Everything To Know Before The 2023 League1 BC Season
After six years of negotiations, planning, and waiting, 2022 marked the first-ever season of BC Soccer’s contribution to League1 Canada: League1 BC. Beginning in May and culminating on BC Day 2022, the seven inaugural teams of the province’s semi-pro league faced off for 11 weeks with some of the best soccer action BC has to offer.
With many high-scoring affairs and a thrilling finale at Burnaby’s historic Swangard Stadium, all seven sides – Altitude FC, Rivers FC, TSS Rovers, Unity FC, Varsity FC, Victoria Highlanders, and the Whitecaps FC Academy – proved themselves to be worthy opponents for one another.
As another season of Canadian soccer approaches, including a Canadian Championship tournament that now includes BC’s best semi-pro squad, we thought it would be useful to preview each of League1 BC’s teams, including the newly-minted Harbourside FC out of Nanaimo, as they all seek to lift the L1BC Trophy come August 7th, 2023.
Harbourside FC: Did Not Compete
Entering its first season with a vision to create a viable and community-driven club within the Nanaimo area, all that is left for Coach Kevin Lindo to do is put together a side which can compete within an extremely strong league. Having already promoted their partnerships with both Nanaimo United FC and Victoria Island University on their website, it would be fair to predict that their 2023 roster will be made up predominantly of local talent and VIU Mariners.
Looking at the Mariners for clues as to Harbourside’s potential success, a 5-2-5 record with 13 goals over the 2022 collegiate season saw VIU’s Vasilis Bagiopoulos and Kevin Picard as the definitive standouts. Bagiopoulos led the squad with 6 goals in 10 appearances while goalkeeper Picard only let in 9 goals on 63 shots. Although there is work to be done before the first whistle, signings like Matthew Coburn and Callum Magog show the basis for a solid foundation which could give the champions a run for their money.
Altitude FC: 4th, 4W-6L-2D, -6 GD
North Van’s finest never truly found their groove to start the 2022 season as Faly Basse’s side quickly fell to the bottom of the table, gaining their first win after a month of play. However, despite the product on the field definitely not being what was hoped for by the club’s owners, they do have a lot to be proud of. Firstly, the club has clearly tapped into a passion for the beautiful game previously untouched on the north shore, drawing a sell-out crowd to their home opener at Kinsman Field. Secondly, Altitude have fully come into form and despite their semi-professional label, have all the fixings of a professional club! Active social media with snazzy graphics? Check. Highlight packages? Oh yeah! A soccer-specific stadium? You betcha!
Ultimately, Altitude will be using this off-season to rebuild their back line. With the announcement that some of the league’s most powerful defenders like Wizaso Chavula and Brandon Bangambee will be returning, they just might be on their way to having a D-line that can stop chances from seeping through as they did throughout the season.
Rivers FC: 5th, 3W-4L-5D
2022 saw Kamloops’ Rivers FC fall middle of the pack and only one win away from a podium place, a disappointing result for a side which had a valiant push in the latter half of the campaign. But the year also saw Rivers fully embrace their role in Canada’s development pathway with the creation of Rivers FC II in the PCSL, a reserve side in the province’s amateur league meant to highlight talent much like reserve squads in League1 Ontario.
See Also: Rivers FC Goalkeeper Jackson Gardner Lands In Australia
On top of having in my opinion the most beautiful backdrop for a match with the Rockies and the Thompson River framing Hillside Stadium, the club can also brag that one of their players were drafted into the Canadian Premier League with Junior Agyekum going to Atletico Ottawa. Clearly, if they are being recognized by two of the strongest clubs in Canada, Head Coach John Antulov is doing something right. All that needs to be done is fill the gaps left by Agyekum and Torresan should they eventually sign with their CanPL sides.
TSS Rovers FC: 2nd, Playoff Champs, 6W-2L-5D
The Rovers entered the season with a lot of the spotlight on their club: the expected excitement surrounding their entry into L1BC was then complimented by the announcement that the club would be going public, becoming Canada’s first-ever supporter-owned semi-pro club. With a lot of hype behind them, the team came out swinging and gave their fans a seven-game point streak to start the season.
Burnaby’s Pirates continued their legacy of producing exceptional talent as, on top of their league championship, they claimed the league’s Golden Boot (Erik Edwardson, 10 goals) and the first pick in the CPL Draft with defender Anthony White donning the colours of Vancouver FC. Going into 2023, the Rovers will be looking to continue their winning ways while also finding a way to beat Altitude, as their North Van rivals were the only team to hold off the Rovers the entire season.
Unity FC: 6th, 3W-6L-3D
Unity FC very much flew under the radar, and in all the wrong ways unfortunately. Lacking the same level of flair and presence as some of their League1 opponents, partnered with a lackluster performance on the pitch, Unity has a lot to strive for come their second season.
The first half of their 2022 campaign saw them at a meagre 1-3-2 record and despite being able to hold off both Varsity and the Rovers to draws in their first meetings, their opponents often got the better of Unity, leaving fans with a lot to be desired. The main take-away from Unity’s season would be that they seemingly have a flair for the dramatic, consistently scoring big goals in the last 10 minutes of any given match (no, seriously, they did it in one-third of their games).
Nautsa’mawt FC (formerly Varsity FC): 1st, Season Champs, 9W-2L-2D
The transformation is complete, and with it brings a new chapter for Canadian soccer and Indigenous participation in the sport with Nautsa’mawt FC! Derived from the Hulq’u’mi’num term meaning “to move together, as one heart, one mind”, Canada’s first Indigenous-owned club will be taking to the pitch this summer with a focus on local Indigenous talent.
Using the building blocks of Varsity FC from the 2022 campaign, the UBC-affiliated side saw nothing but success until the very end of the season, capturing a league-leading 28 goals over 13 games before losing its championship bout against the Rovers. Although it is unclear if Varsity FC-staples such as Caleb Clarke will return for 2023, with advisors like Pacific FC’s James Merriman, the future is looking bright! Will we see Nautsa’mawt FC at back-to-back BC Day finals? Only time will tell!
Victoria Highlanders: 7th, 3W-7L-2D, -7 GD
Not much can be said about the Highlander’s performance over the 2022 season except that it was very underwhelming. The oldest club in the league (circa 2008) faced many challenges from a leaky defense to multiple missed scoring chances, but their biggest challenge of all was inconsistency. When they played a back-to-back matches on June 4 and 5, they dropped their first match 3-0 to Varsity only to crush the Whitecaps Academy 4-0 the next day.
Although not running away with the worst goal difference, their 25 conceded goals and Wooden Spoon award mean that gaffer Steve Simonson will have to change tactics to fill the holes which saw both their offence and defense be devastatingly mediocre in face of some overwhelming opposition. However, knowing the kind of talent which has come out of the capital including the likes of Jake Ruby, Peter Schaale, and Cory Bent, it won’t take long for this team to bounce back.
Whitecaps FC Academy: 3rd, 4W-4L-4D
Rich Fagan and the Whitecaps organization did not have much to lose and everything to gain as they entered the 2022 season. With the majority of their roster being made up of their U-19 academy, it is clear that the Vancouver Whitecaps see L1BC as a long-term investment, and one that has already begun to pay off.
Although a third-place finish was probably a tad disappointing for the league’s most well-known brand, the fact that they have several proven goal-scorers on their roster means that they are well on the way towards creating a steady stream of talent for the pro ‘Caps and their MLS Next Pro affiliate team, too.
Perhaps the only cause for concern would be them dropping five points to the last-placed Highlanders in games which should have been easy wins. Instead, they held a negative four differential over two games including a four-nil trampling. All things considered, the Whitecaps’ Academy can only expect to attract more young talent as they develop the next generation of Canadian soccer superstars.
With the 2023 League1 BC season set to kick off on April 29, it’ll be interesting to see how all eight teams fare – especially with the introduction of an expanded playoff format that more closely resembles the Canadian Premier League.