The last time the University of Calgary Dinos men’s soccer team won a Canada West title was 32 years ago. The Dinos finished last season with a heartbreaking loss to the Trinity Western Spartans 0–1 in the final regular season game, a loss which kept the Dinos out of the postseason.
Expectations were high entering this season as the Dinos looked to move in the right direction and qualify for playoffs.
The Dinos worked hard in the off-season this summer, training under head coach Brian McDonell. Always looking to improve the lineup, the Dinos recruited new players for the squad this year, including midfielders Kieran Hay and Kieran Lane-Oppenheim, who have filled enormous roles for the Dinos this season. Fourth-year striker Izak Lawrence is the top scorer on the team and uses his experience as motivation for some of the younger players.
“I leave the motivating to the captains, but I try to motivate the guys on the field, get them prepared in warm-up and up to game level on the field, setting the tone for what the right type of effort to put in is,” said Lawrence.
So far, the 2012 season has been a rollercoaster ride for the Dinos. Consistency is key in soccer and has been elusive to the Dinos this year.
McDonell said that winning “is about preparation and a mental mindset.”
“You have to stay on top of the players to make sure that they are mentally prepared on game day.If you don’t show up prepared to play, anybody can beat anybody in the CIS,” he said.
The Dinos lost their first four games of the season, losing three and drawing one. The schedule wasn’t particularly easy for the Dinos, who lost to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 0–3 in their first game. However, it was the back-to-back losses against the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns that would bring them down.
McDonell, a former Dino goalkeeper from 2002–07 is the fourth head coach of the program.
“It’s been one of my most challenging years as a coach with such young players. It took these players a while to figure out how to play in this league, but once they did things started to come together towards the end of the season,” said McDonell.
After a poor start, the Dinos faced the 2011 national champions, the University of Victoria Vikings. On paper, the Dinos should have been routed by the dominant B.C. school, but David beat Goliath 3–1 in a memorable victory that helped reverse the Dinos’s fortunes.
Going into the second half of the season, the Dinos would go from defeating one of the best teams in the country to losing their next game 3–0 against the University of Fraser Valley Cascades, who were ranked lower than the Dinos entering the game. This home loss pushed the Dinos further from a playoff spot.
Next, the Dinos played the University of Northern British Columbia Timberwolves and thrashed them 5–0.
Back at home, the Dinos were on pace to make a move against rivals the Mount Royal University Cougars in a back-to-back series. The first game started slowly and the Dinos were down 0–2 in the first 12 minutes. However, the Dinos battled back to earn a tie.
In the second fixture, the U of C won 2–0 after a memorable performance by rookie midfielder Kieran Hay, who had a goal and an assist. The young rookie has been impressive, scoring at key times for a team often strapped for offence.
“Goals aren’t always going to be pretty, but working hard as a team to get them is all that really matters,” said Hay.
Coming off a comfortable win, the Dinos took to the road against the University of Winnipeg Wesmen. In another back-to-back series, the Dinos showed their will to keep the season alive, winning both games 2–1.
The entire season boils down to the last four games, two of which were against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. In the first game, the Dinos won 1–0 on a beautiful top-corner goal scored by freshman forward Michael Mckinnon. The second game ended in a 1–1 draw, ensuring the Dinos clinched a playoff sport and can finish no lower than third in the CW standings. The Dinos still have a chance at finishing in first place in the CW depending on the outcome of their final two games against the University of Alberta Golden Bears.
The Dinos will contend for a CW title this year if they can remain consistent. Ultimately, the Dinos have shown they can compete against the best in the CIS this year. However, teamwork and co-operation will be key going into these last couple games and into the post-season. A tough road lies ahead for the Dinos who will face off against the best in the CW conference. As the Dinos head into the final games of the 2012 regular season, many eagerly anticipate a golden goal for the Dinos.