The Sweet 16 proved just that over the Malahat in the senior men’s Province Cup soccer playoffs as Cowichan FC and Nanaimo United advanced.
But it was not so much sweet, as sour, south of the ’Hat as Gorge FC, Lakehill and Vic West all fell.
Vancouver Island Soccer League Jackson Cup-champion Gorge FC got off to the worst start imaginable at home Sunday at Hampton Park when Club Inter of Vancouver rolled off the ferry and took a 2-0 lead against the hosts in the first two minutes of the game.
Teams may recover from a calamitous start like that in hockey, but it is very difficult in soccer. Club Inter went on to a 3-0 victory to end Gorge FC’s season of revival in which it won its first Jackson Cup title since its run of six consecutive Island championships ended in 2010. On the B.C. level, Gorge was looking for a reprise of the era when it won four Province Cup championships between 2001 and 2010. But that dream didn’t survive past the first two minutes Sunday at Hampton.
It was a tough opening draw for Gorge FC against the defending provincial champion Club Inter, which last season continued Vancouver Metro’s run of seven consecutive Province Cup titles.
Meanwhile, Vic West’s bid to also restore faded glory ended over the weekend in the Sweet 16. The historic Wests, the Province Cup champions six times from 1976 to 1984, were beaten 2-1 by the BCT Rovers Tigers United in Cloverdale.
No teams from the Island or Fraser Valley have lifted the Province Cup since Gorge in 2010.
Two Island clubs remain in the hunt this year to end that drought with one guaranteed to advance to the semifinals as the bracket gods have Cowichan FC and Nanaimo United destined for an all-Island quarter-final.
Cowichan FC defeated West Vancouver 2-1 over the weekend at Sherman Road in the Sweet 16 on two goals by the ever-dangerous former University of Victoria Vikes star Craig Gorman, the glue-like playmaking of veteran Paddy Nelson and standout goalkeeping of Darian Achurch. Throw in the veteran presence of Cooper Barry.
West Vancouver came into to the game undefeated in 11 games.
“Both teams were skilled. We have the skill level to match up with those top Vancouver Metro teams,” said Cowichan FC head coach Glen Martin.
“It was windy conditions, but our Big Three of Gorman, Nelson and Barry handled it and were great for us.”
A highlight over the weekend in the Sweet 16 was at Merle Logan turf field in the Habour City in an Island derby between 2017 VISL Jackson Cup champion Nanaimo United and 2018 Jackson Cup-finalist Lakehill.
Nanaimo United outlasted Lakehill 2-1 in a thriller with Daragh Fitzgerald scoring his second goal of the game in extra time. Then it was left to the heroics of Nanaimo United goalkeeper Geoff Hackett to preserve the win as Lakehill pressed desperately in the waning moments to keep its season alive.
That sets up an all-Island Province Cup quarter-final matchup Saturday at Sherman Road that seems it just had to be. There isn’t much Cowichan FC and Nanaimo United don’t know about each other.
Nanaimo United beat Cowichan FC 2-1 in overtime in 2017 to win its first Jackson Cup championship since 1999, denying Cowichan its fifth Cup title since 2011.
Cowichan FC returned the favour this year with a 1-0 victory over Nanaimo United in the Jackson Cup quarter-finals when a disputed late Nanaimo attempt to tie the game was waived off and deemed not to have crossed the line.
“It’s a good rivalry,” said Martin, in his 13th season on the Cowichan FC bench.
“Nanaimo always plays hard against us. So I have to make sure our guys are ready. We know each other so well.”
The Province Cup semifinals are May 4-6 and the final May 13 at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby.
The Province Cup women’s tournament begins next weekend with the quarter-finals as Lower Island Price Cup-champion Lakehill takes on Coquitlam Metro, the Victoria Athletics play Richmond FC, and Nanaimo United is against Surrey United.