Victoria players in spotlight in Canadian soccer friendly

Remember that kid in youth soccer who raises his hand when the goalkeeper goes down or doesn’t show? Well, that was Straith at the international level.

Melvin came off the bench and earned the first Canada appearance of his career — as would be expected for a keeper — in goal. That’s also where veteran defender Straith ended up playing, after Melvin went down with injury in the second half of a 4-2 victory in a friendly over host Bermuda.

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Rules prohibited Canadian starter Callum Irving, also a debutante in goal like Melvin, from be reinserted back into the game after Melvin went down.

Melvin will not forget his first cap. Neither will Straith his 41st. The former was anything but satisfying, because of the injury, and the latter anything but routine.

Asked if he had any crease experience coming up in the Bays United and Lower Island Metro organizations, Straith answered no.

“That was a new one for me,” said the 26-year-old. “I’ve never had to do that before.”

Straith wasn’t bad, however, playing to a personal clean sheet in the crease after Melvin was injured at 55 minutes on the goal by Bermuda’s Lejaun Simmons that tied it 2-2.

This will go down as among the most unusual victories for Canada in soccer.

“After what happened in the second half [being forced to play goal], it was good for the team to bounce back and find a way to grind out a result. Even if it was in an unorthodox way,” said Straith, still seemingly disbelieving of the turn of events.

But a win is a win. World No. 120 Canada is in dire need of those, even if only for moral victories against a minnow like No. 186 Bermuda, after already being eliminated in CONCACAF qualifying play for World Cup Russia 2018.

The talking point was Straith playing in net as Canada went to five wins and four draws all-time against Bermuda.

“We have to deal with those types of challenges when playing in CONCACAF,” said Canadian interim head coach Michael Findlay in a statement. “We need to be tested. We need to face dilemmas, and we need to find a way to solve those problems and that’s exactly what we did. We are very pleased at the end of the day to have won the football match.”

Canada trailed 1-0 at 12 minutes before goals by Jonathan Osorio and veteran Tosaint Ricketts made it 2-1.

“We didn’t start the game the way we wanted to, obviously, and it took a goal from a set piece of theirs for us to really start the game,” said Straith.

“After that, I thought we dominated for the rest of the game and it was good to get four goals to start off the year.”

While Straith patrolled the crease, career-first Canada goals by Jay Chapman at 75 minutes and Anthony Jackson-Hamel at 88 minutes won it for Canada.

Canada is readying for the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup in July in the U.S.

“There’s only a certain amount of times we get together before this summer, so these games are crucial not just as a team to perform, but also individually if we want to be around for the tournament,” said Straith.

Melvin, 22, was among five previously uncapped players on the Canadian roster and 10 players under the age of 24. He is from the Gordon Head youth soccer organization and Mount Douglas Secondary and said his was the actual classic case of putting his hand up one day as a kid in Gordon Head when the coach asked who wanted to go in goal.

Melvin went on to a standout NCAA Div. 1 career at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and now plays for the Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2. He was called up to the Canadian roster for two friendlies in 2015 against eventual 2016 Euro giant-slayer Iceland, but did not get into the games.

Both Islanders were back in Victoria training over the winter break, Straith at the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence and Melvin at UVic’s CARSA.

Straith has played pro in Germany and Norway and is currently between clubs. He said he is hoping to have his next club “sorted out within the next week.”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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