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Like last year, Feildians facing Holy Cross in 1-2 game in Challenge Cup playoff tourney; Laurentians, Strikers tangle in 3-4 matchup today in St. Lawrence
There was a time when Feildians-Holy Cross made for a fierce rivalry in senior men’s soccer, when the two St. John’s teams took on each other in a separate capital-city championship that came close to matching the intensity of the season-end provincial Challenge Cup tournament.
That formal, annual St. John’s series eventually ended, and the emotion of the regular-season clashes between the Double Blues and Crusaders seemed to fade away, too, as the teams continued to find differing success in the league. While Feildians were just mediocre through much of this decade, finishing fourth in seven of eight years beginning in 2010, Holy Cross dominated over the same period, with seven first-place finishers and just as many Challenge Cup titles.
But last season marked a renaissance for the Stavanger Dental Feildians, who finished first in the overall standings, seven points ahead of their Cross rivals. That didn’t matter much, however, when it came to the Labour Day weekend and the 2018 Johnson Insurance Challenge Cup tourney at King George V Park in St. John’s, where the Double Blues lost to the Crusaders in the 1-2 Page playoff game, then fell to the St. Lawrence Laurentians in the semifinal.
Holy Cross Kirby Group eventually won another title, it’s second in a row and 21st of all-time, by dominating the Laurentians 5-0 in the championship game
However, the Double Blues have proven to be serious Challenge Cup contenders again this year, and once again they are preparing to take on Holy Cross in the 1-2 Page playoff, this one slated for this afternoon at Centennial Field in St. Lawrence.
So is the old-time rivalry truly renewed?
“I think there might be something to it, especially considering where we’ve both finished in the standings the last couple of years,” said Feildians striker and league-leading scorer Tyler Forsey. “Plus, (the Crusaders) are the defending champions, which means anytime you face them, anywhere you face them, you want to beat them anyway.
“And there’s the fact we both play out of King George, too. Now, I don’t know if I would say it’s something we really try to focus on, but it definitely adds something else to it, for sure.”
Holy Cross topped the standings this year with a 16-3-1 record, including a 3-1-1 line in head-to-head meetings with Feildians (12-4-4), who have claimed just one Challenge Cup title, and that was way back in 1969.
The C.B.S. That Pro Look Strikers (10-7-3) and Laurentians (6-11-3) were third and fourth, respectively, and those teams will square off in the 3-4 Page playoff tonight in St. Lawrence.
Forsey believes the Strikers’ emergence as a team to be reckoned with, coupled with the Laurentians’ longtime history of playoff success — St. Lawrence has claimed 25 Challenge Cup titles, more than anyone — means it would be a mistake not to look beyond Feildians and Holy Cross.
“I think in the modern Challenge Cup, there’s a rivalry between all four of the top teams,” he said. “For the most part, they’ve all taken points off each other this season. C.B.S., Feildians and Holy Cross have all had wins against each other, and the Laurentians recently played us to a tie.
“Especially with C.B.S. really in the picture now, everyone is a contender and from a fan’s perspective, that makes things exciting.”
The Holy Cross-Feildians game goes at 1 p.m. today, with the winner advancing straight to the championship game 3 p.m. Sunday. The loser gets to spend a double life and will face the winner of this afternoon’s 3-4 game (4 p.m.) in the semifinal, set for 3 p.m. Saturday.
That’s also a reprise of last year’s playoffs, the difference being the Laurentians enter this post-season with the unfamiliar tag of fourth seed.
All of it will be played out on venerable Centennial Field, which has undergone a sprucing up with new bleachers and a renovated Don Turpin Press Box, and whose surface is said to be of championship quality.
“I think in the modern Challenge Cup, there’s a rivalry between all four of the top teams. For the most part, they’ve all taken points off each other this season … Especially with C.B.S. really in the picture now, everyone is a contender and from a fan’s perspective, that makes things exciting.” — Tyler Forsey
“We were there earlier this month and the field was in the best condition I’ve ever seen at that point of the year,” said Forsey, played for St. Lawrence last season and with Holy Cross before that. “I think they’ve been trying to stay exclusive to the senior games and they’ve done well maintaining it.”
Centennial Field is the only natural grass pitch in the league; those used by the circuit in the metro area all have artificial surfaces.
“I’m looking forward to playing on the grass,” said Forsey. “It’s much softer. It’s not as hard on the joints. For lack of a better phrase, it’s more natural, if you know what I mean.
“The ball holds up better, is more likely to stay in play and that can make for a game that’s more exciting for fans.”
And while Feildians played 18 of their 20 games on FieldTurf, Forsey believes he and his teammates will easily adapt to Centennial Field
“We practise on Feildian Grounds all the time and that’s grass, so that should help,” he said.
Forsey agrees it’s easier receiving passes on grass, but knows whenever he gets the ball, he’s likely to be marked closely, by one or more defenders.
“It’s nothing new. Throughout the year, there have been people guarding me tight,” said Forsey, who had 21 goals in 19 games. “But it’s not about who’s guarding me, because with Feildians, opponents can’t afford to leave anyone on their own.
“If somebody double-teams me, then it’s actually perfect for us, because someone is going to be open and that someone will be a quality player.”
Whatever happens, Forsey suggests he — and just about every other player in the tourney — should be excited to be playing for a title in St. Lawrence, where soccer truly matters.
“Oh, yeah. Everyone likes playing out there,” he said. “And having the Final Four weekend in St. Lawrence means you get to play against teams out there besides the Laurentians.
“It’s a cool thing a cool atmosphere. The fans are right on top of you and it is on grass.
“It feels like old-school soccer.”
The eventual champion will be Newfoundland and Labrador's representative in the national Challenge Cup tournament, being held in metro St. John's in October.
Challenge Cup champs
Provincial senior soccer Challenge Cup champions since 1969:
- 1969 - Feildians
- 1970 - Grand Bank*
- 1971 - St. Lawrence
- 1972 - St. Lawrence
- 1973 - Holy Cross
- 1974 - Grand Bank
- 1975 - St. Lawrence
- 1976 - St. Lawrence
- 1977 - St. Lawrence
- 1978 - St. Lawrence
- 1979 - Holy Cross
- 1980 - St. Lawrence
- 1981 - Holy Cross
- 1982 - St. Lawrence
- 1983 - Holy Cross
- 1984 - Holy Cross
- 1985 - Holy Cross
- 1986 - Holy Cross
- 1987 - Lawn
- 1988 - Holy Cross**
- 1989 - Holy Cross
- 1990 - Burin
- 1991 - Burin
- 1992 - Holy Cross
- 1993 - St. Lawrence
- 1994 - Holy Cross
- 1995 - St. Lawrence
- 1996 - St. Lawrence
- 1997 - St. Lawrence
- 1998 - St. Lawrence
- 1999 - St. Lawrence
- 2000 - St. Lawrence
- 2001 - St. Lawrence
- 2002 - St. Lawrence
- 2003 - Mount Pearl
- 2004 - Marystown
- 2005 - St. Lawrence
- 2006 - St. Lawrence
- 2007 - St. Lawrence
- 2008 - St. Lawrence
- 2009 - Holy Cross
- 2010 - Holy Cross
- 2011 - Holy Cross
- 2012 - Holy Cross
- 2013 - St. Lawrence
- 2014 - Holy Cross
- 2015 – Holy Cross
- 2016 – St. Lawrence
- 2017 – Holy Cross
- 2018 — Holy Cross
* Grand Bank won provincial championship, but an all-star team represented Newfoundland in national play
** Holy Cross won the national Challenge Cup championship