Even with a ticket to the nationals confirmed, the Douglas College Royals weren’t about to settle for second class passage.
The Coquitlam-based men’s soccer team entered Saturday’s PacWest provincial final with the goal to take it all, usurping the favoured Vancouver Island University Mariners 1-0 to earn a B.C. crown and a higher seed into the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association championships.
That eight-team tournament, to be played in Oshawa and Durham, Ont., kicks off Nov. 6 with Douglas facing the host Durham Lords.
With a berth locked up after a 2-0 shutout over Capilano University a day earlier, the championship title hinged on who could outlast the other.
Going right down to the late stages, it was Yanni Siafakas’ goal with 15 minutes left in regulation that secured the top spot.
“We wanted to go to nationals not as a wild card seed but as (provincial) champion, so we knew what we had to do,” remarked Douglas head coach Robby Toor. “We knew (Vancouver Island) was going to put up a good fight, but we just felt confident that we could get it done.”
After knocking off Capilano University 2-0 a day earlier in the semifinal, the Royals expected a well-rested Mariners squad to bring the heat early. And they did.
Feeling a bit slighted by the PacWest in terms of league awards, the squad had extra incentive to make good on their skills.
The regular season champion Mariners, who were ranked third overall in the last national poll, held an edge in possession during a defensive first half. Douglas’ Milan Gandesha registered the game’s first shot, just a minute into play, but Vancouver Island would put a handful of balls towards the net, with Felipe Domingos stopping a pair and Coquitlam-raised defenders Adam Qumizakis and Burhan Waisy blocking the others.
Midfielder Rafael Domingos, meanwhile, continued to set a sturdy tone as Douglas gathered its composure.
“VIU controlled the first half and were getting some good chances, but not a lot of scoring chances,” said Toor. “I knew if we could get it to halftime (0-0) we’d be in good shape.”
The Royals entered the second half with a lot more urgency and composure, turning the tables on the Mariners with scoring chance after scoring chance.
Just seconds prior to Siafakas solving Mariner goalkeeper Kevin Picard, Toor tweaked his starting formation and inserted forward Abdul Ali into the lineup.
“It was a quick adjustment and we scored 15 seconds right after it on a nice play by (Siafakas),” noted Toor. “The group really dug in after the first half and put their hearts on the line, because while (the Mariners) had the edge in the first half, I could see us being better prepared for the second half.”
Felipe Domingos turned aside a redirected header by Hector Valdez with a few minutes to play to cap the win. He’d go on to be named the tourney’s top goalkeeper, while forward Taylor Richardson was chosen the top forward.
Rafael Domingos was named the tourney MVP. Richardson and Rafael Domingos counted goals in the semifinal.
In their previous four meetings, Douglas had a 3-1 record against Vancouver Island, although the Mariners would finish one-game ahead in the standings. Douglas was ranked 10th overall in the last national poll.
Now, the Royals are looking at doing what they fell just short of in 2017, when they last advanced to the nationals. In that championship, host VIU captured the national title, beating Douglas 2-1 in the final.
Led by the Brazillian Domingos brothers, the New West squad has a lot of skill and confidence to bring to the table.
“Rafael was the MVP and rightfully our MVP every game,” said the coach. “He started the year a little slow but once he had the chemistry down and meshed with the guys, he set the tone. Obviously there’s a different style between here and Brazil, so I was always encouraged when he’d come up ask ‘Coach, what do you want me to do, how do you want me to play?’ I knew he was all-in.”
“We haven’t played at our peak yet, and I’m hoping to say we have in two week’s time,” noted Toor.
The Royals roster includes Tri-Cities products Jaxon Bain, Quinn Desaulniers, Jacob McCall, Brayden Rose and Alejandro Varela.