BYU men’s soccer team earned a playoff berth against the Ventura County Fusion in July of 2014. It waited seven years for this moment. Though the 1-0 loss was not the desired outcome, the future of the team remains bright.
The PDL playoff berth was a welcomed change for BYU soccer coaches and fans, as the Cougars finished the last two seasons 6-8-2 and 6-6-2 respectively.
“The past few years have been a little bit rocky for us because we went into the California division, which is a really tough division and, most likely, the most competitive,” said Assistant Head Coach Brandon Gilliam. “We got complacent and allowed ourselves to believe that those teams were better than us.”
That all changed this season as the Cougars went undefeated at home and saw a big rise in attendance at games and on social media. Gilliam said the change came from a combination of developing a new culture and mindset in the team, along with having bigger crowds and more support at their games.
“This year we made huge strides just to believe that we could compete with any team in the league, and it changed the culture of who we are moving forward,” Gilliam said. “When you make playoffs, when you win games, the players are more excited, the fans are more excited, and it’s created a new culture here where we’re not just competing against these teams; we believe that we can beat them.”
This mentality shift came as the players build better chemistry on and off the field. Senior forward Scott Heaton, who finished the season with one goal and four assists, believes team unity helped BYU build a winning season.
“Everybody was so tight on and off the field,” Heaton said. “We hung out all the time and had more team chemistry on the field. We were always cheering for each other, from the last guy on the bench to the first guy in the starting lineup, and it made it a lot easier to play harder for each other and to be there for each other on the field.”
Although BYU lost its first game in the PDL playoffs this year, Heaton believes BYU “played (its) best game” against a tough Ventura County Fusion team, one that regularly sees its players drafted into Major League Soccer. Heaton joined three other seniors departing from the team this year.
The Cougars joined the PDL in 2003 seeking tougher competition. Before that time, BYU played as a club team and for years dominated the Club National Championships, winning seven titles from 1993 to 2001. Since BYU entered the PDL, it has made it to the conference finals twice, in 2006 and 2007, which helps illustrate why a playoff appearance in 2014 means so much to the team.
But the Cougars aren’t satisfied with a playoff appearance every seven years. The coaches hope to continue building the synergy between fans and players in hopes of making the playoffs an expectation.
Those appearances will come as they continue the course they’re on. With more winning, more players are wanting to join the team, which brings in better talent. Coaches also see the current roster as one of their strongest, citing that they started three players in Saturday’s game who usually don’t start; they felt like the team played “just as well, if not better” than in previous games.
As for the team next year, it’s as strong as ever. The Cougars signed three players last week and are looking forward to starting next season with a loaded roster.
So the question is, can the Cougars keep the momentum going? Gilliam thinks so.
“With the depth on our bench right now, we won’t miss a step,” Gilliam said.