Men’s soccer team should remain in title contention for years to come
Carlo Javier // Editor-in-Chief
Dominant success in sports is fleeting, and for the Capilano University Blues men’s soccer team, their two-year reign at the top of the Pacific Western Athletic Association (PACWEST), has come to a momentary pause.
After back-to-back years of not only claiming the PACWEST throne, but also the national silver medal in 2015 and the national bronze medal in 2016, the Blues fell short of their threepeat goals this past season.
The vaunted men’s team ended with the provincial bronze medal, continuing their streak of podium finishes in the ultra-competitive PACWEST. Despite this, long-time head coach and 2017 PACWEST Coach of the Year, Paul Dailly, is nothing but proud of how his players fought throughout the year, particularly after a huge roster turnover.
“All the guys we brought in were quality players and I was pleased just to see how quickly they transitioned into the league and the type of play and the physicality,” he said. “I think for the most part a lot of them made the transition quite smoothly. Unfortunately, we ran into some injury woes, but overall I was really pleased with everyone.”
You could say that the cards were stacked against the Blues early. They entered the year with 13 rookies, most of whom were immediately thrown into the fire. While the season certainly seemed like a transitional phase for CapU’s most storied varsity team, the Blues still managed to secure the second seed, with a stellar 8-2-2 record.
Last year, the Blues rested their laurels on their stifling defence. Though their defensive identity and tenacity remain well intact, this year’s team excelled on the attack. Fourth-year forward and team captain Keith Jackson led the way, quickly establishing himself as arguably the most dominant player in the PACWEST. After leading the league with 11 goals scored in 11 games played, Jackson was named PACWEST Player of the Year, a Conference All-Star and to the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) All-Canadian Team.
“Keith is just a warrior,” said fourth-year goalkeeper, Hudson Nelles. Even more impressive about his scoring spree was that Jackson was actually playing out of position the entire year. “The craziest part about Keith’s season was he was a striker who had to sacrifice his spot to play left wing in order for us to put together our strongest starting 11.”
Jackson’s dominant year also holds record-chasing implications. Now with 38 goals scored in 54 games played over four years, the forward stands second in the Blues’ history for most goals scored. Jackson will need 12 in his fifth and final year to forever etch his name in the history books.
Nelles himself was also impressive, claiming his second straight Conference All-Star award and finishing second among goalkeepers in total shutouts and average goals allowed. Despite his standing as among the very best at his position, Nelles admitted some shortcomings that he wished he could rewrite. In the consequential semi-final match up against the Douglas College Royals, the talented keeper saw what he described as the “most action” he had to play against all season. “Despite being probably one of my best games all season, they still were able to score three goals on me,” he said. “It was definitely an off day for the whole team, especially the backline, but I’m supposed to be one of the guys on our team who can keep us in games single handily.”
Like last season, this year’s Blues also had to say their goodbyes to another centrepiece. After five years of eligibility, the ultra-versatile defender, Nicolas Morello, played his final game in the Blues’ 5-1 bronze medal victory over the Vancouver Island University Mariners – a match that saw him break the PACWEST provincial tournament record for scoring in a game with four goals.
“He’s an absolute workhorse. He’s dynamic, he’s versatile, has a great, great attitude,” said Dailly. “He just offers so much, attacking-wise, he’s got speed, he can finish around goal and defensively, he’s very sound. He’s got that long throw as well, which we’ll miss.”
As a long-time teammate, Nelles has reserved some truly high praise for Morello. “Nic is hands down the best player I have ever played with at Cap,” he said. “This is a guy who can play literally any position on the pitch and still be the best player on the team.”
While many of the returning veterans were able to weather the storm when the grind of the long season grew tougher, the development of several rookies points to a bright and exciting immediate future for the Blues.
Despite a slow start, talented rookie Adrian Sahagun came into his own midway through the season. Touted as a natural scorer, Nelles has described Sahagun as “one of the most technically gifted players” he has seen in his four years at CapU. Also impressive were Central Mid elder Marco Favaro and Fullback Luca Klotz. Favaro took on the challenge of filling the shoes of David Genet after Genet left to play in Europe and Nelles even went on to describe Favaro as a potential captain some years down the road. Klotz, on the other hand, showed off a multi-faceted skillset that reminded Nelles of none other than Nic Morello.
Although the Blues fell short of their threepeat aspirations, looking ahead to next year offers an exciting prospective. Jackson and Nelles will both be playing in their final years of eligibility and their host of returning young players will only get better with time.