Players and coaches from the BYU’s men’s soccer club have been selected to represent Team USA at the 2017 World University Games in Taiwan this August.
“It’s super exciting,” said BYU coach Brandon Gilliam, who was selected as the Team USA coach for the games. “It’s not too often that you get to represent your country, especially on a stage that big.”
This will be the first time the U.S. has fielded a team in men’s soccer at the World University Games in 20 years, despite winning the bronze medal in the 1997 games.
Gilliam said the college soccer season begins in August, meaning most NCAA teams are already focusing on their seasons when the games begin.
However, the BYU men’s team is an extramural team that plays in the Premier Development League, so it’s not under the NCAA umbrella.
The Premier Development League season runs from May through July, which gives players in the league a chance to play in the World University Games.
“We may have an advantage over our opponents because we have been training as a team since January,” said forward Joshua Hunter. “Our tactics are becoming more refined, and we are comfortable with our style of play. With extra practice and some recover time in August, I think we will be as prepared as anyone for these games.
Normally, BYU players and staff take August off, but the opportunity to represent Team USA in the games gives them the chance to get more experience, have more playing time and serve LDS Church members in Taiwan.
“We’re going to do a lot of stuff with members while we’re out there,” Gilliam said. “This is obviously to go play soccer but it’s also to go represent who we are as members of the church.”
Gilliam said the staff has reached out to mission presidents and church representatives in the area to coordinate service opportunities during the games.
“Most players on our team have served missions, and service is ingrained in our lives,” Hunter said. “There is a temple, two missions, multiple stakes and congregations in Taiwan, so the saints are thriving there. We just hope to be able to meet the members, hear their stories, share some of our experiences and provide meaningful service.”
With the short gap between the Premier Development League and World University Games, players selected by Team USA will have to shift how they prepare for games.
During the Premier Development League season, teams often play two games in a single weekend, sometimes on back-to-back days.
World University Games will be spread out so Team USA plays three games in six days.
“We’re going to have to be smart as a staff to recognize the difference between pushing to prepare and going into it fresh,” Gilliam said. “A fresh team is more important than an overworked team. We need to make sure we don’t drop in fitness and things like that, but we’ve got to make sure we don’t over push our limits.”
Team USA will depart on Aug. 14 and make the 14 hour flight to Taiwan before the team’s first game on Aug. 18.
The team was drawn into Pool C with Italy, Brazil and Russia for the World University Games, giving players a once-in-a-lifetime chance to match up with some of the most famous soccer nations on a global stage.
Gilliam hopes there won’t be another 20-year gap between appearances for the U.S. after this year.
Non-profit organization United States Collegiate Soccer began this year with the goal to send a team to the World University Games every two years.
This group would be able to gather players from across the country to help field that team, even if it involves multiple universities.
Team USA will start the tournament playing back to back games on Friday, August 18, first at 4:00 p.m. (2:00 a.m. MST) against South Korea then at 7:30 p.m. (5:30 a.m. MST) against Italy.
Their third game is scheduled for Sunday, August 20 against Taiwan. Their fourth will be August 21 against Brazil, their fifth will be August 22 against Argentina and their sixth will be August 23 against Russia. The quarterfinals will begin August 25th.