The big question coming out of the first nine matches at the Island Games is simple: are we set to witness another season of Forge and Cavalry dominance or has the race for the North Star Shield opened up?
Last year’s finalists can once again be found in the top two and remain unbeaten, but the rest of the league retains a game in hand and there looks to be at least one or two teams capable of seriously testing them.
The most interesting match of the campaign so far was undoubtedly HFX Wanderers’ 1-1 draw with the champions, which saw Stephen Hart throw on a striker for a midfielder with the game tied 20 minutes from the whistle, such was his belief that his team was taking control.
On the other hand, Forge was playing its third game in six days and had limited Halifax to just one shot in the first half before appearing to tire.
With four teams going to the next round, we know that someone is going to get a shot at the big boys — who will surely qualify on the evidence we’ve seen so far — with a place in the final on the line. My sense right now is that Halifax and Pacific should be considered the frontrunners to join them.
Most — myself included — saw York9 as the top contender to break the duopoly but in their current banged-up state, the Nine Stripes have been left to dig in and hope they can scrape together enough early points to stay alive and get healthy. Valour is much improved but will face bigger tests than 10-man Atlético Ottawa — starting with Y9 this weekend in what already looks like a crucial fixture for both clubs.
Ottawa has been better than expected but appears short of the fitness level and depth to progress, while FC Edmonton is the biggest question mark having only faced Forge and Cavalry, showing reasonably well against the former.
The nature of this condensed season is that one weekend can turn everything on its head. Going into this one, here are some early conclusions on what we’ve seen so far (in order of the current standings).