And so Cup season is upon us once more. After posting what I consider to be a decent record of 37 out of 51 in last season's predictions, I will endeavour to improve on that mark this time around. That being said, these particular prediction are even more baseless than my usual offerings given that, while I do try to keep an eye on things in the lower leagues, I generally have less to go on than I do for match ups in the top flight. Of course adding to the difficulty is the very essence of cup play itself and the fact that anything can happen in a one off game. Enough with the preamble though, somebody is about to embark on an impressive unbeaten run, so let's step up to the plate and take a swing at figuring out just who that might be... Completely Baseless Predictions - Preliminary Round HK Hrvat (2B) v Rino's Bulldogs (2A) At the top of the draw we begin with a very intriguing inter-divisional tilt between VMSL stalwarts Hrvat and Rino's. It has been a rough season to this point for the Bulldogs who are not yet able to rest assured of a place in the division for next season. However, they are coming off what is likely their biggest result of the campaign, beating second place Twin Arrows 4-3 and, in doing so, knocking back the Arrows late season title push. The win puts Bulldogs likely three more points away from safety as the other teams at the bottom still have matches against each other to come. All in all it is rather reminiscent of the form Hrvat showed last season as they struggled for long periods before reaching safety down the stretch. This though has been no such struggle for the one time Div. 1 side who sit comfortably mid-table and could even beat the odds and get a look at a Provincial Cup berth if they can climb up to forth. Both these sides are usually good for at least a round or two in the cup and both clubs certainly value the various cups as competitions worth taking a serious swing at, regardless of their draw. The winner has nearly promoted Striker on deck in the next round but, again, given the cup pedigree of both of these teams, I would not bet on that one being a walk in the park. In the meantime though, only one of these two can advance and it is definitely a toss up. Might need penalties in this one, but I'll tip Hrvat given they are having the better year overall and just always seem to win in the first round. NorVan Lions (3C) v Vancouver Brothers United (3B) An always difficult to predict match up between sides from different Div. 3 pools in this one given the disparity that often reigns at the lowest echelon of the VMSL. Brothers are new to the VMSL this year and have given a decent enough account of themselves posting four wins. Then again, those wins have come exclusively against teams below them in the table and they also have a pair of draws against the sides directly above them. Hardly stuff that will inspire confidence in a deep cup run. They will get to test out how life could have potentially been different had they been drawn into a different Div. 3 pool as NorVan finished fourth in 3C. The Lions, who ditched the "Vikings" moniker this season in favour of "Lions" which was abandoned when their Division 1 side got promoted to Premier all as part of the overall NVFC restructuring on the North Shore, had a decent season, though failed to make any real impact at the top, ending the year 20 points back of first place GFC. With 3C being wrapped up other than a lone make-up game for NorVan, it could be an early spring if they fail to get any sort of cup run going. They are the veterans compared to debutantes Brothers, so take the North Shore to progress here. Burnaby Selects White Eagles B (3A) v Richmond Olympics (2B) Fate has draw these two sides together once more as they went toe to toe for promotion from 3C last year until they both ultimately fell short of their goal. Fortunately Richmond assumed South Delta's spot in Div. 1 last year and, following a tire fire of a season, found themselves in Division 2 with little interest from that group to continue together. Up stepped a ready-made solution for Richmond in the Olympics who were keen to escape Div. 3 and have had a decent enough season at the higher tier, having secured safety with a few matches to spare. Burnaby are once again in the mix for promotion though, like last year, it appears that this season will also end in narrow disappointment. Handed a tough group that included U21 Champions, Coquitlam "Lobos", White Eagles sit five points back with three games remaining and will need some divine intervention if they hope to go up. Richmond are an older group, but certainly can hang with any team at Div. 3 level. Burnaby I think will be motivated here and would love a chance to show their former rivals that it is they who truly belong in Division 2. Snipers (2A) v Regent College (3B) The season began with Snipers looking like their struggles from the previous couple of year were set to continue. After once challenging for promotion from Division 2, Snipers had sunk further and further down the table until last season when they avoided the relegation playoff by the margin of a single point. Around the middle of the season however, the UBC based outfit found some form and strung together enough results to see them comfortably mid-table. 2A is so tight at the bottom that they are not officially safe just yet but, for all intents and purposes, the pressure is off. Regent College returned to the VMSL for their second season after taking awhile to get their feet under them in their inaugural campaign. A few wins towards the end of their schedule last year looks to have laid the foundation for them and they have spring-boarded to mid-table standing this season. They will no doubt be full value to have a go a Snipers, but I think the Div. 2 side should be relatively comfortable in this one. Gastown (2B) v Brazzcouver (3A) This one is a prediction nightmare. Gastown have almost completed a remarkable fall from grace; going from the heights of Division 1 to what is looking more and more like the genuine possibility of automatic relegation to Division 3. Their match next weekend against Hurricanes could well determine their fate and is easily their biggest of the season. They do have winnable matches against lower table teams to close out the campaign, but my goodness this have got to be getting too close for comfort. This begs the question, how much can they really be focused on the cup? Sure a win against a lower division side could help them get their mojo back, but a loss could be even more morale sapping. On the other side are VMSL new boys Brazzcouver who are set for a decent mid-table finish in their first season. With nothing else to play for, they will certainly be taking a shot at the cup for whatever it might be worth and will surely be thinking that they have a chance for a Div. 2 scalp in this one. No doubt they pack one or two flair players and their samba style in likely infectious when they get into a rhythm, meaning that some early success could have the South Americans really feeling it. Early success will be important for Gastown as well given that if they sputter out of the gate, that all too familiar sinking feeling will likely begin to creep in. I will take the Gastown boys in this one if only based on pedigree and the fact that I still have difficulty believing that they could be so far off the pace, but I am hardly confident about it. Lobbans (3C) v Westside Juniors (2A) These sides and their players will likely know each other well from CAT and Div. 3 over previous seasons. Westside are among the cluster of teams still trying to avoid the playoff spot in 2A while Lobbans turned in an undefeated season, but seven draws saw them finish 11 points back in third place in 3C, though they do still have a make up game to play. Probably not a huge gulf in class between the two side, but it would seem likely to come down to whether Westside's offense can break through Lobbans resolute defending. Randy Samuel always has his side well organized and well drilled, but there is a reason that they are still in Division 3, so we shall see how they do against a Div. 2 offense. If they can hang around and keep it close then this one is a toss up and there's every chance Lobbans could knick it, if their offense can deliver a goal or two. This one could well be decided from the spot, but in these close games it is hard not to go with the team from the higher division, so I will continue that trend and go for Westside to find the crucial goal. Astro (2B) v France FC (3A) A chance for one of these sides to potential go a couple of rounds here with Div. 3 Euro awaiting the winners in the next round. It was another tough group for France this season as they continue to play bridesmaid in the promotion race. This team has plenty of desire though, and a chance to knock off a Division 2 side will definitely have them motivated. France also, historically, underachieve in this competition however, I believe having always gone out at the first hurdle. This could be their year though, as Astro are essentially that team you kind of forget about in Division 2. Never challenging for promotion, possibly the occasional relegation scare but usually just comfortably mid-table. They also are not renown for any particular nasty reputation or crazy original story, nor do they have an real major rivals that I am aware. From all angles, they appear to be just a solid, nothing flashy, Division 2 side who put the work in and get the job done. And that's boring. And the cup is supposed to be about excitement and unpredictability. So, even though there is every chance that Astro cruise to a comfortable win in this one, I am going out on a limb to make it my Upset Special of the round. Bombastic B (3A) v Shaheen (2B) Finally a straight forward one. Shaheen are having a great season and are locked in an intense three-way promotion dog fight in 2B. Despite not earning a seed and getting a bye to the next round, they ended up with a decent draw and will surely have serious ambitions of putting their name on this trophy again, as they did back in their promotion winning season. Bombastic are a decent enough lower mid-table Div. 3 side, but short of a hole opening up at China Creek and swallowing the majority of the Shaheen squad, it is difficult to see how they might chart a course to victory in this match. West Hounds (3A) v Strathcona (2A) This one is the curtain raiser on the Div. 2 Cup as it goes Wednesday night at Memorial. It is another VMSL debutante in West Hounds as they host Strathcona. The East Van boys won the promotion playoff in Division 3 last to snag a vacant Div. 2 spot for this year and they look full value for it. They are fully safe from relegation and, if they can win out, might end up in the Provincial Cup conversation. West Hounds have notched a few wins on the year and can take comfort in a decent first season, but they are a few rungs down the ladder from Strathcona who should not have to much trouble advancing. Greencaps B (2B) v BCT Apna Tigers (3B) After being less than enthralled with a second bottom finish in the FVSL's Division 1 last season, Apna opted to try their luck in the VMSL and were forced to start in Division 3. While they would surely have been keen to skip starting at the bottom, being under the BCT umbrella did give the club teams in multiple divisions and likely facilitated in some player sharing opportunities. As it is though, they look set to lose out on promotion from Div. 3 at the first time of asking with Marpole holding 12 point cushion, though Apna do have a couple of games in hand. A team that knows all about winning promotion will be waiting for them at the weekend, as Greencaps are enjoying the fruits of a championship Div. 3 season in Division 2 this year. They are not quite fully safe for another year in Div. 2 just yet, but one more win would manage it. This could be a bit of a spicy one as neither of these teams is afraid to play on the edge. In another case of lower Div. 2 against upper Div. 3 I'll concede it could go either way, but I will once more go with the Div. 2 side.