There was a time Feildians and Holy Cross senior men’s soccer teams played for a St. John’s city championship, but that hasn’t been the case for at least decade and a half.
Still, today’s opening game of the 2018 Johnson Insurance Challenge Cup playoffs might be considered an informal resumption of that capital city competition, if only because it’s a big contest with something on the line.
Feildians and Holy Cross meet in the 1-2 Page playoff game at 4:30 p.m. at King George V Park, and although the townie rivalry between the Double Blues and Crusaders may be old, it has a new twist, because for the first time in a very long while, it’s Feildians who are the higher seed, having captured their first Bobby Breen Memorial Trophy as the top team in the provincial senior men’s soccer league’s regular season.
Then again, it’s Holy Cross which is the defending champion, having defeated the St. Lawrence Laurentians in the 2017 Challenge Cup final. And the Crusaders have won 18 Challenge Cup titles in all, including three in the last four years. By comparison, Feildians have claimed just one Challenge Cup crown, and that was almost a half century ago, in 1969.
This version of the Double Blues certainly seems capable of ending that drought however. Feildians went 15-4-1 in the regular season. In doing so, they allowed a league-low 15 goals, and backed by the goalkeeping of Braedan Sheppard, posted 12 shutout victories.
They can also score, too. Feildians’ 48 goals were second only to the 50 chalked up by Holy Cross.
Despite missing four games, Emmanuel Dolo scored a team-high dozen goals to lead Feildians. Only Tyler Forsey of St. Lawrence, who successfully defended his scoring title with 20 tallies, had more. Dolo’s teammate, Aaron Buckingham, was also top five in the circuit with nine goals.
But when it comes to offence, nobody appears to have more depth than Holy Cross (12-5-3) , which produced four of the league’s top eight goal-getters — Tyler Kirby (12), Jake Warren (9), Isaac Bonisteel (8) and Scott Woodfine (6). And with Thomas Pieroway in goal, Holy Cross put up eight shutouts.
The winner of this afternoon’s game advances straight to the championship final at 2 p.m. Sunday at KGV. The loser will take its second life into a semifinal set for 3 p.m. Saturday, where the opponent will be the winner of the today’s second Page playoff contest. That 8 p.m. matchup features the third-place Laurentians (10-4-6) taking on the fourth-place C.B.S. That Pro Look Strikers (10-6-4).
There’s a marked contrast in the playoff experience of these two teams. The Laurentians have won 25 Challenge Cup titles, more than anyone else in the history of the league, while this is the first-ever post-season appearance by the Strikers, who entered the league in 2010, but have shown steady improvement in recent years.
“All four teams in the final weekend were incredibly close throughout the regular season, so it really depends who delivers on the day,” said Challenge Cup commissioner Damian Masterson. “Whatever the final outcome, I have no doubt it will be a fantastic weekend of soccer with some great games.” … The league’s annual awards will be handed out at 6:30 p.m. today between the two playoff games ...The last time someone other than St. Lawrence or Holy Cross won the Challenge Cup was 2004, when Marystown United turned the trick … Feildians won three of the four games against Holy Cross, all by one goal. The Crusaders prevailed 4-1 in the other … St. Lawrence and the Strikers split their season series, which each team winning once and playing to a draw in the other two contests … The last time Holy Cross and Feildians met in a playoff game was 2013, when the fourth-seeded Double Blues upset first-place Holy Cross in a semifinal game (the playoff format was different then). Feildians went on to lose to St. Lawrence in the final … There is no radio broadcast of this weekend’s Challenge Cup playoffs, but the games will be carried online via Gord Dunphy’s “Gord-Cast,” (https://www.facebook.com/gord.dunphy), with Rick Farrell joining Dunphy behind the mic … The Challenge Cup playoffs were originally set to be played at the Gushue Complex, but with Mount Pearl finishing out of the playoffs, the tournament was moved to KGV … The winner of this Sunday’s final will represent the province at the Toyota national men’s championship over the Thanksgiving weekend in Saskatoon …