By Ben Neilson
Under coach Chris Watkins” stewardship, BYU men”s soccer has achieved sky-scraping levels of consistency and excellence.
The Cougars have won the Collegiate Club National Championship four times since Watkins” arrival in 1995.
But Watkins isn”t satisfied. He wants more.
“Four of the six years that I”ve been here we have won the club championship,” he said. “The other two years we were probably still the best team, but we just didn”t have the luck.”
Last season was one of those “other two years.”
BYU lost to eventual champion Penn State in the semifinal last November, a game in which BYU outshot its opponent 22-4, but lost on penalty kicks. The Cougars” bid for a fifth consecutive championship was over.
“We were all over them,” Watkins said. “We don”t beat teams that bad very often, but we still lost on penalty kicks. All I can say is we were the best team there.”
It seems even Penn State thought so.
According to an article last December by Chris Adamski from The Digital Collegian, a journal published independently by Penn State students, the Cougars were “the Chicago Bulls of club soccer” and “a dynasty…in the realm of club soccer.”
Penn State considered BYU a model for “what we strive to be,” said the article.
With BYU”s loss to Penn State fading into the past and a new season in full swing, expectations have never been higher for the Cougars.
And the players are responding with tremendous play thus far. BYU is 4-1-0 on the season. The team”s offense has been extremely potent, pelting opposing goalkeepers with 23 goals over the last four games. Their defense has been just as stingy, allowing only four goals so far this season.
Watkins expects nothing less than near-flawless play and total dominance from his players, especially when tournament time arrives.
“We expect to go to nationals and not be scored on in any of the six games,” Watkins said. “We want to take some of the drama out of it and make sure we are far superior to any other team.”
When asked why the Cougars have been so successful under his leadership, Watkins” response is simple.
“I think I brought in high expectations,” he said. “We recruit Division I players and play Division I opponents. Players know they are going to be challenged and we”re going to compete for a championship. Now we have tradition on top of that.”
The team practices intensely.
“We are disciplined. If you”re a minute late to practice, you run,” said Brandon LeRoy, a senior forward from Sandy. “It”s exactly like a Division I practice.”
Conditioning, chemistry and team unity are constants with the Cougars.
“BYU soccer is a camaraderie thing,” LeRoy said. “You enjoy being with the guys as much as playing.”
The unity and continued success of the team have former players yearning for more action.
Art Van Wagenen, a mainstay midfielder for BYU who graduated last year, said coming to the games is difficult because he wants to play with them.
Van Wagenen said he has no doubts about the Cougars” ability. “They have more than adequately filled the holes from last year”s seniors,” Van Wagenen said.