The Victoria Highlanders organization have revamped the team on the pitch, the management in the front office and have re-branded. The result, after one home game is a much-improved fan experience, fan support and quality of play.
Due to the scheduling gods, unfortunately, the team played its first two games in Calgary against a Foothills FC club that is favoured to dominate the division this year. The Highlanders lost two close matches.
Saturday, the Highlanders deserved the win. They dominated early and through most of the second half, but in the end came up short, 1-0 to the Portland Timbers U23 squad.
Victoria Highlanders FC (0-3-0) welcomed Portland Timbers U-23 (1-1-0) to Centennial Stadium, May 20 for their Home Opener. Despite relentless pressure from the home side in the second half, a curling ball off the left wing from Gio Magama-Rivera was the difference as Timbers took the 1-0 win.
The Highlanders kicked off their home opener on the front foot, pushing into Portland’s half with bright starts from Marcus Campanile and Cory Bent. Bent and Portland’s Francois Dulysse made for a great matchup throughout the early stages of the first half.
On 32-minutes, a shot from Stuart Heath was saved, followed by Hundal in the 37’ turning his defender, but the former UVic Vikes’ attempt on goal was stopped again by Portland ‘keeper Zach Nelson. The two opportunities finished as Victoria’s top chances of the half.
Timbers U-23 generated chances of their own as the first half carried on, including a dangerous looking free kick midway through the half. However, a resilient Victoria back line kept the visiting side from any threatening looks on starting ‘keeper Nolan Wirth.
The two teams would head into the break in a 0-0 deadlock.
“We wanted to have better quality in our possession play [in the first half],” said Highlanders head coach Thomas Neindorf. “Portland established good organization in the game and we couldn’t find too many penetrating opportunities, but at halftime, we addressed those issues and we all agreed to be better technically and in our execution.”
The Highlanders took advantage of Portland’s third game of the week as the second half opened, with increased pressure on Portland’s backline. On 58-minutes, Victoria’s Gordon Hall found space behind the backline just missing the net in what looked to be the Highlanders opening goal of the season.
“We all talked about being more clinical and ruthless in front of the net and putting our foot through the ball and scoring,” Neindorf added. “Of course we are all very disappointed that we didn’t accomplish that.”
The pressure continued to mount as the half continued, with UVic standout Isaac Koch running down the wing and hitting a shot off the woodwork. Koch continued to cause headaches for the Timbers, with multiple shots from the 18-yard box.
“It was a good crowd today, fantastic weather, everything was well-organized,” Neindorf concluded. “ I think that the conditions for the game were fantastic and we want to thank our fans for coming out here.”
The game came to a head in the 78th minute, when recently substituted Magama-Rivera found a way past the Highlanders backline to curl an excellent effort past Wirth to make it 1-0.
Late in the half, Koch looked destined for a penalty in the 83rd minute after going down inside the box, but no call was made on the play.
A late push into the attacking third by Victoria would come up short, as the home side fell 1-0 to open up their home schedule.
“The home crowd was great and the energy was tremendous,” said Victoria midfielder Thomas Shores. “The supporters behind the net were tremendous. You could hear them all game long. It’s a true privilege to play in front of a crowd like that. The fans gave us everything today, honestly, it was amazing.”
The Highlanders are back in action this Friday, May 25th at Centennial Stadium versus Lane United. Kick Off is at 6:35 PM. For more tickets and more information, please visit www.highlandersfc.ca.
POR: Gio Magama-Rivera (78’)
Victoria Highlanders FC
Wirth (GK); Schaale, Hall, Cunningham, Montgomery; Shores, Bent (Popadynetz, 40’) Campanile (Pearce, 72’), Koch; Hundal (Sturrock, 84’) , Heath (Rushworth, 45’)
Portland Timbers U-23
Nelson (GK); Shimazaki, Dulysse, Verstraaten, Tiozzo, Riley, Segovia, Haji (Hubenya, 72’), Corner (Magama-Rivera, 45’), Dixon, Simonis (Zhividze, 62’)