Highlanders still searching for offence

The Highlanders (1-1) dropped their United Soccer League Premier Development League home opener 2-0 to Calgary Foothills FC (1-1) before a few hundred fans Sunday afternoon at Centennial Stadium.

Victoria opened the season the week before in Kitsap, Washington, with a 3-0 loss that subsequently went into the books as a 3-0 Highlanders victory because the Pumas were sanctioned by the PDL for using an ineligible player.

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Victoria had several chances to score Sunday but fate had other plans. Two commanding Highlanders shots were parried by Foothills goalkeeper Dylon Powley. A couple of insightful passes by Blair Sturrock into the box were just missed wide by Victoria shooters in the late going.

Sturrock, a former Plymouth Argyle and Swindon Town pro, looked a cut above the younger CIS players on both teams with not only his servicing, but also with three of Victoria’s seven shots. He, however, was only concerned about his own team.

“There’s a lot of jelling to be done with a lot of young players,” said the Highlanders co-captain and native of Scotland.

He said it’s only a matter of time before the Highlanders start connecting.

“We have firepower in places … this is a growing project,” said Sturrock.

The game was scoreless at the half. It turned on a Highlanders corner kick at 53 minutes that went terribly awry, with Calgary taking it the other way, leading to the winning goal by Robert Hyams. The insurance was provided by Nico Pasquotti at 61 minutes.

“I’m still seething about the first goal,” said Highlanders head coach Dave Dew, about the self-inflicted wound.

“The day … the crowd … everything was good. But we destroyed the moment. The people deserved better. They [Foothills FC] played to their strengths and we didn’t. We’re not doing the things we need to do for our trickier players to get rewarded.”

Dew, however, found some flashes of promise.

“We played well in spells,” he said.

Calgary is in its second season in the PDL, considered the top developmental league in North America, with 35 per cent of pro MLS players in 2015 having played in the PDL. It’s part of an initial foray among Cowtown soccer leaders, who have talked about possibly stepping up to the pro level eventually, maybe even the MLS.

“We want to grow the game in Calgary and Canada,” said Foothills head coach Tommy Wheeldon, a native of Liverpool and fan of Everton.

“It’s been an enjoyable project.”

The Highlanders are in their seventh overall season in the PDL, which was interrupted by one season out last year.

“We’re delighted Victoria is back in the league . . . we loved the bagpipes and the atmosphere,” said Wheeldon, who said the Highlanders were a model for the Foothills when the Calgary team initially made its plans for entering the PDL.

The Highlanders hit the Oregon trail this week, Friday against the MLS-affiliate Timbers U-23 in Portland, and Saturday in Eugene against Lane United. The next home date is June 5 at Centennial Stadium against Kitsap.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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