By Jeffrey Blackmun
The BYU men’s soccer team has one last chance to finish its regular season with a victory at home. The Cougars host Utah on Saturday Nov. 11.
The two rivals clashed on South Field last month when both teams played a gritty game that ended in a 2-1 victory for BYU.
“Utah’s a real physical team and they play with a lot of attitude,” said junior midfielder Will Van Wagenen.
This game has added importance because both teams have been invited to play at the Collegiate Club National Championships on Nov. 15-18. The winner will gain extra confidence and momentum heading into the tournament.
“It’s a great opportunity for us right before the tournament to play another team that’s going to be down there,” said senior midfielder and co-captain Art Van Wagenen.
“To beat them would let us know that we’re playing at a level that we’re going to have to be playing at in the tournament,” he said.
In preparation for the game, BYU has been working on its team defense, said BYU coach Chris Watkins.
“The focus this week is to make sure we play defense with all 11 guys,” Watkins said. “We need to play defense instead of relying completely on our goalkeeper.”
The reason for the Cougars’ renewed emphasis on defense can be traced to their 4-2 loss to Weber State on Oct. 27, Art Van Wagenen said.
“In the national finals the last four years, we’ve shut teams out to win the national tournament,” he said.
If the Cougars hope to win the national championship for the fifth straight season, it will have to be with defense, Watkins said.
“We’ve got to win balls on the offensive side of the field instead of in front of our goal,” Watkins said.
The game against Utah, the week before nationals, is a new approach for the team. In years past, BYU has taken the week off and focused on fitness.
BYU also scrimmaged against UVSC on Wednesday night to stay sharp. The Cougars thrashed the Wolverines 8-0.
Watkins said he was pleased with the team’s ability to adapt to playing in the snow, but was disappointed by the defense.
Weather permitting, the Cougars will kickoff against Utah at 1 p.m. on South Field.