Victoria Highlanders add former national U-18 player Thomas Shores

Midfielder Thomas Shores was in high school, at St. Josephs in Edmonton, when he was called on to make his international debut at a tournament in Slovakia with four games with Canada’s U-18 team.

Shores has dribbled the ball well since then, taking it into NCAA Div. 1, and becoming James Madison’s rookie of the year and now captain of the Dukes in his junior year.

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His next step is summer soccer this year with the Victoria Highlanders of the United Soccer League Premier Development League.

Quantitative-finance major Shores is as talented in the classroom as on the pitch, having earned conference all-academic honours in the Colonial Athletic Association.

“Coach [Tom] Niendorf has a tremendous reputation and I am sure all of the players will be rearing to play their best,” said Shores, in a statement.

He was referring to first-year Highlanders coach Niendorf, known for his soccer connections to Germany, including having played key roles in the signings of Calgary-born, English international Owen Hargreaves by Bayern Munich and Canadian internationals Adam Straith of Victoria and Kevin McKenna with Energie Cottbus and FC Koln, respectively.

Niendorf’s Highlanders announced another signing Monday with home-Island goalkeeper Nolan Wirth of Comox, who played in the NCAA Pac-12 with the Oregon State Beavers, before spending time in the pro USL with Phoenix Rising under coach and former Chelsea star and Ivory Coast World Cup international Didier Drogba.

Wirth has had previous experience in the PDL with the Highlanders and said he was impressed upon meeting new coach Niendorf.

“It is setting us up to be successful as a club moving forward,” said the former Canada U-20 ’keeper.

The other end of the pitch looks to be well represented this summer with the return of 2016 Highlanders striker Chris Rushworth, a Canada West all-star and the all-time leading scorer in University of Lethbridge Pronghorns history.

“I’m excited to be returning to Victoria again. We have made some great signings and have even more on the way, so I’m excited to get started,” said Rushworth.

Rushworth is a native of Huddersfield, England, and was a U-15 member of the Leeds United Academy, when he moved with his parents at age 14 to Cranbrook, which is better known for hockey rinks than soccer pitches. That move was a culture shock, admitted Rushworth, during an interview when he signed with the Highlanders the first time: “It was a big adjustment, and a painful one, to come from Leeds Academy to where there was nothing really of that level and to where the soccer season is three months long [in the Kootenays].”

But Rushworth made the most of it later in Canada West and described himself as a player who goes “box to box” on the pitch.

The Highlanders also added defender Gordon Hall from the University of Northern B.C. Timberwolves, who spent the last two summers in the PDL with FC Tucson in Arizona. Hall is an opponent the University of Victoria Vikes know all too well.

“The soccer environment is great [in Victoria],” he said.

Nearly 70 per cent of Major League Soccer draft picks since 2010 have had PDL experience.

The Highlanders now have 21 players signed ahead of opening the 2018 PDL season May 11 in Calgary against the Foothills. The first home game is May 20 against Portland Timbers U-23 at Centennial Stadium.

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