It was a lovely midweek afternoon here on campus when I had the occasion to speak with Andy Gibbs, the head coach of the Dino’s men’s soccer team. My day up to that point had seemed so perfect–sleeping in, no scheduled classes, an unusually warm and sunny day, and a supersized "Two Cheeseburger Value Meal" at McDonald’s for lunch.
I was truly coolin’ on a beautiful autumn afternoon and all I could think of were the epic words of one Craig Kilborn: "Life is good."
As I engaged Gibbs in conversation, he explained that "this year three of the top five teams in the country are playing here in the Canada West division."
I automatically supposed one of these teams had to be the Dinos. My day had seemed so perfect that I felt it only fitting that the tone of my interview would find harmony with the overall spirit of the day. Then Gibbs dropped the hammer revealing that "the University of Calgary is not one of these three teams."
His words hit hard and my seemingly perfect day was now nothing more than a perfect couple of hours in what would turn out to be a very average day. As I gained my composure and came to grips with the situation I sought answers from Gibbs regarding the prognosis of his teams season.
The coach explained.
"The problem is injuries. Half of our starting roster for the year were injured over the summer playing provincial soccer for their club teams. They have now returned to play for the Dinos, but their injuries remain with them." The most grievous loss of the year is Mike Pavicic, the national second team all-star midfielder. Pavicic is potentially out for the season with a dicey hamstring injury, leaving the team the unenviable task of trying to win in his absence.
Still, Gibbs is excited about the challenge. "I am looking forward to the season even though it may well be very trying and difficult for the team. We are struggling here at the moment but my goal is to finish in the top four of the Canada West division, and make the playoffs. I realize that you don’t win the division with half of your roster made up of rookie players."
If the Dinos are to make the playoffs. they will need solid seasons from both J.P. Khouri and Brian Newmarch, the top two rookies from the last two years. The defensive players are being counted on by Gibbs to play consistently and shoulder much of the responsibility once assumed by injured team members.
Adding to the Dino’s challenge is the strength of the teams in Canada West with which they must compete. The west has always been a soccer power in the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union, making 19 of the last 20 national final games. As Gibbs alluded to earlier, three of the top five teams in Canada play in the west. He sees the title "best in the west" coming down to a dogfight between the University of Alberta and the University of Victoria, with the University of British Columbia also being a very strong side.
"The Canada West will be the strongest division in Canada, it always is, and it most certainly will be this year," adds Gibbs.
The Dinos must play some great soccer to run with teams of this calibre.
As the season opener approaches Gibbs realizes that, out of necessity, many of his rookies must face the searing heat of the refiner’s fire and be forced into starting roles without having the chance to develop first and gain experience.
"Our rookies have a great deal of talent and potential, but they need a development cycle. They will be thrown into the fire simply because I have no one else to throw into the fire," laments Gibbs.
As the interview came to a close that afternoon, I couldn’t help but feel that although the Dinos are facing one rough situation, and that the odds are most certainly stacked against them, that the season ahead seems an exciting one. I am sure the players and Gibbs are expecting big things from themselves, even if others are not. It is like the feeling you get just as you enter the doors of the casino. You know the odds are stacked against you but you still have that undying belief, no matter how small it may be, that you could leave the biggest and richest gambling hero known to man. That is why you go to play.