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UVic Vikes look to rebound as Canada West men's soccer starts Friday

Bruce Wilson had just retired from playing, after captaining Canada in its still-only World Cup appearance in 1986, and began working for a coffee company in Toronto. But his heart was still in soccer.

Bruce Wilson had just retired from playing, after captaining Canada in its still-only World Cup appearance in 1986, and began working for a coffee company in Toronto. But his heart was still in soccer.

Then came the call from departing University of Victoria soccer coach Bruce Twamley, a fellow former pro and national-team player: Would Wilson be interested in applying for the UVic coaching job?

Three decades, and three national titles later, Wilson enters his 30th season of coaching the UVic Vikes when they open the Canada West conference season at 7:15 tonight against the Trinity Western Spartans and the same time Saturday night against the Fraser Valley Cascades.

“After the World Cup, I was looking around. Then came the call from Bruce [Twamley]. I have no regrets. It has worked out well,” said Wilson, a former NASL pro and Olympian, who was capped 51 times, and named to the all-time Canada XI.

Nothing against the coffee business, but it has allowed the 66-year-old Wilson to carve out a full-time profession in soccer. How many people in Canada can say that?

The season-opening games tonight and Saturday will take place on the grass field adjacent to Centennial Stadium because of the track replacement and field work being done in the main stadium. There will be no admission charge to either game.

If there is something about the new era of Canada West soccer that irks Wilson, it is the early start to the season.

“It’s a bit crazy and I’m not sure it suits university programs to be starting in August,” said the former Vancouver Whitecaps, Chicago Sting, New York Cosmos and Toronto Blizzard pro.

“You’re asking kids to come in a month early and that adds stress on the players. They lose out on one month of work money that could go a long way toward their schooling expenses.”

But you know you are getting the true keeners.

“Canada West is extremely competitive,” said Wilson.

“I have 28 players, including four redshirts, and I’m extremely happy with the quality of the kids. There’s not much difference between them and I would have confidence in putting any one of them on the field.”

The Vikes, hampered last year by season-long injuries, are trying to rebound from a disappointing 2016 campaign in which they went 5-10-1 in Canada West.

“The key is we are healthy this year compared to last year,” said Wilson.

Important returnees include the fleet-footed third-year midfielder Isaac Koch out of West Kelowna, limited by injuries to eight games last season, but who still managed to score six goals. Fifth-year midfielder Paulo Dait out of Maple Ridge led the Vikes with eight points last year on five goals and three assists.

Notable losses to graduation include Adam Ravenhill, Sam Prette and goalkeeper Noah Pawlowski.

Replacing Pawlowski will be six-foot-three third-year ’keeper Jasdeep Lally from Panorama Ridge Secondary in Surrey and freshman Maxwell Branyik-Gil from Malaga, Spain, and Reynolds Secondary. Wilson said the pair will share the crease this season: “Both complement each other and I have confidence in both.”

Among the nine Vikes newcomers are incoming freshmen Will Adams, a midfielder, and Josh Lamothe, a defender, both from the B.C. high school champion Reynolds Roadrunners.

The UVic Vikes women’s soccer team opens Canada West play next weekend.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com