High-level soccer season extended

Nanaimo United player Matt Mehrassa

Nanaimo United player Matt Mehrassa

Many of Nanaimo’s favourite soccer players will now be on the pitch year-round.

Ladysmith was recently awarded a team in the Pacific Coast Soccer League’s premiership. The Mid Isle Highlanders FC, set to start their season May 14, immediately become one of Vancouver Island’s elite soccer teams.

“It’s going to be another level or two levels higher, probably, than the [Vancouver Island Soccer League],” said Bill Merriman, the club’s technical director. “People are going to be really excited when they see the level of the play and the product.”

The Mid Isle Highlanders FC premier team, coached by James Merriman, will play in the same division as Victoria United, and travel to games as far away as Kamloops and Kelowna.

Many of the new team’s players will be familiar to local soccer fans. The coach said Robbie Cochrane and Matt Mehrassa, standouts on the Vancouver Island University Mariners and Nanaimo United teams, have committed to Mid Isle Highlanders FC. More VIU talent will almost certainly sign on.

“It’s a lot of those players mixed with the top players that are playing with the VISL … and then it’s also an opportunity for young players, Grade 12 or 11, to step in and get their first taste at the next level,” said James Merriman.

Nanaimo United had been considering trying to acquire a PCSL expansion team in recent years, Bill Merriman said. At this time, though, it made sense to take advantage of Ladysmith’s new turf field and partner with the Victoria Highlanders club of the Premier Development League.

“The biggest reason is just the marketing, and working together with them because they’re already an established program,” said Bill Merriman.

The new team hopes Nanaimo soccer fans will make the drive to Ladysmith to watch home games. The squad starts the season on the road at Vancouver before holding its home opener May 21 at 3 p.m. against Victoria United. There will be a modest admission fee that hasn’t yet been determined.

“We’d love to have support for the team and get a good fan base going and try to provide a good product for people to come watch,” said James Merriman.

SOCCER TALK … There is also an academy component of the club for men and women in the U21 age group and boys and girls in U10-U13. The academy will be differentiated by the slightly different name of Highlanders Mid Isle FC … For more on the new soccer club, click here.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com

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