Big roster shift can make or break the men’s soccer team’s title defence
Carlo Javier // Editor-in-Chief
You could be forgiven for having some initial doubts about the Capilano Blues men’s soccer team. After all, the back-to-back defending provincial champions enter the year with 10 new players – all of whom are rookies. Despite a huge roster overhaul, long-time head coach Paul Dailly remains as stoic and as prepared as ever. “It’s a transition every year, but the new guys we brought in – I have the utmost confidence that they’ll do a good job for us.”
For Dailly, one of the biggest factors to maintaining their level of play is the consistency of their defence. While the Blues did lose several key players across the board, they managed to retain some core defensive players. Led by the Morello brothers, Nicolas and Daniel, the Blues look primed to carry over their stifling and stalwart defence from last season – an aspect of their game that carried them to an undefeated record in 2016. “They’re still definitely very strong defensively,” said Dailly.
The return of the Morellos also ensures last year’s team MVP, Nicolas, gets a shot at being one of the team’s leaders. The elder Morello is the only fifth-year player on the team, and Dailly fully expects him to both be a role model and a calming presence on the field for the rest of the players. Also returning to bolster the back line are second-year defenders Andres Romo and Stephane Obergfell, two highly skilled players who not only improve the team’s defensive depth, but also allow the Morellos to take more attacking opportunities.
One roster change Dailly specifically addressed during the recruiting process is the departure of forward Kristian Yli-Hietanen. Despite playing just two seasons for Capilano, Yli-Hietanen leaves the Blues as one of its most prolific goal scorers. “We knew we had a void for some goal scoring,” Dailly admitted. To alleviate the loss, the Blues added rookies Kaveer Brar and Adrian Sahagun, two forwards that he expects to immediately contribute in the scoring department.
While much will be expected of the two rookies, the Blues’ offence will be led by returning forward Keith Jackson. The fourth-year student-athlete led the Pacific Western Athletic Association (PACWEST) in scoring last season, finding the back of the net 11 times in 12 contests. For his efforts, Jackson reaped numerous awards in 2016, including the Capilano University Blues Male Athlete of the Year, the Top Forward award from PACWEST and a selection to the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association’s (CCAA) Academic All-Canadian honours. “Pre-season was a bit different for me this year as I was entering training camp as one of the more veteran players on the team,” Jackson said. “Training camp had its ups and downs, we had to train through smoky days as we worked to get our conditioning back up to form.” The smoke and haze seems to have had no ill effects on rejuvenating the teams conditioning however, as Jackson showed up with a hat trick in the 4-1 season opener victory against the Langara Falcons.
Now one of the more experienced players on the team, Jackson fully understands the expectations for veterans like him, Nicolas Morello and fourth-year goalkeeper Hudson Nelles. “The example our veterans set for our rookies is based around the word trust,” he said. “Each home game we tap a banner reading trust as we exit our locker room heading to the field… You’ll also see the word printed across all our warm up gear. Our team’s ability to trust our coaches, trust our system, trust our teammates and trust ourselves has played an important role in our team’s recent success.”
As with every season, starting off on the right foot is a primary goal that the Blues set for themselves. After making quick work of the Falcons, the Blues faltered in a 1-2 loss against the Douglas College Royals on Saturday, Sept. 16. They then followed the game with a resounding 2-0 win over the Vancouver Island University Mariners on Sunday, Sept. 17.
It’s completely understandable for Dailly and the team to take this season one game at a time, but it’s also hard to ignore that the Blues are entering a potentially historic season. Winning the title would firmly entrenched this program’s generation in Capilano’s already legendary soccer lore.
Jackson himself is venturing into record book status. After the Falcons game, the high-scoring forward leaped past Milad Rahmati for the second spot in the Blues’ all-time goal scoring leaders. Now sitting at (update later) goals, Jackson is inching ever closer to the top of the book. “That’s news to me,” he said about his achievement. “It would be a great honour to accomplish that, but right now the only thing on my mind is a National Championship.” The window is open, and this could be the season that the Blues finally reclaim the CCAA trophy.