Despite a somewhat nasty Provincial B Cup final that saw the Nelson U18 Selects boys side finish with a silver medal, the team’s coaching staff is giving full marks to the underdog locals.
“On our best day we could defeat them,” Nelson coach Keith Williams says of the powerhouse Chilliwack Attack, who claimed the provincial title with a 5-1 win on Sunday.
“Unfortunately we didn’t put forward our best performance in the final and when we began to get anything going, the officiating destroyed any chance of flow and momentum.”
Finishing atop their Group A standings in the round robin portion of the Penticton-hosted tournament, the Nelson side were looking to mirror the 2010 finals where the locals took home the provincial championship.
A slow start by the Selects allowed the favoured Chilliwack team to take advantage early, scoring off a deflection. Nelson’s best chance in the first half came off a Graeme Bakker rocket from just inside the penalty area that missed top corner. By the half Chilliwack built a 3-0 lead.
Though Nelson came out in the second half with comeback on their minds, Williams says the officials became the story of the last 45 minutes. The half featured a Chilliwack player spitting on Nelson players and a nasty collision in the goal area that bloodied Selects keeper Andrew Woodward, knocking him out of the game.
Frustration resulted in three Nelson players being ejected from the game and an impossible task of mounting the comeback. Erik Norberg scored midway through the second half, but the score ended up 5-1.
“Officiating aside, my guys were ready to play and could have put on a much more enjoyable and competitive match if given the freedom to play football, not this BC version of a game that is becoming a sort of ballet,” says Williams. “Tennis has more contact these days. That said, Chilliwack was obviously a gifted team with two PCSL (Pacific Coast Soccer League) players in their midfield and gifted finishing.”
Though a somewhat forgettable final, the U18s’ highlight of the tournament came in the opening game where they took on one of the favourites, Bulkley Valley.
“They were a strong, fast, clean tackling, good forward ball movement side that proved to be difficult to contain at times,” Williams says of the opening game competition.
Nelson came out strong and it paid off as Luke Mori — returning from a season-long injury — put the Selects up 1-0 when he finished a cross from the left wing at the five minute mark.
Bulkley Valley then took over with strong pressure for the next 20 minutes which resulted in an unchallenged header to tie the game 1-1.
Midway through the second half Nelson’s Kevin Lewis took matters into his own hands when he made an impressive offensive run, pursuing possession all the way to the penalty area and finding the back of the goal for what would be the winning goal.
In the second game, Nelson easily disposed of host Penticton with a 5-0 win. Goals came from Mori, Mitch Melanson, Michael Hii, Carsen Willans and Norberg.
Though having to settle for silver, Williams says the group of athletes on the U18 team deserves plenty of praise.
“This is the end of youth soccer for players I have become very close to such as Erik Norberg, Kevin Lewis, Danny Santano, Luke Mori, Russell Ray,” says Williams. “The years spent with these guys have been incredibly amazing and they have earned my utmost respect and garnered a future in this sport like few others.”