SFU’s men’s soccer team has arguably been the most successful program since the school switched to the NCAA. An undefeated season in 2011 and two trips to the final four in 2012 and 2013 has meant that expectations for the team are always sky-high. Despite not making it to the postseason last year, the team maintained an amazing defensive record at home, not conceding at Terry Fox Field in the fall or the spring when they played two professional sides in Toronto FC II and Whitecaps FC II.
This year, things are no different. Expectations are once again stratospheric, with the team going for something that has eluded them in the past: a national championship.
“[The] message consistently with the players [is] that they’re here to win a national championship,” said head coach Clint Schneider. “Anything else is not good enough. It’s just not. Of course we’d love to win the GNAC championship, that’s great. We want to be in the national championship, that’s great. But we want to win a national championship.
“We’ve been close, but never won it. And you can say that’s a lot of success, and it is. But we want to be the last team standing. The players that join us, that’s what they want. And that’s why we recruit them, because they want to win.”
After a tough non-conference schedule — including NCAA Division II finalists Cal Poly Pomona, who are ranked fourth nationally — the Clan will not be eased back into conference play. Their first game in conference is against Seattle Pacific at home on September 22. Seattle Pacific is a long-time SFU rival, two-time defending GNAC champ, and ranked 11th nationally.
“We know what they’re about, they know what we’re about,” remarked Schneider. “When it comes to rivalry games like that, it’s not easy. [. . .] Generally those games are one-goal games, they’re tight, and both teams want to win those games. There is a lot of mutual respect, especially between coaches, and it won’t be easy. I think that we’re a very talented team, [and] it’s going to come to in that game where we are at, how the non-conference games go if we’re confident.”
Another key to start the season will be to avoid the sluggish start the team experienced last year, where the team only won one of their first six competitive games.
“[The] message consistently with the players [is] that they’re here to win a national championship.”
“I think we learned some lessons from last year and implemented them this year, [those] being a bit more prepared for the guys to come in for the first game. Pushing them a little bit harder than we did last year. And I think that if we just look at the results, last year we lost 1–0 to UBC, this year we tied them. We’re further ahead than we were last year.”
The team is bolstered this year by a number of high-profile recruits and returning players. One such recruit is Freddie Gard, who joins the Clan from the Southend United U-18 team, which plays in the third tier of English soccer. He’ll join another former Southend United player, Robert Hyams, on the team.
“Robert’s the one who told us about Freddie,” explained Schneider. “Robbie put his reputation on the line to say Freddie was going to be good enough to play here. [. . . He] is every bit as good as I thought he would be. I just had a conversation with him, I still think he has more in him, and he’s still adjusting to college soccer, because it’s different. But he has the potential to be very special for us.”
Mamadi Camara leads the way for the returning players. The midfielder was second on the team last season with five goals.
“I think Mamadi is poised to have a very special year. How good he was last year, he’s even that much better this year. He’s really grown as a player. [. . .] He is a difference maker amongst a bunch of difference makers — that’s what I believe.”
The quest for the elusive national championship continues on September 10 against Notre Dame de Namur University.