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Highlanders slow up Pumas

Victoria Highlanders coach Dave Dew quipped that maybe his team is the one that should be playing the Seattle Sounders of the MLS.
Victoria Highlanders coach Dave Dew quipped that maybe his team is the one that should be playing the Seattle Sounders of the MLS.

The Highlanders defeated the Kitsap Pumas 4-1 in a United Soccer League Premier Development League game Sunday at Centennial Stadium.

The Pumas will play the MLS Sounders on June 15 in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. It is the American soccer version of the FA Cup, in which prospective giant killers can dare to dream.

“Kitsap has bigger fish [Sounders] to fry,” said Dew, noting a couple of key Pumas players didn’t make the trip to Victoria.

“They were not disrespecting us but they had to use their depth.”

But Kitsap paid a price.

The score was 2-1 when a Pumas shot hit the crossbar. That was quickly followed by two late goals by Ryan Dhillon of Victoria to seal it.

“They [Pumas] beat a pro USL team [Sacramento Republic 3-1 on the road in the third round of the Lamar Hunt Cup last week],” added Dhillon, a dangerous attacking midfielder, entering his fifth year in the fall with the SFU Clan.

With the Pumas pressing hard late in the game, the Highlanders exploited them on the counter after Dhillon was subbed in for the final 10 minutes.

But Dhillon pointed to the back end as being the key.

“We’ve only allowed two goals in the past three games and have built a solid foundation on defence,” he said.

Now the offence is catching up.

Returning veteran Riley O’Neill made his 2016 debut for the Highlanders. The former NCAA Kentucky Wildcats star and Canada U-20 FIFA World Cup player, who played pro in the Finnish Premiership and German second division, provided crucial midfield minutes in the second half.

“We had a slow start but got two nice goals off the counter when the boys got their legs,” said O’Neill.

“We have quality players up front. It’s a matter of learning how to link up with them.”

The Highlanders (2-1-2) are in Calgary on Friday and Sunday to play Foothills FC.