Vancouver Island University Mariners player Hussein Behery

Vancouver Island University Mariners player Hussein Behery

VIU soccer lineup filled with skill

The VIU Mariners have assembled perhaps their greatest collection of talent for the 2016 PacWest season, which gets underway this week.

VIU’s men’s soccer program is always among the best, but this year, more than ever, it’s practically an all-star team.

The Mariners have assembled perhaps their greatest collection of talent for the 2016 Pacific Western Athletic Association season, which gets underway this week.

“On paper and even on the field in training, it’s probably the best technical, skill-wise team that we’ve had at VIU,” said Bill Merriman, the team’s coach. “That doesn’t mean anything’s given to us, that’s for sure, but it is nice to see we have a lot of depth this year.”

The most significant addition is the return of winger Victor Blasco, who starred with the team two seasons ago before joining the Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 side.

“We have some very exciting players,” Merriman said. “If one player gets too much attention, like Victor Blasco, then some other players … can attack from a different angle.”

The coach said VIU has so many attacking midfielders that it changes the team’s game plan.

“We’re definitely a very attacking-type team and we’ve got to work on making sure that we get back to defend,” Merriman said. “We’re not used to being that way – usually we hold the fort and we keep scores real low.”

Mateo Kostering, VIU defender, said the team will play fast soccer with a lot of offensive focus, so there will be pressure on the back end to lock down.

“It’s really exciting,” he said. “We have a lot of talent, it’s just making sure we listen to what the coaches have to say and put together a good system.”

The team added two more international players, Shun Takano and Filip Jaric, which puts them over the limit and so they’ll need to rotate the lineup. Takano is an exciting athlete who surprised the Mariners with his calibre of play and Jaric was a walk-up tryout player who earned a spot.

Strikers include Andreas Algarin, who is playing more aggressively of late, reliable scorer Billy Bagiopoulos and playmakers Liam Wirth and Taylor Arbour.

Joining Blasco in the midfield is Stephen Ewashko, who rejoins the M’s after years away travelling. Miguel Banting is a workhorse on the unit and Colin Knight will assume a more defensive role.

Kostering and Jeff Travis are the team’s leaders from the back end, with Aly Adeeb and Russell Lederer other contributors.

David Turkstra is the new goalkeeper and has looked solid.

All told, the Mariners should be an intimidating opponent for the rest of the PacWest squads.

“We’ve never had that kind of scoring power that teams are going to actually have to take note of when we come on the field, and our pace and technical ability that we do have, it will change how teams look at us,” Merriman said.

GAME ON … The M’s open the season Saturday (Sept. 10) on the road against the Douglas Royals, then visit the Langara Falcons on Sunday. The first home match is Sept. 17 against Capilano.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com