Nanaimo United players Ben Leggett, left, and Eddie Conuecar vie for the ball during a drill at practice Monday night at Merle Logan Field (GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin)

Nanaimo United players Ben Leggett, left, and Eddie Conuecar vie for the ball during a drill at practice Monday night at Merle Logan Field (GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin)

United playing for Island soccer supremacy

Nanaimo United to face Cowichan FC in VISL’s Jackson Cup final

Nanaimo United players have been finding ways to win all season long. Now they’ll try to find a way to win a championship.

The city’s Vancouver Island Soccer League Div. 1 men’s side has reached the Jackson Cup final for the first time in nearly 20 years, and is set to face Cowichan FC on Sunday (April 2) in Victoria.

“The team finds ways to win, not always pretty and sometimes really pretty, it varies,” said Davis Stupich, United player and a finalist for league MVP. “It’s all coming together at the right time. We’ve got a really awesome group of people that are getting along and then an awesome coach to facilitate that.”

Lucian Serban is coaching the Div. 1 men this year and Andrew Adams, team captain, said the new coach has “really brought positive energy” to the club.

“Pre-season, we didn’t know if we had a team and the boys rallied. Lucian came out of nowhere and it’s been a blessing,” Adams said.

United, which finished the VISL season with a 10-3-5 record, had some luck with the playoff draw, avoiding some of the top teams. Still, as United has seen in past years, there isn’t any margin for error in the Jackson Cup playdowns. Adams, for example, has been with the club 13 years and will be playing for the storied championship for the first time. Stupich called it “titillating” to make the final and Daragh Fitzgerald, the team’s top scorer, said United is “buzzing” with anticipation.

Fitzgerald said the players have a good understanding of their roles and the tactics they need to use in different situations.

“Whereas before we would revert back to our old habits when we were under pressure, now we know what to do if we’re under pressure, and I think that’s been a huge difference this year,” he said.

Adams said United is versatile this year and can alter its tactics and formations if things aren’t working.

Nanaimo will be underdogs to first-place Cowichan, but Stupich said the games between the teams have been competitive and it was just errors or lapses that cost United better results.

“We need to utilize the players we have in mismatches…” he said. “We have young guys who are a little bit quicker and a little bit faster and I think if we can use those guys and get them the ball in the right areas, we have a real good chance of breaking down those few holes that they have.”

Fitzgerald said guys need to play organized, patient soccer and defend the way they can and wait for their chances.

Playing high-stakes soccer, he said guys could crumble or they could make the most of the occasion.

There will be a “charged intensity” at the pitch, Stupich said, which will give players the energy, if they’re tired after 80 minutes, to push through to the 90th minute.

Adams said the excitement will create “good nerves” on game day.

“I think we’ll all rise to the occasion…” he said. “If we go in and just play our game, as long as we leave it all on the pitch there’s no regrets.”

GAME ON … United plays Cowichan on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at Royal Athletic Park. The Mid Isle Mariners, a Nanaimo-Ladysmith club, have two sides playing for championships on Saturday at RAP. The Div. 3 Mariners face Gorge United for the George Pearkes Challenge Cup at noon followed by the U21 Mariners playing Juan de Fuca United for the George Smith Cup at 2:30 p.m.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com