By Skyler Bell
The BYU men”s soccer team ended its season last weekend with a pair of wins on the road.
On Friday, BYU faced the Nevada Wonders in a match the Cougars felt they had to win. The first half was played to a draw, with neither offense able to find the net. The second half, however, was all BYU. The Cougars scored four goals in 45 minutes to claim the victory.
BYU came out strong in Saturday”s game with the playoff-bound Fresno Fuego, jumping out early to a 4-1 lead. The Cougar defense was able to hold off a late push by the Fuego to preserve a 4-3 win and close out their season.
“Fresno played really well,” BYU head coach Chris Watkins said. “Offensively, we were really on the top of our game.”
In just their second season since leaving the collegiate club ranks for the professional leagues, the Cougars came within one victory of finishing in third place of the Western Conference”s Southwest Division in the Premier Development League. BYU climbed into the middle of the pack with an 8-9-1 record this year, emerging from the league”s basement last year”s two-win squad was trapped in.
“It was a fantastic season for us,” Watkins said. “There”s no gray area there.”
Watkins also said the improvement is not only a consequence of the returning players improving their game, but also a result of better recruiting and team chemistry.
“Anybody who saw us play can see the improvements,” he said.
With new players like 17-year-old B.J. Pugmire, who has yet to attend his first class at BYU, the Cougars will start next season with experienced freshmen. Pugmire scored two goals over the weekend and was a catalyst in BYU”s final home games as a halftime substitution.
The Cougars started the season playing well at home, but lost close games on the road. Provo”s South Field continued to be a win-friendly environment throughout the season, and BYU garnered a 2-1-1 road record over the last month.
“We”re far above where we began the year,” captain Chad Oyler said. “We”ve just become a better team. Everyone seems to just be playing better soccer than at the beginning of the year.”
Oyler said he is excited to watch next year”s team improve, though he will do it from afar. The Cougars will lose Oyler, as well as fellow captain Aaron Gabbart before the next season starts. Matt Affleck and Chris Lamb, who lead the team in scoring this season with 25 goals between them, were seniors this year as well. There were nine seniors in all on the 2004 squad.
Watkins said he is proud of this team and the strides they have made.
“We”re building momentum here,” he said. “We”re on our way. Our goal is to be the best college soccer team in the country and we”re on our way.”