Victoria Highlanders to play at Centennial Stadium

The return of the Highland Fling, soccer version, will take place at Centennial Stadium.

The Victoria Highlanders will play their USL Premier Development League games at the University of Victoria facility, beginning with the home opener against Calgary Foothills on May 15. The 2016 PDL schedule was released Tuesday, with Victoria opening its 14-game season in the Western Conference Northwest Division on May 7 at Kitsap, Washington, against the Pumas.

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“As always, the games against the MLS affiliates of the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers, along with [defending champion] Kitsap, will be the highlight home dates for us,” said Highlanders GM and co-owner Marvin Diercks.

The Sounders U-23 squad make its Centennial Stadium appearance July 3, the Timbers U-23 on July 17 and Kitsap on June 5.

“A lot of MLS pros have played in the PDL. No other amateur soccer league in North America can make that claim,” said Diercks.

The seven Victoria home dates feature a mix of 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. starts.

They include games against the Washington Crossfire on June 25-26 and Lane United of Eugene, Oregon, on July 8.

The Highlanders are kicking the ball back to the future. After one season in the lower level Pacific Coast Soccer League, the club is returning to the PDL.

The Highlanders previously played in the PDL from 2009 to 2014 with home games at Westhills Stadium in Langford during the earlier seasons and at Royal Athletic Park during latter seasons.

“Going to Centennial Stadium [from Royal Athletic] gave us certain advantages we couldn’t pass up. It opened up a lot more dates for us to choose from,” said Diercks, of being able to avoid schedule conflicts at Royal Athletic Park with the Victoria HarbourCats baseball team.

“It also helps us build a long-term relationship with UVic.”

The PDL is considered the top amateur development league in North America with a catchline that reads: “Path2Pro.”

The Highlanders, which relinquished their PDL franchise in 2014, recently acquired the former Puget Sound Gunners franchise to move to Victoria.

The Highlanders will feature the top VISL Division 1 and UVic Vikes players, along with Island players returning for the summer from other CIS and NCAA teams.

Diercks said if Cam Hundal of the Vikes doesn’t land a pro contract, he has indicated he will return to the Highlanders for this PDL season. Hundal was picked up by FC Tucson of the PDL on an interim basis and played in the 1-0 exhibition victory over the defending MLS-champion Portland Timbers last weekend, which was a notable achievement even if the Timbers obviously mostly played their rookies, draftees and prospects.

There are 67 PDL teams spread across North America in the 2016 season through four conferences and 10 divisions. According to the league, 189 players during the 2015 MLS season were PDL alumni, while 295 players in the second-level North American pro USL last year were PDL alumni.

Highlanders tickets are on sale through Select Your Tickets.

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