Sturrock, Victoria Highlanders win wild one against Whitecaps U-23

Any time nine goals are scored in a soccer game, something either went very right or awfully wrong.

Or, more likely, a combination of both.

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The Victoria Highlanders took a 3-0 lead in the first nine minutes only to need a goal by Blair Sturrock at 89 minutes to escape with a chaotic 5-4 USL Premier Development League victory over Vancouver Whitecaps Under-23 Friday evening at UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium.

“We managed to sneak it out,” said Sturrock, after the former Plymouth Argyle and Swindon Town pro took a pass from Ian Greedy to score the winner.

“We got a little unlucky in the mid-part of the game and Vancouver edged back. Then [Greedy] gave me the square cross and I had enough energy to get on the ball,” added the Scotsman, who was subbed into the game at 55 minutes to help Victoria remain undefeated at 2-0-1 on the young season.

It was also a late goal by Sturrock that gave Victoria a 1-1 tie against the Kitsap Pumas last weekend.

Goals by Cam Stokes, Ryan Ashlee and Carlo Basso put Victoria into what appeared a commanding lead Friday before the game was even 10 minutes old. Kianz Froese pulled the Whitecaps to within two at 20 minutes but Victoria’s three-goal cushion was restored 14 minutes later through Basso’s second goal.

Perhaps the visitors became complacent. Three consecutive Vancouver goals by Reynold Stewart at 39 minutes and Niall Cousens at 49 and 72 minutes stunned the Highlanders and forced Sturrock’s last-minute heroics.

“It was absolutely crazy,” said Highlanders head coach Steve Simonson.

“We set up to perfection, hitting them on the counter-attack in the first 10 minutes. The downside was that maybe we thought we had won the game in that first 10 minutes. Even after the Whitecaps scored, we are able to go up 4-1, and were feeling good once again.”

Then came a deluge of Whitecaps U-23. “We fell apart defensively,” said Simonson, bluntly.

“The Whitecaps legs were flying and they were playing through us too easily. We were hoping to hold on and keep the draw. But instead we came through with the ugly win.”

Victoria took the Juan de Fuca Plate, emblematic of the PDL season competition between the Highlanders and Whitecaps. But it wasn’t easy. A penalty-kick goal by Riley O’Neill in extra time had given Victoria a come-from-behind 3-2 victory over the Whitecaps in the season opener two weeks ago at Royal Athletic Park.

The Highlanders return for a home game tonight at 7 against the Washington Crossfire at Royal Athletic Park. The Crossfire, summer club for seven University of Washington Huskies, tied their lone game this season 1-1 against Lane United of Eugene, Ore.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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