Coach Dave Dew and GM Marvin Diercks of the Victoria Highlanders realize it is young, yet fast, company they keep in the United Soccer League’s Premier Development League.A total of 31 PDL alumni were selected over the first two rounds of the 2017 Major League Soccer draft last month in Los Angeles. That’s 70 per cent of the players picked in the first and second rounds. Another 28 PDL alumni were selected in the third and fourth rounds of this year’s MLS draft.

So there is more of a recruiting push by the Highlanders as they look to keep pace in the sprawling PDL, which includes 72 teams in four conferences and 10 divisions, spread across North America.

“We’ve worked hard to build a competitive team for this season,” said Diercks.

All the paperwork isn’t completed and filed with the league so the Highlanders can’t yet release roster names for 2017.

Dew said there will be six off-Island recruits, coming from as far afield as Japan and Northern Ireland, and there are also former Canada U-20 players. The Highlanders will utilize a host-billet family system for off-Island players, as in junior hockey, to keep costs down.

“We are finding ways to be creative with costs,” said Dew.

Dew and Diercks revived the Highlanders last season after the franchise went dark for 2015 following six seasons under the former ownership of Alex Campbell Jr. There were several Highlanders players of note during the first six years, including current pro midfielder Jamar Dixon, who has earned three caps for Canada. Former Highlanders defender Matt Polster has played for Chicago Fire of the MLS and received two call-ups to the U.S. national team. Local Highlanders’ PDL products from the Island have included former University of Washington Huskies Pac-12 starter Josh Heard, an MLS Vancouver Whitecaps draft pick, who played pro last season in the USL.

Meanwhile, the PDL has released its 2017 schedule. The Highlanders will play in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference and open with five home dates, which are either Friday evenings or Sunday afternoons at Centennial Stadium.

The Highlanders commence the season May 14 against Lane United of Eugene, Oregon, followed by fixtures against Seattle Sounders U-23 on May 26, Calgary Foothills on June 2 and June 4 and Portland Timbers U-23 on June 18.

The first road games for Victoria are June 23 and June 25 in Vancouver against TSS Rovers followed by away dates June 29 and July 1 against Lane United in Eugene, July 2 in Portland against Timbers U-23 and July 7 in Seattle against Sounders U-23.

The final regular-season home fixtures are July 9 against TSS Rovers and July 14 versus Sounders U-23. The Highlanders close out July 16 in Calgary against a Foothills club that lost 3-2 to the Michigan Bucks in the 2016 PDL championship game.

The Highlanders also announced they will be operating a reserve team beginning this season in the Pacific Coast Soccer League.

“These Highlanders reserves are many of the young players on that V.I. Wave team that beat Bays United in the first round of the Jackson Cup over the weekend,” added Dew.

“Several of them are going on to play U Sports next fall at UVic, UBC and UNBC.”

Added Diercks: “We expect many of these youthful players to be good enough to come up and down this summer between the Highlanders PDL and our reserve team in the PCSL.”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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