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Nanaimo United wins Jackson Cup

Nanaimo United’s Div. 1 men defeated Cowichan FC by a 2-1 score in extra time Sunday in Victoria.
Nanaimo United player Ben Leggett, right, tackles a Cowichan opponent during Sunday’s Jackson Cup final at Victoria’s Royal Athletic Park. (KEVIN ROTHBAUER/Black Press)

United pulled off an upset and became Jackson Cup champions.

Nanaimo United’s Div. 1 men defeated Cowichan FC by a 2-1 score in extra time Sunday in Victoria to win the Vancouver Island Soccer League’s premier championship. It was the first time Nanaimo has won the cup since 1999.

“I’m so proud of my guys,” said Lucian Serban, United coach. “They competed with whatever they had and the way I asked them. We played as a team.”

The Jackson Cup match unfolded in unforgettable fashion for United, culminating in Niko Cristante’s game-winning goal in the 110th minute.

Nanaimo’s Daragh Fitzgerald opened the scoring in the 14th minute off a header and the match stayed 1-0 through most of regulation. Cowichan had a player red-carded in the 75th minute, but pressed to tie and had four corner kicks in injury time, finally scoring in the 90th minute.

“We have a belief that’s beyond measure…” said Andrew Adams, United captain. “Our team talk when we went to extra time was, ‘we’re just going to make this more of an epic win,’ So that’s how positive we were still.”

Cristante’s championship-winning goal came on a counter-attack.

“We had a young, quick guy that just capitalized on a bad touch and used his speed to get around [the defender] and one-on-one, just slaughtered it home,” Adams said.

United was tested in many different ways Sunday at Royal Athletic Park. They game was played on a grass field, which United had hardly played on all year, and windy conditions also made things tricky. Cowichan, as expected, played physical soccer and by game’s end, United was exhausted, hurt and cramping.

“Every single player – we couldn’t have done it without one of them,” Adams said.

Geoff Hackett was the winning goalkeeper and Adams was chosen Jackson Cup MVP.

United didn’t get to take home the historical trophy, but did get to drink champagne from the cup. The team was able to share the victory with family, friends, alumni and other familiar faces from the club.

“That really did give us strength, looking out there and seeing all the support…” Adams said. “This is for Nanaimo.”