27 April 2024

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Colin Elmes: “You never know when you’ll get to do anything like this again”

The TSS Rovers Sporting Director previews his club’s return to the Canadian Championship.

Colin Elmes

While League1 BC kicks off with three matches in both the Men’s and Women’s Divisions this weekend, TSS Rovers will have full focus on their TELUS Canadian Championship tie on Wednesday, May 1.

After receiving the nod less than two weeks before kick-off at Starlight Stadium due to Victoria Highlanders’ withdrawal, Sporting Director Colin Elmes and his dedicated colleagues at TSS Rovers have had plenty on their agenda booking buses, ferries, meals, and hotels.

Meanwhile, the club’s fan-owners – 440 of them – are either arranging an overnight stay on Vancouver Island or clearing their calendar to attend one of the several OneSoccer watch parties that are being held across Richmond to cheer on their team from home.

That’s not forgetting the players and technical staff who will be currently scrutinizing over game film and getting physically and mentally match ready. Perhaps one of the things working in their favour during this busy time is that they’ve done it all before.

Last year, TSS Rovers wrote one of the major stories from the 2024 Canadian Championship, beating the Canadian Premier League’s Valour FC 3-1 to become the first League1 team to defeat a professional outfit in this competition. They then went toe-to-toe in the quarterfinals with Pacific FC, who were eventual 2-0 winners.

“The game was difficult for both sides last year as it was 0-0 up until midway through the second half,” reflected Elmes. “You could tell by the way Pacific celebrated the penalty conversion that they were quite relieved to be up.

“They are 2-0 out of the gate this year; we know the coaching staff and we know some of the players. If this was a best-of-five series, I wouldn’t give us much chance, but the reality is that stuff happens – the ball deflects off someone into the net in the first 10 minutes and then there’s chaos.

“We have a huge amount of players returning and they have been through 180 minutes of playing against professional CPL teams in this competition, so we’re hoping that will cut off the ‘deer in the headlight’ nerves. We’re back in the exact same stadium and we are going to put our best foot forward.

“We say to the players that you never know when you’ll get to do anything like this again, so don’t leave the pitch at the end of 90 minutes thinking you could have worked harder. You throw everything at it that you can, knowing full well that there’s an expectation that the CPL team will win this game.

“But there are different expectations for us now, even from me; we’ve done this before and we can figure this out. You stay disciplined, you have a plan and you stick to it, and you hope nothing happens in the opponents’ favour early on that’ll have to change the plan.

“There’s a little more pressure based on what we pulled off against Valour last year, and we embrace that.”

In addition to the memories of last year, another huge motivation for this occasion is the platform: a professional stadium, with TV cameras, in a national competition.

“One of our young players from our youth program, who is a big Real Madrid fan, said to me last year that if you win 12 games, you’ll be in the FIFA Club World Cup. Is that going to happen? No, it’s not, but all we ask for is access and opportunity.

“There’s an opportunity to do something special; someone could go out there and have a blinding performance with lots of eyes upon them. They need to have calmness while also understanding the platform that they are on, and there’s no better than this.

“We never want to see our players again. That’s not because we don’t like them, but because they’ve gone up a layer in the game and we can support them to get there. This is a massive showcase.”

Elmes himself understands the magnitude of the Canadian Championship having started playing the game at five years old. He features in the UBC Thunderbirds Hall of Fame having played in the team’s three-year unbeaten streak in Canadian university soccer.

Now, being a big soccer fan as well as a Sporting Director, his appreciation of the game is something he rubs off to others.

“It’s always hard to explain the Canadian Championship to people because football isn’t our number one sport, and they don’t understand this FA Cup mentality. Look at Coventry City in England; admittedly I turned the broadcast off at half-time on Sunday but turned it on when things started to unravel, and they were a toe away from being in the FA Cup Final. All credit to them as they were scored on quite early.

“I have a brother-in-law who is a big hockey guy and last year he asked, ‘so what is it you are in?’ I said that we’re the Vancouver Giants, and we’re getting to play the Abbotsford Canucks for an opportunity to play the either Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens or the Vancouver Canucks.

“He said, ‘holy smokes’.

“We were 24 minutes away from a penalty shootout against Pacific FC last year, and anything can happen there. If we had won that, we would have played the Vancouver Whitecaps first team at Swangard in front of thousands of people.

“I went to the Can Champ Final at BC Place and the jumbotron had a pictorial of what had gone on in the tournament and there was our logo twice in the opening round and in the quarterfinals. You get through this, and the awareness of the club ratchets up another step.”

After their Canadian Championship efforts, TSS Rovers had an outstanding League1 BC campaign where they finished second in the regular-season standings with 29 points from 14 games.

They only lost out top spot in the final minutes of the last game, when Victoria Highlanders scored twice to win 3-2 in what had become the decider for the 2024 Canadian Championship berth.

“Talking about things that are unforgettable, this is one of them. To this day I’ve never watched that game on video, I refuse to watch it.

“We lost to our longtime friends and foes Victoria Highlanders in that game, and when the dust settled, we were happy it was them.

“Then of course, the unfortunate thing happened. You never like losing a club in this game, and those guys are our friends and will continue to be our friends, but unfortunately, they had to withdraw themselves. Last Friday we were officially advised to pack our bags for Langford.

“We are completely honoured and privileged to be able to represent the league in this competition, and super excited to be given this type of access to an event like this. We’ll do our best to represent League1 BC in the best possible way.

“When we first got into the United Soccer League back in 2017, we always said that one day we would like to be able to do this, and we put it away thinking that it would never happen.

“We’re just this little soccer academy from Richmond, British Columbia.”

Published On: 27 April 2024

League1 BC staff