So we have reached the final and I am on a bit of a role; haven't missed since the first round. This final will be tough to call for a number of reasons though, as I will get into below. For some they might consider this "the darkest timeline" with these two sides meeting in the final, others are likely keen to enjoy a game that features many former almost professional players and others that still harbour dreams of playing at the next level.
Completely Baseless Predictions
Men’s A Provincial Cup
Semi Finals: 2/2
CCB LFC United (VMSL) v Rino's Tigers (VMSL) - Sunday 3:00pm @ Merle Logan #1, Nanaimo
This year the final will serve up a clash between the first and second runners up in the VMSL. The league will be winning its ninth straight title after the challengers from the FVSL and VISL were dispatched over the course of the four-round tournament. Thankfully this season there has been no off field issue to still the headline such as the ITC issues that saw Rino's disqualified last season. No doubt they will feel that their reaching this stage is vindication for their program that has been often reviled by the general local footballing public for its alleged compensation of players and links to foreign political influence. A favourite villain of the amateur soccer community, Rino's journey to their first ever Provincial Final has been quite the tale. Originally part of a successful Westside club that won multiple Provincial and National title from the late 1980's through early 2000's, the relationship soured after the Westside Rino's Premier team was relegated circa 2005. The club secured an immediate return to the VMSL's top flight the next season, however it was the Westside Rangers, and not the Rino's branch of the club, that won that spot. Internal politics led to Rino's being mired in Division 1 for the next half decade or so until they decided to break free from the shackles of Westside and go it alone.
Success was hardly instantaneous, but when an upstart foreign side, Ayjal Tigers, came along in 2012 the landscape changed. After winning back to back promotions from Division 3 and Division 2 with a roster that raised eyebrows given its abundance of talent and seemingly limitless resources backed by rumours of Saudi money and influence Tigers arrived in Division 1. They expected another quick promotion to get them to Premier, but, with their reputation preceding them, it seemed as though the entire league felt that it would be an injustice to see a team like this rise to the top flight of the VMSL. Loudest of all was often Rino's themselves in accusing Ayjal of nefarious dealings and, to their credit, it worked, as the Tigers were rebuffed and condemned to at least another season at that level. However, the following year there was no stopping Ayjal and they were headed for Premier, only there was a twist ahead of the 2015/16 season. The leadership group at Ayjal was no longer in place, rumours involved deportations of club officials, and the club were searching for a way to stay afloat. Enter the unlikeliest of bedfellows as none other than Rino's offered the Tigers a lifeline and the club, at long last, found itself back in Premier. While joining forces had many on field benefits, away from the pitch the accusations of hypocrisy from the soccer community were rampant. There was also a mass exodus of players who had played a role in getting Ayjal to the top of the VMSL pyramid, leaving this new Rino's Tigers venture short staffed. The club appointed former Swiss international and Seattle Sounder Blaise Nkufo to the helm and leaned heavily on his local soccer connections for recruitment as he had been running a soccer academy in Vancouver since his retirement.
The results were disastrous as Rino's failed to win a game in Premier and were immediately relegated. However, a commitment to young players developed by Blaise, his links to overseas professional opportunities and the rumoured return of Saudi influence led to the Tigers consolidating their position and immediately winning Division 1. There next season in Premier went much better, with them winning the Imperial Cup and reaching the Provincial Cup last year where they demolihed the previous years finalists, Aldergrove, before the tournament descended into chaos with the aforementioned ITC scandals. This season Rino's continued to build and were in the title conversation until the last game of the season when they were beaten by Croatia who ultimately claimed the crown. Tigers would have their revenge however, as, after an opening round 3-0 romp against Coquitlam, the Tigers flipped the script and beat Croatia 1-0. This set up a semi final with defending Provincial Cup and National champions Rovers Tigers and it was nip and tuck, knotted at 1-1 after 90 minutes. In extra time though it would be Rino's finding another gear and running out 4-1 winners.
On the other side of the ball this weekend in perhaps the only team more reviled in local footballing circles than Rino's, CCB LFC. On roughly their sixth name iteration in a similar number of seasons, the Surrey boys have a tumultuous reputation of their own. The spot itself is still rumoured to be owned by form CSL player Steve Millar, though he is in no way involved in the current day to day operations. The club has at times been known as Delta Hurricanes, Langley Hurricanes, Pacific FC, CCB Breakers and probably a few other names. The club had some success through the early 2010s, winning the Imperial Cup and reaching the Provincial Cup final. However, since those heady days, the club has been in what could best be described as rocky seas. Despite their ability to attract talent with impressive credentials through allegedly nefarious compensation propositions, the club has always fell well short of its potential on paper. A presumed lack of leadership and the mercenary-like mentality of many of the players led to the reputation of a team that could beat anybody on their day, but rarely, if ever, had their day.
The club flirt yoyoed between season making the Provincial and not before they began to flirt with possible relegation. The team was known to forfeit matches as commitment issues often reared their head once it became apparent that the club would not be competing at the top of the table. They scraped by for a few seasons, often looking in the fall like a team that might challenge at the top but, by February, operating on a shoestring and grinding out enough points to stay in the division. Things changed this season when the relegation of one time Provincial champions, Estrella de Chile, led to a merger between EDC and Inter. Those not on board with this new venture were suddenly looking for a new place to call home: enter CCB. The Surrey side went on a phenomenal summer recruitment drive, again allegedly attracting players through less than above board means, and were ready to field a lineup overflowing with some of the VMSL's top names and spawning their #SoldMySoul moniker. The season began brightly, but then a few poor results began to build on each other as the calendar flipped to November. It was looking like perhaps we were to see the usual collapse from the immensely talented Surrey side, but then they righted the ship. By the time the snow hit in February CCB were in the drivers seat to win the VMSL title and were still alive in the Imperial Cup. The double was looking very much on the cards before a motived Rovers side ousted them in the Imperial semis and they slipped up crucially against local rivals Pegasus, handing the VMSL title to Croatia.
There were questions about whether or not CCB could pull this out of the fire and salvage their season. The Provincial Cup draw handed them a potential path to salvation when the Surrey boys were the only VMSL side in the top half of the draw. They faced a tricky away day to Mid-Isle in their opener as, given that this was the VISL fifth place entrant, CCB would be heavy favourites most days. However, given their poor finish to the season, there were questions surrounding what type of side they would be able to muster for their trip to the Island. In the end they sent a message to their competition by cruising to a 3-0 victory, setting up a spicy quarter final showdown with FVSL side Port Moody. Of all the teams on the local soccer landscape, it is unlikely that any side hated CCB and their alleged compensation of players more that the Tri Cities side. The VMSLers looked to be home and cooled up 3-0 until a late Port Moody charge closed the gap to 3-2. CCB would survive and book a trip back to the Island to tangle with five time running VISL champions Cowichan. The Islanders were motivated and backed by a hostile home crowd as they looked to reach a final hosted just up the road in Nanaimo. Instead, though, the Surrey boys went into the lion's den and emerged 1-0 winners to give them a shot at the Provinces top prize.
That brings us to this match up, with the winner lifting their first Provincial title and moving on to represent BC at Nationals in Newfoundland this October. The teams exchanged decisive away victories during their league meetings with Rino's winning in Newton 4-0 during CCB's early season slump before the Surrey side won the reverse fixture at Trillium 3-0 in January. In all likelihood this match will come down to who is available for either roster on Sunday. The abundance of talent "employed" by these teams is a bit of a double edged sword with several of their players having other commitments, specifically with TSS Rovers and Victoria Highlanders of the USL League 2. Pollisi brothers Marcello and Matteo as well as big centreback Ellie Gindo from Rino's along with the likes of former UBC standout Victory Shumbusho from CCB may not be available, depending on their USL commitments. Assuming the sides are at full strength, it should be a quality showdown between some of the VMSL's brightest offensive talent as CCB boast Milad Mehrabi, Yassin Essa along with former Whitecaps and semi final hero Caleb Clarke. They will hopefully be countered by Rino's Declan Rodriguez, Kristian Yli-Hietanen and Connor Glennon. One wild card to consider is CCB's Milad Rahmati. Colloquially known as "the crazy Milad", Rahmati was suspended for the entire VMSL season after an incident against Rino's in last years Imperial Cup semi final while he was a member of Inter. Last time Rahmati appeared in the Provincial Cup final he played hero notching both goals in Inter's 2017 win over Aldergrove. Can he recapture that form and lead yet another team to glory? This one is a toss up for sure. CCB have the edge in terms of age and veteran presence, but Rino's have shown time and again that they are capable of casting off any sort of perceived youthful handicap. I think it comes down entirely to who can field the best lineup and I am willing to bet that Rino's might be more short handed given the aspirations of their players. It is fine lines, but that is all that I can find to separate these sides. If the match can in any way rival the final we saw last season then the neutrals will once again be the real winner on the day.