“The Province Cup is the natural progress,” said veteran Cowichan FC back-line pillar and playing assistant-coach Tyler Hughes.
“This is why all these players have come from Victoria and Nanaimo to play for us. They want to win the Province Cup. It’s our No. 1 goal.”
Among those drawn to the magnet allure of Cowichan FC have been former Saanich Fusion standout strikers Cooper Barry and VISL MVP and leading-scorer Paddy Nelson, along with former Sooke star Steve Scott and dangerous UVic Vikes graduate Craig Gorman.
There hasn’t been a Province Cup champion from the Island since Gorge FC won four B.C. titles between 2001 and 2010.
“This is the best opportunity we’ve had,” said Hughes, the former USL and Sweden pro, and NCAA Div. 1 star and Coastal Carolina Hall of Famer.
Cowichan has lost only once in league or Jackson Cup play this season. As a B.C. seeded team, Cowichan is guaranteed to play all its Province Cup games at home. It also doesn’t hurt that the 2016 men’s Province Cup final is May 14 at Westhills Stadium and the women’s B.C. final also at the Langford facility May 15.
“We’ve set ourselves up well. We don’t have to leave the Island,” said Hughes.
Cowichan has drawn an Island derby for its opening-round game in the Sweet Sixteen, meeting Bays United Liquor Plus in the Saturday fixture at 4 p.m. on the Sherman Road turf field in Duncan.
It’s like Man U and Man City, or Liverpool and Everton, looking across at each other and saying oh, no, not again. Cowichan FC defeated Bays United 2-0 on overtime goals by Barry and Nelson in the 2016 Jackson Cup final April 3 at Royal Athletic Park.
“You always want to face a Lower Mainland or Fraser Valley team you don’t always see,” said Hughes, about the quirk of fate the draw has dealt Cowichan and Bays.
“We’ve played Bays enough and are quite familiar with each other. We know what to expect. Bays is a very aggressive team that comes at you hard out of the gate. We have to be disciplined and match their energy because we know they like to apply pressure early to get goals.”
The Bays feature Tyler’s brother and veteran star striker Jordie Hughes. The two have played together during the summers on the Victoria Highlanders in the PDL. There are no secrets in this derby.
“It’s the soccer gods speaking,” said a near-disbelieving Bays United head coach Rich Fast, after his opening-round Province Cup opponent was announced during the draw.
“So, bring ’em [Cowichan FC] on. Let’s do it.”
Fast said taking Cowichan FC to overtime in the Jackson Cup final gives his side belief that the upset is there for the taking: “We gave them 120 minutes of decent soccer in the Jackson Cup. We just have to match their organization and fitness. Hopefully, it will be a different result this time.”
But Bays are facing a Cowichan side totally committed to this project.
“There is one big thing we have to do and it’s the Province Cup,” said Hughes.
“Our practices are more intense than some of the games we’ve played this year. But we are not looking too far ahead. We are focused on what’s next.”
And that’s facing a familiar old foe Saturday in Duncan.
Saanich Fusion Maude Hunters and Nanaimo United were also drawn into an all-Island opening-round Province Cup matchup, with the game to be played Saturday at 7 p.m. at Tyndall Field.
Meanwhile, the promising young Comox Valley United team will continue to gain valuable experience for the years ahead by travelling to meet powerhouse Pegasus FC on Saturday afternoon in Surrey.
The seeded teams are Cowichan FC, Pegasus FC, Langley United and Coquitlam Metro Ford Wolves.
Island derbies are also a curious feature of the 2016 Province Cup women’s draw. The Price Cup Lower Island-champion Castaways Highlanders have received a first-round bye and are guaranteed to play an Island team in the second round next week. The Castaways Highlanders will face the winner of the Victoria Athletics versus Saanich Fusion FC United first-round game that takes place Sunday at 12:15 p.m. at Braefoot Park.
The 2016 Price Cup runner-up and annual Province Cup contender Prospect Lake also drew a first-round bye. So did its second-round opponent, Coquitlam Metro Ford Xtreme. The Lakers versus Xtreme game will be hosted by Prospect Lake on a date to be determined.