Student athlete’s experience some sort of loss at the end of their college career. That loss can come in the form of losing their final game, losing their NCAA eligibility or graduating from their sport, but some get to ride off into the sunset. There’s only one champion that wins it all. On Nov. 23, BYU men’s soccer won it all, making senior Connor Fordham one of the lucky ones.
Fordham has been through it all with BYU men’s soccer. He’s been on the team since 2015 and has seen it through its Professional Development League transition to a club team. The team transitioned from the Professional Development League in 2017 and won the national championship in their first year of club soccer. In 2018, the Cougars lost their first game as a club team — the national championship match against Florida.
“It was definitely very disappointing,” Fordham said. “It was something I don’t think any of us expected to happen and I think it helped us put everything into perspective and realize the focus and work that it was going to take the next year to pull off winning six games in three days and winning the championship.”
The minute that game ended, preparing for the 2019 season started. Remarkably, in the three years BYU men’s soccer has been a club team, the Florida loss is their only defeat and the team was determined not to lose again. The players that remained on the team came back with a new drive and stronger desire than ever to take back the national title. Throughout the entire 2019 season the team remained humble and focused.
In practice, strategy became more important than ever. According to Fordham, the team spent a lot of time on situational drills and scrimmages in practice, while team meetings were also important to help fix the small issues they were seeing. It was critical that the team took their schedule one game at a time. Fordham said one of his favorite moments of the year was playing against rival University of Utah because one of his brothers plays for Utah and Fordham was able to score during that game, which is impressive for a defender.
With an undefeated regular season, the team’s leadership played a large part in its success — lead by coach Brandon Gilliam with Christian Bain and Fordham as captains. Fordham’s focus was on the bigger picture — the national tournament. As a leader he led by example.
“I personally tried to get in the best shape I could and tried to be a leader within the team with my mentality. I’m not sure how great of a leader I was through the whole process, but all the guys did really well to prepare themselves physically and mentally and it obviously showed at the national tournament,” Fordham said.
Fordham’s position as an outside back contributes to how he’s able to lead. From the back, he’s able to watch how the opponent defends and has first-hand experience seeing how the opponent attacks.
After dominating at regionals, the team traveled to Texas to compete for the national title. Six games and three days stood between the team and their goal. Starting the tournament with a draw against Texas A&M didn’t shake the team’s confidence. The players continued to move forward by taking down Iowa State in a 5-0 shutout.
Day two came with two more shutouts against Drexel University and Michigan. In the Final Four game against the University of North Carolina, the Cougars earned their fourth shutout of the tournament with a 3-0 win, advancing to the championship game against Ohio State.
It was a quick turnaround as the game was scheduled hours after BYU beat the Tar Heels. This made for an extremely quick recovery time for a sport that requires a high level of endurance. Ohio State was not to be underestimated as they also brought an undefeated record to the table, allowing just eight goals in 2019.
Ohio State struck first and put a goal on the board in the first 10 minutes of play.
“Going down in the first ten minutes is something you really hope never happens, but I don’t think any of us really panicked,” Fordham said. “We knew we had the whole game left and we had prepared for situations like this, so we knew that if we were calm and just played the way we had played the whole year that we could win the game.”
As the second half began, BYU was up by one — not a dangerous lead but still a lead. The team needed to remain organized and focused, just as they had done every game leading up to this. They knew they had the talent and capability to win the game, but they had to continue to play like it. With three minutes left to play, BYU scored another goal to solidify its win.
“We put the third goal away with about three minutes left and it was just a total sense of relief and excitement,” Fordham said. “The whole team celebrated in the corner, and I ran probably my fastest sprint of the game to go celebrate with the team. It was just excitement and sense of accomplishment knowing that everything we had worked for the whole season had just been accomplished and we could just celebrate after that.”
It was a bittersweet ending for Fordham and the other seniors, but he said his BYU experience was everything he could have hoped for. The BYU Men’s soccer team will begin training soon in hopes of defending their National Title.