VIU Mariners player Victor Blasco practises along with teammates on Tuesday night at NDSS Community Field. GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin

Soccer Mariners look forward to openers on new home field

VIU’s men’s and women’s soccer teams play first PacWest home games Saturday, Sept. 15 at NDSS field

Home field is closer than ever for the Vancouver Island University Mariners, and they hope to take advantage.

VIU’s women’s and men’s soccer teams began their Pacific Western Athletic Association seasons last weekend on the road, and play their home openers this Saturday, Sept. 15.

The matches will be at the new home field for VIU, the NDSS Community Field.

“We’re two minutes from campus; I think the students should come down…” said Hussein Behery, Mariners forward. “I think the games are going to be fun. We won nationals in front of our fans and the community [last fall] and they all watched us and they had fun and we need their support more than ever.”

The men’s Mariners have a very different makeup in 2018 after much of a veteran-heavy 2017 team graduated as national champions.

This year’s group started the PacWest season with a 4-0 loss against the Capilano Blues and a 4-4 tie against the Langara Falcons. The M’s were without their top players and were red-carded early in the loss. Behery said the team’s defence is pretty good and it was just “stupid mistakes” that the M’s made that cost them.

“I think we’ll do way better,” said Behery, who scored a hat trick in Sunday’s tie. “There’s still time for improvement and we’re going to sort stuff out in a few games.”

Larry Stefanek, the new coach of the Mariners men, said the side has made a lot of progress since the start of training but said it still needs to find cohesion, and with 23 guys on the roster, there are a lot of moving parts.

“We’re going to keep trying to get the recipe and keep using people until we get – not so much the results, but how we’re playing,” he said. “We’re trying to work on the process and play the way I want us to play and that is a big challenge. Once we get a little bit closer, hopefully results will come.”

There are a lot of positive traits that the Mariners are capable of displaying when they’re on top of their game. Stefanek said the team will be able to adapt, play through the middle of the pitch and be a possession-style team, while also having the ability to be direct and get the ball forward. He wants a stingy defence and attacking offence and thinks that will come with hard work.

“We want them to have that mindset where it is about getting better, individually and as a group,” he said.

VIU women will look to snap ties

The Mariners women, meanwhile, started with back-to-back ties on opening weekend, 1-1 versus Capilano and 0-0 against Langara.

Kevin Lindo, M’s coach, said the effort level from his team was excellent.

“We’re getting where we want to be in terms of possession and what we do with the ball,” he said. “Speed of play, we’re getting there.”

The Mariners women also saw some key players graduate last year and there are nine newcomers in 2018.

“I’m excited about the new crop and definitely the new leaders that have emerged within the group from last year,” Lindo said.

Lexi Fawcett, VIU defender, said the first-years all stepped up and showed well the first weekend and are poised to play important roles. The team’s progress as a group, she said, is “looking really good,” with communication a focus at this stage of the season.

Fawcett thinks moving forward, the Mariners will be able to break through and get those goals they need in tie games and tight games.

“We’ve got a lot of speed up front, so I think it’s just getting those people that are really fast up there more comfortable out on the field and just taking those opportunities that we have,” she said.

She said the team is excited to play its home openers on the new field with the support of “such a good community at VIU,” and the coach predicts good games for any spectators.

“We’ve got pretty much a new team, we’re trying to play an attractive brand of soccer,” he said. “We want to be a community program, so we really would like the support.”

GAME ON … The VIU Mariners women play the Douglas Royals at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, at NDSS Community Field, with the men’s sides to follow at 3 p.m. On Sunday, VIU’s women play Douglas at noon with the men at 2 p.m. Admission to VIU soccer games is free.

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