Neither the weather on Burnaby Mountain nor the finest defensive lines in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) were able to stop SFU men’s soccer on the road to success. The Clan easily found its way to the playoffs after a regular season full of potential and world-class goals. Simon Fraser was crowned last week as GNAC champions after 15 unbeaten matches, losing only one game 1–0 to the Western Washington Vikings. SFU is currently ranked first in the 2016 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) West regional tournament, and third nationally.
It is no doubt that head coach Clint Schneider is well-equipped for the NCAA tournament. Coach Schneider will be able to rely on junior midfielder Adam Jones, who recently earned the award for GNAC Player of the Year. Jones led the Clan with 10 goals and nine assists, including a hat-trick. The forward line grew stronger with the addition of forward Riley Pang, who took the award for Freshman of the Year and tallied four goals for his first season. Sophomore Mamadi Camara came second in the ranking behind Jones with nine goals and six assists registered. Captain Ryan Dhillon was also decisive with a total of four goals and seven assists.
The Clan’s defence is as promising and productive as the offence. Junior Magnus Kristensen, who played every minute of the regular season, had a very bright season and was named GNAC Defensive Player of the Year. Senior goalkeeper Brandon Watson registered a record 30th career shutout and became GNAC’s all-time shutouts leader.
Nine of the Clan’s players were represented in the all-conference team. “To me, I think every one of our players deserves to be mentioned. I feel that good about our group and I told that to the guys. We’ve had a hell of a year so far. It’s a team effort,” said Schneider. Schneider, who led the Clan at the top of the table after finishing second during the 2015 season, earned the award for GNAC Co-Coach of the Year.
The Clan will face fifth ranked Cal Poly Pomona for its first NCAA playoff game at Interbay Stadium in Seattle. SFU’s men’s soccer has faced Cal Poly Pomona once early in the regular season, taking over the Broncos with a score of 2–0.
“We don’t play thinking there’s no room for mistake. You just play your game. The biggest with our guys is being confident; it’s the belief that they can be successful. If a mistake happens, then how do you respond? Well, you respond in a positive way. That’s been preached from start to finish. For the most part, we did a good job. We’re consistent about how we respond; we talk about selflessness a lot. We don’t think that we’re playing anybody better than us, right or wrong. If we play well, we should get the results.”
Simon Fraser will not be hosting any game at Terry Fox Field. As the only Canadian school in the NCAA, Simon Fraser must play all NCAA games in the United States. The Clan will be playing at Interbay Stadium in Seattle, home of the Seattle Pacific Falcons. Coach Schneider commented on this decision.
“First, I’m very grateful that SFU’s athletic administration supported us [hosting playoffs at home]. Every one of us want to be in Canada. You can’t approach the game thinking it’s unfair. With that being said, I would be lying to say that I’m frustrated. This is the second time it happens, and it won’t be the last time. There will be other sports in our athletics department [that] will go through the same thing. To me, it is an absolute disgrace that the NCAA continues to treat our Canadian students that way. I feel empowered on behalf of our student athletes, because they deserve better. Again, we’re very fortunate that we’re able to host in Seattle. We’re very fortunate that this Friday is off from school and so our guys are not missing class. Even if we’re in Seattle, we would leave Thursday and miss class on Friday. None of the team[s] has that problem except for us. We’re fully aware of that as a coaching staff.”
Going in against the 2015 national runner-up — Cal Poly Pomona lost the NCAA title in a 4–0 contest against Pfeiffer University — coach Schneider can trust his highly skilled team to hopefully add another win against the Broncos and make a deep run.