Beefed-up Victoria Highlanders ready and motivated to get back in the mix

Portland Timbers U-23 was once the most feared team in the Northwest Division of soccer’s USL 2 (previously the PDL) before that mantle was seized by Calgary Foothills the past few seasons.

But with the Timbers in a low phase and Foothills having folded its operation into the pro Cavalry FC of the Canadian Premier League (while retaining a farm team Foothills presence in USL 2), the Northwest Division seems wide open this season.

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The Victoria Highlanders have not made the playoffs in three seasons, but they look to be vastly improved with three trialists from Pacific FC of the CPL and a host of other bright young talent assembled from various sources. The Highlanders should be in the mix.

“I use Calgary as an example of how these young guys can step up to the CPL,” said Highlanders head coach Thomas Niendorf.

The Highlanders were perhaps unlucky not to win their opener when they missed a penalty kick at 71 minutes to settle for a 1-1 draw against Lane United of Eugene, Oregon.

“We took it more as motivation for the next time,” said Niendorf.

“I believe we have a good team with a good mentality.”

Portland comes into Centennial Stadium today at 2 p.m. after a 5-0 loss Friday night to the TSS Rovers at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby.

Niendorf, however, doesn’t want any complacency to seep into his camp.

“That [TSS-Portland] scoreline is a bit misleading and not as bad as it sounds because TSS is very clinical and Portland had its chances,” said Niendorf.

“We need to be true to our game, no matter who we play, and be structured, but also precise and decisive.”

The Highlanders’ next home game is next Sunday at Centennial against Seattle Sounders U-23.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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