NEWTON — There were two games last weekend of note to local soccer buffs. One attracted a paid crowd of 27,000 at BC Place and an international TV audience. The other pulled in less than 50 freebie fans and a lone newspaper journalist. Guess which was the more compelling game?
If you said the latter, you’d be right. Just two days before the Vancouver Whitecaps were unceremoniously bounced from the MLS playoffs, the latest battle for Surrey soccer supremacy unfolded at Newton Athletic Park.
And it was a helluva match.
Torrential downpour aside, Surrey Pegasus FC and Surrey United put on a fast and furious display that once again proved top-tier amateur clubs deliver a spectacle to rival their pro counterparts.
In the end, Pegasus prevailed 2-1. No surprise. This is a team that has apparently rediscovered the formula that repeatedly propelled them to and beyond the B.C. championships, last winning it in 2011. With nine games in the books, they’ve lost just two and sit third in the Vancouver Metro Soccer League’s Premier division standings.
New coach Paul Bahia (pictured at left, looking into camera) says Pegasus hasn’t looked this good since its 2011 run. And he should know. He played centre-back with the team for five years until breaking his leg this past off-season.
Bahia, who says his wobbly limb may heal completely by January and doesn’t rule out a return to the pitch in a playing-coach capacity, credits the Pegasus reputation.
“People want to play for us,” he says with a smile. “We’re a family.”
But he’s quick to point out that Pegasus is no country club.
“Adult players don’t want to be nit-picked, but they need to be coached. My philosophy is to have fast, sharp training sessions that emphasize fitness. I want good, exciting soccer, not the kick-and-run that some teams play.”
It’s no coincidence that Pegasus’ recent ascension also coincides with the return to form of one of its key players. When midfielder Chetan Jhooty drove home a penalty kick for the game’s first goal, he solidified his grasp on the league’s scoring race and continued what can only be described as a stunning turnaround.
“CJ,” you see, has had his share of issues. There’s that two-year suspension for “losing it on a ref.”
But CJ’s off-field troubles were deeper than that.
“I made some bad choices in life,” says the candid and talented midfielder. “Everyone knows that growing up in Surrey can be tough. I did a lot of things I wish I could change.”
For several years, CJ’s “choices” of late nights and partying would severely impact the progress of what Pegasus manager Jasmeet Jaswal calls “one of the best players Surrey has ever produced.” He was, by his own admission, “way out of shape” and nowhere near the player, or the person, he could be.
Last year, though, CJ made one of the most important decisions of his 27-year-old life: he flat-out quit drinking. And today, with a “shout-out to my girlfriend, my friends and my family for sticking with me,” both he and the team are reaping the rewards.
He likes sharing his story, too, so kids might see it and choose a different direction.
“You want to enjoy life, but trust me, there’s more to it than being an idiot.”
Pegasus FC travels to Richmond this coming weekend then returns home for another Friday-night game, this time versus Burnaby on Nov. 20 at Newton Athletic Park.