The BYU men’s soccer team wrapped up its season on a high note with a 2-0 shutout home win over the L.A. Blues last week, a positive end to a season for a young team that had some memorable moments and also some struggles.
The Cougars rolled through their pre-season matchups in April. BYU faced UNLV, UVU and three Puerto Rican teams, averaging more than six goals in their five dominating wins. However, BYU could not carry that scoring power into the regular season games, scoring only 15 goals in 16 games.
“It was definitely the quality of the teams,” BYU coach Chris Watkins said. “The teams we played in the regular season were much better opponents than our pre-season games.”
BYU plays in the Premier Development League, the top level men’s amateur competition in the United States. The players in the league are comprised mostly of elite NCAA players who are looking to continue playing in the summer months. The players are recruited by coaches across the nation. BYU, however, treats its team as a university extension. It only places current BYU students on the team roster and cannot offer scholarships to the players.
“We can’t just go out and recruit goal scorers,” Watkins said. “We have to improve with the players we have. We are no better than the teams that finished above us and we expect to be the underdogs as long as we are in this league.”
The Cougars finished the season with a 4-8-4 record. The record matched last season’s four wins while adding two ties and allowing six less goals this year.
“The season wasn’t everything we wanted it to be,” sophomore defender Junior Lartey said. “Our record doesn’t show how good we really were. The whole season was an upset, but it set us for a solid future. … Every year the team gets better and better.”
It was a roller-coaster season for the Cougars that created many memories for the team. Watkins shared his highlights and lowlights of the season.
The June 10 home game against last year’s national champions, the Orange County Blue Stars, made the list of lowlights. BYU played well throughout the game and tied the game in the 28th minute. The team held the tie before letting Orange County score the game-winning goal in the 74th minute.
“They were a great team and it felt great to get a goal against them,” Watkins said. “We tied them the first time we played, but their late goal got past us at home. It just really hurts to give our best and still lose the game.”
One of his highlights was the team’s win against the L.A. Legends in Los Angeles. It was a hard-fought game that was scoreless for the first hour of play. Senior forward BJ Pugmire scored the game’s only goal in the 66th minute off a penalty kick. After the goal, two L.A. players were ejected from the game because of violent fouls against the Cougars, including one Legends player punching BYU defender Ethan Meyer in the face.
“I was impressed with how hard we played in the game,” Watkins said. “They had a big crowd there and everything was in Spanish. The environment was just crazy and it was great to see our players go in there, keep their heads and come away with a win.”
BYU looks forward to improving next season. Watkins said the team will return almost everyone on the roster, losing only two seniors.
“It was a building season for the team,” junior defender Doug Clark said. “We ended with momentum, team unity and clear direction. There isn’t any feeling of relief at the season being over, just excitement for the next one.”
Although the Cougars struggled to find the back of the net and lost many of their games in the closing minutes, they said they feel it was a successful season that helped them learn and brought them closer together.
“More than anything, the team is looking forward to being with each other and playing the sport we love,” Clark said. “Everyone enjoys being around the team and playing high quality soccer. I am excited to bring success on the field next season.”