Clan aim to make history once more

“History” is a word that’s been tossed around quite a bit since the SFU Clan joined the National Collegiate Athletic Association a few years ago (NCAA). The first Canadian teams to compete in NCAA history, the first to win games in the NCAA — the list goes on. But there’s one team that’s been making a bit more history than the others.

Last year, the SFU Men’s Soccer team became the first team from outside America to win a playoff game, and they won enough to become the first international team to make it to the Final Four of the NCAA Division II Soccer tournament. And now, as one preseason poll indicates, the team is as poised as ever to become the first international school, in history, to win the tournament.

In mid-August, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, an organization representing coaches at every level of the game in the United States, released their preseason rankings for Div. II schools. Simon Fraser was ranked third.

The Clan enter the 2013 season as back-to-back Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) champions, and are coming off a season that saw them finish with a laudable 19–2–1 record. But the only two teams ranked ahead of the Clan are Saginaw Valley State University, the team that knocked SFU out of last year’s tournament in the semi-final, and the team that won it all, Lynn University. With that in mind, head coach Alan Koch isn’t ready to rest on his team’s laurels just yet.

“It’s nice to be ranked but honestly, it means nothing, especially in the preseason,” said the South African-born coach. “The only thing that matters moving forward is wins
and losses.”

Koch, himself a graduate of SFU’s soccer program, will have to earn those wins with a slightly new-look roster. Sixteen members of the squad that reached the Final Four last year return, but there are 13 fresh faces poised to make their Clan debuts. Gone is Michael Winter, last year’s GNAC Player of the Year, lost to graduation, as are GNAC first-team all-stars Helge Neumann and Matt Besuschko. Last season’s goalkeeper rotation of Hide Ozawa and Sheldon Steenhuis is also gone.

But if the Clan’s third-place ranking tells us anything, it’s that you shouldn’t expect much of a drop off despite the loss of some key players, as Koch still has plenty of talent to play with. Carlo Basso, 2011’s GNAC Co-Player of the Year and a first-team all-star last season returns for his senior season. Midfielder Ryan Dhillon is set to improve on his 2012 season when he took home GNAC Freshman of the Year honours, and Germany’s Chris Bargholz returns after a second-team all-star nod. Although the team might not be as top-heavy on talent as in years past, a staple of every Koch-coached team is depth at every position. And if his three-straight GNAC Championships and Coach of the Year awards are indicative of anything, it’s that he knows how to make the best of it.

The team appears to be in somewhat of a transition year, but don’t expect that to slow Koch and his crew down. It certainly shouldn’t stop the squad from competing for a fourth-straight GNAC crown. And after his team returns from a Costa Rica-based training camp and the season gets underway, Koch gets another shot at that NCAA title as well, and another shot at history.

“Lynn University are the National Champions and somebody will have to try to dethrone them,” he said. “Why not us?

“Every team is undefeated right now so we all have an equal chance of having a great year. I look forward to seeing how we fare on the pitch once we open up the season in a few weeks.”