In front of the largest crowd in more than three years, the USC men’s club soccer team battled the UCLA Bruins with bragging rights and a potential berth to the regional tournament on the line.
The fans, shielding their eyes from the blaring sun, saw the home squad come up short in a 1-0 loss at McAlister Field on Oct. 22.
The intense rivalry made for an exciting match, which featured plenty of scoring chances for the Trojans. The end of the second half was highlighted by a flurry of corner kicks and shots, but it was not enough to overcome the Bruins.
The team finished its fall season with an overall record of 2-5-3, and was not able to qualify for the regional tournament. But the team expects to participate in the 16th Annual National Intramural Recreational Sports Association National Soccer Championships, which will take place Nov. 19 to 21 at the University of Arizona.
USC coach Ryan Shaw admitted the season has been one of transition.
“It’s been rougher than anticipated,” Shaw said. “We lost half of the team from the previous season.”
To go along with the high rate of player turnover, this year the team has been promoted to the premier division of the California Collegiate Club Soccer League. The competition level has improved from previous years, but, given this team’s run as NIRSA National Championship semi-finalists last season, the club has the talent to compete in the premier division.
Although the team has struggled, junior goalkeeper Ian Coe said it was not because of a lack of skill.
“We’re just not capitalizing where we should be,” Coe said.
Although this season left more to be desired, a profound sense of optimism is apparent.
“[It’s] one of the fastest growing clubs on campus,” said club president and senior defenseman Adam Willett.
More than 100 players have participated in recent tryouts, and this year the club has added a B-team, allowing more players the opportunity to participate in collegiate-level soccer.
“The freshmen and rookies look good,” Shaw said. “We have high expectations for them.”
An expanding club and youthful talent are encouraging signals, but partaking in club-level athletics presents some unique obstacles.
The team is 90 percent self-funded, with the players contributing monetary dues. The team also accepts 100 percent tax-deductible donations, but fundraising is certainly tough because of the season’s early semester start.
The initial year as members of the California Collegiate Club Soccer League premier division has strained the team’s already-tight finances.
“As newcomers we were forced to play the University of San Francisco, UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara away from home, which is difficult on a tight budget,” Willett said.
Given the hardships in having a mostly self-funded organization, the team has become more focused and goal-oriented than in years past.
“Last year, we set goals to reach regionals and nationals, and we accomplished those goals … This year we have taken a more serious approach,” Shaw said.
This determined approach also stems from the pride the team feels as the only men’s soccer program on campus.
The UCLA match served as a microcosm of the club’s season. The loss showed the team’s offensive shortcomings, but Shaw lauded the team’s effort.
“They played much better than they have in the past couple of games,” Shaw said.
The optimism surrounding the team was on display for the large crowd at McAlister Field. As the club continues to grow in number and build on previous success, the players have pulled together.
“[The team’s chemistry] is fantastic — it has never been as issue. [It] is one of the team’s best attributes,” Shaw said.
This strong sense of rapport is crucial, especially at the club level, where players are responsible for the maintenance of the entire club’s functions.
The team chemistry is not only felt by the coach.
“[It’s a] really tight group,” said sophomore midfielder Nick Puliot. “We hang out outside of soccer.”
With a dedicated and young foundation, the USC men’s soccer club looks to reach its lofty expectations at the NIRSA National Championships and in seasons to come.