The BYU men’s soccer team returns to the collegiate club level after 15 years as the only collegiate semi-pro team in the Premier Development League.
With this transition, the men’s team will now play other universities from the region during the fall season, as opposed to their previous summer season, sharing South Field with the women’s team for its home matches.
The decision to change came suddenly last month, almost immediately following the conclusion of the team’s PDL season.
However, coach Brandon Gilliam has experience with this transition; he and assistant coach Steve Magleby were freshmen when BYU made the original switch to the Premier Development League 15 years ago.
“When I was a freshman in 2002, the last year of playing collegiate club, our attendance was higher than the women’s team,” Gilliam said. “Now we’ve gone to where our attendance is basically family-based.”
The team previously played exclusively during the months of May, June and July, when the majority of the student body is either out of town or busy with full-time jobs.
Gilliam said more students will be able to attend games with the new fall schedule.
“Excitement is at its highest when everyone is coming back to school,” Gilliam said. “We want to give the opportunity to the students to come out and have another event on campus.”
Current player Tanner Whitworth echoed Gilliam’s statement.
“People come because of the name,” Whitworth said.
He said the team will be able to “fill the stands” when playing against familiar schools such as UVU and the University of Utah.
While the Cougars will play high-profile schools, Gilliam said their competition will usually be the “second-tier” team, representing a sharp difference in competitiveness from the Premier Development League, where they were just a step below professional soccer.
“It’s always tough to have change and feel like maybe we’re taking a little step backward,” Magleby said. “We just got to make the most of what we have, and we know it will be a fun experience.”
Whitworth said he’s optimistic after “analyzing the whole package of what club entails,” despite initially feeling “like it was going to be a big downgrade in the level of play.”
Gilliam said he felt playing in the Premier Development League “(divided) them from the rest of the school,” and that they are now “back to playing in front of the students, being with them and having a relationship with them.”
The team held open tryouts on Friday, with over 70 hopefuls showing up to fill only two open roster spots. Twenty-two players will return from last season’s squad, bringing their total to 24 by the start of this season.
“Our goal is to win a national championship this fall,” Gilliam said. “We’re not stepping in this just to play games; we’re in it to win a national championship. That will be the goal for this season, next season and every season after.”
The Cougars won seven national titles between 1993 and 2001 during their previous collegiate club days. The team now hopes to continue that success.
The Cougars will play their first game of the season at Utah State on Friday, Sept. 22, and make their home debut on Sept. 27 against the University of Utah.