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Victoria Highlanders have eyes on top spot in USL League 2

People understand the chuckwagon races, Flames, Stampeders and even lacrosse Roughnecks.
Thomas Niendorf's Highlanders host front-running Calgary Foothills this weekend.

People understand the chuckwagon races, Flames, Stampeders and even lacrosse Roughnecks. But how did Calgary become the gold standard for club soccer in Western Canada?

Foothills FC was the dominant franchise in USL 2 (formerly PDL) the previous three seasons before moving up to the pro ranks, with seven Foothills players and head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr., and leading the Canadian Premier League as Cavalry FC.

Although now the secondary team in the market, Foothills FC remains strong in USL 2 at 4-2-2 and comes into Centennial Stadium tonight and Sunday to face the Victoria Highlanders.

Victoria head coach Thomas Niendorf knows well the Calgary soccer scene after having been part of it for 26 years: “There was a strong core group that moved up with Tommy [Wheeldon Jr. to the CPL]. But they [Cavalry/Foothills nexus] have always been good at recruitment and have had success in attracting good players.”

Foothills FC has restocked well, led by former Highlanders star Cory Bent, who headlines a group of former Highlanders returning this weekend with Calgary to face their old club.

They will find a retooled Victoria team that is 4-1-1 under sophomore bench boss Niendorf.

“Foothills has been very good the past three years, but we feel we are in a very good position, too, this season,” said Niendorf.

Niendorf and Foothills head coach Leon Hapgood know each other well and have been opponents in Calgary senior soccer leagues.

“This is an exciting opportunity to prove ourselves against a team like Foothills and take another step forward in this league and challenge for a playoff spot,” said Niendorf, of his Highlanders.

“We have nothing to lose.”

Among the new-wave Highlanders is 17-year-old Goteh Ntignee, ranked No. 41 on the USL 2 list of 2019 top-50 pro prospects.

“That is a good measurement for Goteh,” said Niendorf.

Ntignee and UBC star Victory Shumbusho have developed a good partnership in attack for the Highlanders.

“They have proven they can play at this level,” said Niendorf.