By Mark Villani
The U of C Dinos men’s soccer team have begun their new campaign this year with a promising plan for success. Having finished last year with a heartbreaking loss in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport final six, the Dinos have grown into a squad with high potential and chemistry. Expectations are high this year once again as the team looks to build upon a strong set piece of talented young players.
After a hard off-season of training and improving under head coach Brian McDonell, the players have set the tone this year with a better start than last year’s 2–2–4 mid-season record and are looking to stay competitive going into the second half of the season. Currently sitting at 3–1–4, the key focus for the Dinos has been consistency, as they struggle to maintain a winning rhythm early on in the year.
McDonell, the young coach and former Dinos goalkeeper from 2002–07, has been a great fit for the team and will be motivating these young talents to find the right balance in the coming games. His focus is on intensity, motivating his players to fight to the very end and challenging them each week to be better and better. It is clear that the coach has set the goals high and expects his team to work hard to achieve them this year. The coaching staff looks to break through in the second half of the season and work towards the playoffs.
“Playoffs are the ultimate goal,” McDonell said, emphasizing his expectations. “It should always be the minimum standard every year, but once you’re into the playoffs hopefully you’re at a point where you’re playing well enough and developing some strong skills to do some damage.”
So far this season has been an up-and-down affair for the Dinos, having won their first two games at the University of Lethbridge and losing their next two in a double-header against the University of Alberta. The Dinos lost their third straight game to the University of Saskatchewan but stole a 1–0 win in the second game of the back-to-back series.
The Dinos are in fourth place in the prairie division of the Canada West conference and need to win some important games to get into the top three and earn a playoff position. Upon losing on Saturday, Sept. 28 to the University of Winnipeg Wesmen in a dramatic defeat off a late penalty shot, McDonell was positive and persistent when asked about his squad.
“It’s a good young group, we know we can play at this level,” said McDonell. “It’s just about being consistent and paying attention to the little details game in and game out. Practice has been good, intensity is very high. Being a younger squad, they just need to make sure they’re keeping that consistency every day as it translates over into the games.”
The Dinos took that motivation into their second game of the weekend, performing a bit better to tie the Wesmen. Determined not to let a couple of disappointing performances get the better of them, the team will have to move on and continue to build on the little things.
With an 0–3 playoff record in the past four years, the Dinos value the experience of players such as the smart and technical fourth-year midfielder John Troncoso, third-year defender Jason Genee and fifth-year striker Izak Lawrence — an all-around skilled finisher with great ability up front — who is leading the scoring so far this year.
Lawrence promises that in his final year he will leave everything on the field and do whatever it takes to win a championship for the Dinos. Starting the season off with a record of 3–1–4 isn’t the most promising beginning to a campaign, but for Lawrence soccer is about the right mentality and attitude.
“We need to focus on the points ahead, forget about the games in the past and look forward to what is next,” Lawrence said. “As a team we can’t let up near the end. We need to finish off opponents quickly, and if we can do that we’ll win the important games.”
It is important for the team to relax under pressure and focus on each game straight from the start. As a leader among his players, Lawrence knows this and believes in the adjustments that the coaches have made this year.
“You’re going to go through some tough battles, some tough losses,” Lawrence said. “It doesn’t always go our way, but we need to keep coming back into each game, realize that we’re a better squad, really believe in the mental aspect of it all and keep moving forward.”
The Dinos men’s soccer team are mentally prepared for the second half of this season and plan on building upon the simple aspects of teamwork, communication on the field and technical skills. The Dinos look to improve their record and push forward in the coming weeks.