Ready or not, here they come.
They being two-time defending Jackson Cup champions Cowichan FC, who open Vancouver Island Soccer League Division I play Friday at home against a revamped Gorge FC roster.
There are a few changes for coach Glen Martin’s Cowichan club as well, which will also compete against Bays United, Cermaq, Comox Valley United, Lakehill Maple Glass, Nanaimo United, Saanich Fusion, V.I. Wave and Vic West FC in Division I action.
“It sounds like Gorge has a new lineup so we don’t know exactly what to expect,” Martin said of the opposition. “Drew Brittan, Aaron Murphy, Jared Atchison, John Shah and Jordan French — that’s five good players right there.
“Dan [Van Gylswyk] and Kelly [Lott] have been doing a good job of keeping them together and improving over the last five years,” Martin added of Gorge’s executive.
But Cowichan is clearly the favourite after titles the last two years running.
“We’ve won the last two Jackson Cups and league cups, so I guess no matter what happens, you’re going to be the favourite. No matter how many changes we have, Cowichan FC will be the favourite, I guess,” agreed Martin.
Cowichan has lost Stew Barker as he’s decided to move on to the older group after 12 years of playing for Martin, who also has captain Jesse Winter remaining out due to injury suffered in last year’s playoffs. Brad Archibald is back from his injury, but is in Peru for a month vacationing.
“Our roster is starting off in low numbers. Like last year, we’ve had to do a lot of calling up from my Division 2 team,” said Martin, who still has a rock-solid squad, led by Tyler Hughes, who is the general of the team.
Top scorer Paddy Nelson is back, as is Cooper Barry, and Craig Gorman is now available for the whole year.
“His brother Liam Gorman is on board, adding more character and grit,” said Martin, who is also excited about the addition of Farley Cannon from Salt Spring.
“He’s a good player who suited up for Quest College the last four years, and Jordan Degraaf is coming back. Luca Klotz, a young player at 17 from Cowichan, who played for us as a call-up, is also here,” said Martin. “He’s a great little player who won’t be around long — he’ll be moving on to bigger and better things. He’s a left back who runs around like a mad man. He’s a track star, a strong player, especially for his age.”
Govinda Innes is at right back and Kevan Brown is also back as a holding midfielder. Scotty Brown is the goalkeeper.
“He’s a guy who every year we seem to pick up because of injuries. He’s won two Jackson Cups with us, coming in at the end of seasons, so I call him Jackson Brown now,” Martin said of the keeper. “He’ll be our No. 1.
“Overall, there are low numbers, but quality players,” Martin said. “As long as we can stay away from injuries, and suspensions, and work commitments. It’ll build when we get some VIU guys in November and Keyvan Webb back from UVic.”
As for the league itself, president Vince Greco says it’s “rock and roll time.”
“I do think Cowichan will be strong again, but there will be surprises. I think there’s a resurgence at Gorge and Vic West. They’ve both picked up players with a bit of an exodus from Saanich Fusion,” said Greco.
“While that helps out Gorge and Vic West, I think Saanich Fusion will struggle this year. I think the days of old, of playing for one team, are sort of gone. Teams are changing all the time.”
Greco is also looking forward to the Masters A division with strong teams from UVic Alumni, Gorge and Saanich Fusion.