team owned by MLS Timbers owner Merritt Paulson and which Sunday wore the same axe logo and Alaska Airlines-sponsored red and black road kit that also adorns the parent MLS Timbers.
Michael Baart, a SMUS grad who plays for the University of Victoria Vikes, scored the Highlanders’ other goal Sunday.
The Highlanders and Timbers U-23 drew their previous game this season 1-1 in May in front of more than 9,000 screaming young students as part of a special 11 a.m. school day kick-off at Providence Park in Portland.
It wasn’t quite that loud Sunday at Centennial Stadium. Yet there was still a decent turnout as the Highlanders completed their reboot season after sitting out the 2015 PDL campaign when the previous ownership called it a day. The franchise began existence in the PDL in 2009.
“The last two home games [the two best attended of the season] really brought it home for me. The atmosphere got better and better,” said Dew.
“And our standard on the field got better. If we continue doing both [on and off the field], we can make this something really special in the years ahead.”
“We would like to bring in a couple of marquee players and get our attendance numbers up to 800 to 900 a game. I believe we can do that.”
Both the Highlanders (3-5-6) and Timbers U-23 (2-7-5) will miss the playoffs this season.