Soccer is a game unique in its ability to bring greatness to a humble team or to humble a great team.
No matter how much possession you have or how many shots you take, sometimes that big goal can feel very, very small.
That was the case Saturday at Burnaby Lake Sports Complex where the Argyle Pipers senior boys swarmed Victoria’s Reynolds Roadrunners in the final of the AAA provincial championships but couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net. The game ended in a 0-0 tie and the Roadrunners went on to win in a shootout, their goalie making one save to preserve a 5-4 advantage and secure the title.
The result left Argyle head coach Darren Rath to console his talented Pipers, who scored a bittersweet silver for the second year in a row.
“I’m proud of the way the team played,” he said. “They gave everything they had. They performed really, really well, and without question they were the best team there. They were just unfortunate not to get rewarded.”
Argyle made a comfortable run to the final, beating North Peace, McMath and L.A. Matheson to win their pool before topping Oak Bay 3-1 in the semifinals to book their spot in the championship game. With gold on the line, the Pipers came out firing, taking it to the Roadrunners from the opening kickoff.
“We completely dominated the game,” said Rath. “The team came out extremely focused. They had their best warmup of the season, they had their best overall team performance attacking and defending as a collective group. … I think Reynolds had the ball in our half maybe 10 times all game. Maybe four times in the second half.”
As time rolled on, however, the Pipers continued to pound the ball at the net but couldn’t find the decisive touch.
“I’d say there were at least 10 glaring opportunities,” said Rath. “We switched the ball well, we moved the ball well, we did everything except put the big toe on the ball and put it in the net – all the ball needed was just a pass into the goal. We failed to score, and when you don’t score, you don’t win.”
The game went into overtime and still Argyle found no glory, instead nailing the post with a potential game-winner.
“We had crosses go right through the six-yard box, shots narrowly miss the goal,” said Rath, adding that his players executed the game plan nearly flawlessly. “They played everything on the ground to our strengths, they started from the back through the midfield, they switched the ball when it wasn’t on, tried to create and get to the other side. … They just needed to score a goal. If they’d scored one goal they would have won the game.”
The Pipers were led by Grade 12 captain Matthew Miki, who scored three goals from his centre midfield position during the tournament and was named to the Commissioner’s 11 tournament all-star team.
“He’s always in the middle of the park, and has been since he was in Grade 10,” said Rath. “He’s a very, very nice player to watch. He’s technically sound, he has an excellent soccer brain, very intelligent, terrific vision, maintains excellent composure.”
Miki was surrounded by elite players, with several of the Pipers coming from the Mountain United B.C. Soccer Premier League team, the Whitecaps residency program, the provincial team or even the national team program. Owen McBride, Max Kensett and Dumars Graham anchored the defence, Ethan Pomeroy, Miles Gailiunas and Declan Confortin joined Miki in midfield and Alex Wallace played up front. Multi-sport star Devin O’Hea – coming off a strong season with the Argyle football team – made his presence felt all over the pitch.
The Pipers, however, still ended up in the same spot they were in last year when, as an extremely young team, they lost 5-1 to Charles Best in the provincial AAA final. This year’s loss had more of a sting, said Rath.
“This year we were the stronger team,” he said. “Everybody that saw the game knows that we were the best team in the province. We deserved to win, unfortunately we didn’t get the reward. The boys are devastated. Even more so than last year.”
The silver lining for the Pipers is that they are still a relatively young team. The starting lineup included just four Grade 12 players, with two Grade 10s and five Grade 11s. They should be a strong bet to make it back into the championship game next year, although they just learned the hard way that there are no guarantees, said Rath.
“We’ve got to get there first,” he said. “It would be really nice if we could get back there and finish the job. Hopefully third time lucky, but it’s not easy to get there, it’s obviously not easy to win even of you have the best team there. You still have to score the goals. Hopefully we can get back there again, make it a third straight final and, hopefully, finally finish with a gold medal and make these guys happy.”