Summer weather has certainly ended in one big, black cloud — but only the worst of weather can deter soccer players, playing at three levels in Hope and the Fraser Valley.
The Valley Choppers men’s team, sponsored by Valley Helicopters, are beginning their eighth season in the Chilliwack Men’s league. They’ve dropped their first two games but played perhaps their best 45 minutes in a few years, holding last year’s league and playoff champions, the Timberwood Young Guns, to a scoreless draw in the first half on Sept. 21.
Heavy rainstorms shut down all Chilliwack grass fields last weekend — and if the schedule continues to get postponements, league president Kris Reddemann hopes to reschedule some night games to Chilliwack’s two artificial fields, with teams providing extra fees for the privilege. The newly-laid turf at Exhibition Stadium saw its first soccer action last weekend and was very playable.
Despite the rain on Saturday, Hope Minor Soccer president Bruce Becker said there was a surprisingly strong turnout. They combined a couple of teams in one group, but were still able to play.
The kindergarten-Grade 1 group has 20 players, starting things off at 9 a.m. on the Hope Secondary School field. Forty Grade 2-4s take over from 10 to 11 o’clock, followed by another 40 Grade 5-7s at 11 a.m.
“We’ve got 22 Grade 8 to 10 players, from 12:15 to 1:30,” added Becker, the principal of Silver Creek Elementary.
“The Grade 10s are a new addition to the group and we have five of them playing. Some long time players now have work commitments, so they had to make the tough choice to work instead of play.
“The numbers are lower in the fall, overall — due to colder weather, hockey and a couple of players playing in Chilliwack,” explained Becker. “I suspect the numbers will increase substantially in the spring.”
Perhaps the extra time on the field has helped the minor soccer players who do double-duty with the Hope Secondary School senior Mustangs boys’ team. The boys were soundly schooled by Abbotsford Traditional in a road game last Thursday — but they played with tenacity and team work in their first home game, Tuesday.
The visiting Langley Christian squad were up 2-0, only 13 minutes into the first half. A few minutes later, David Chisholm put a ball across to James Irwin, who fed a pass to Nathaniel Martin. Martin, who attended Langley Christian a few years ago, burst into the box and put a low shot past the keeper.
His work done, David Chisholm had to leave for a dental appointment.
Late in the half, a Langley forward was uncontested as he carried the ball in on rookie keeper Nick Gauthier. Mustang defender Marcus Aubin caught up to the Langley player as he crossed the 18-yard line and deftly slid to knock the ball away… without touching his opponent.
Aubin plays on Chilliwack’s U-14 Metro team and has been picking up some high-level experience there.
Shortly before half time, Nigel Wismath was taken down by the Langley keeper and awarded a penalty kick.
“The PK is one of the hardest plays to finish,” said coach Andrew Tarrant, a defender for the Valley Choppers. “But Nigel put it into the bottom corner.
“I tell the boys that a team is most vulnerable just before and just after half time,” added Tarrant. “We scored on them, just before the half — and they scored on us, just after.”
Langley had a free kick in the Hope end and the ball was delivered into the goal mouth, where it bounced off a few players and found its way into the net. Up 3-2, the visitors had more chances to boost their score but midfielders James Irwin and Quentin Jones were doing well at winning important headers and clearing dangerous chances. As well, Gauthier was making some key plays in net.
About 20 minutes into the second half, Langley set up for a goal kick and Tre Loewen read the kicker’s mind, moving 10 paces to his left to be in position. The ball came right to Loewen and he headed it forward, battling two defenders to get control of the ball before blasting it into the net.
With time winding down and Hope in the Langley end, the ball was crossed over to Jacob Chisholm, who lobbed a high shot from about 25 paces out.
Time stood still, as the ball dropped and drifted under the crossbar, just beyond the keeper’s reach.
Hope had clawed back to a 4-3 lead… and worked hard to fend off the Langley attempts in the last three minutes.
“I was very proud of the boys today,” said coach Tarrant. “They played with way more aggression than they did in their first game — but they still played with respect for themselves and others.”