Cheers from the Stadium at South Field could be heard all over BYU’s campus as the men’s soccer team concluded its seventh preseason game with a tie against MLS powerhouse, Real Salt Lake on Saturday night. The draw left the Cougars undefeated and looking forward to their best season in franchise history.
“We looked great against Real,” BYU forward David Gates said. “We’ve really come together this year. There is something in this year’s team that just wasn’t there last year. I have full faith and confidence we can win the PDL title. This is our year. We’ve worked hard and it will show on the field.”
The Cougars kept pace with the professionals from Real through most of the first half. In the 45th minute, just before the whistle for halftime, RSL starting midfielder Will Johnson scored off an assist by teammate Fabian Espindola. Aggressive BYU defenders kept the Salt Lake club out of the net for the rest of the game.
In the closing minutes of the game, the Cougars still needed a goal to avoid losing their first game of the year. In the 89th minute, just two minutes shy of the final whistle, BYU got its goal. Midfielder Dallin Cutler headed a through ball to the left side of the goal and Gates scored it to tie the game. That goal didn’t just tie the game, it proved that BYU could compete with anyone.
“We stepped up and proved we could compete,” Gates said. “It was a great game in which we played really well. We got lucky a few times, but really showed people what kind of team we are.”
Since joining the Premier Development League in 2003, the BYU Cougars have only been to the playoffs twice and both times found defeat in the first round. This year’s team has started off much stronger than any previous team. Victories and stalemates against teams of higher caliber than most PDL teams adorn BYU’s resume.
“I’m optimistic for sure,” BYU Head Coach Chris Watkins said. “We have the pieces and the community to get things done this season. We’ll get results based on how hard we work. We’ve been proving ourselves each game.”
The Cougars kicked off the preseason with a 1-1 tie against the University of Denver. Their next game was a decisive victory over Colorado Mesa University, 4-1. The team went to Costa Rica for their next four games where they competed with local professional teams and returned to Provo with three wins and a tie. Real Salt Lake was the last last and biggest test. A 1-1 tie proved this year’s BYU team is a title contender.
“BYU has a good, solid team this year,” RSL Assistant Coach Jeff Cassar said after Saturday’s game. “Coach Watkins does a great job keeping the guys organized on the field. They’re really hard to break down. They’ve got a great season ahead of them.”
The Cougars will take that endorsement into the regular season which begins May 24. They face the Los Angeles Misioneros at 8 p.m. at South Field.