BYU’s men’s soccer is good. Really good.
In fact, the Cougars have lost just one match and drawn two others in three years. That one loss came in the National Championships Tournament, meaning the Cougars are undefeated in all regular season fixtures the past three seasons. They were 2017 national champions, and were just crowned national champions again in 2019.
2019 has been an exceptional year for BYU Olympic Sports, especially the women’s soccer team. The women’s team just finished its best season ever, with its first undefeated regular season in program history, second straight WCC title and seventh of the last eight, and trip to the Elite Eight of the NCAA College Cup for the 3rd time in program history.
Average attendance at South Field for the 2019 women’s season led the nation and is the fourth time in the last five seasons that BYU has led NCAA Division 1 women’s soccer in average attendance.
While women’s soccer is one of the most popular sports on campus, the men’s team is not, despite its success. Men’s soccer was established as club sport at BYU in 1963 but has only ever competed in the NCAA from 1979-1987, although it was a half-hearted effort from the school, and little funding was available to the team.
Up until the 2003 season, the Cougars dominated club soccer, with National Titles in 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2001. At one point, BYU had a 30-match win streak in the club playoffs, winning five straight national championships during that time. BYU has dominated their conference and region since joining again in Fall 2017, as previously mentioned, having only one loss and one draw in the national tournament and just one draw in conference in three seasons.
BYU decided to move to the PDL in 2003 The PDL was the fourth division of professional soccer in the United States, and created more of a challenge for the program with the improved quality of competition. With the university uninterested in creating a Division I opportunity for the men’s soccer team, the program made the decision to jump to semi-pro soccer. BYU was the first university to ever make this jump as a franchised club team and it brought excellent opportunity and challenges to the team.
The program was competitive in this division and had several opportunities to participate in the US Open Cup, the domestic cup tournament competed for by teams from each level of professional soccer in the United States. They competed in the first round three times in 2006, 2007, and 2015. BYU also held friendlies with Real Salt Lake and the Real Monarchs during this time, hosting the teams at South Field in front of impressive crowds. The Cougars’ best season in the PDL was in 2007, when they were Northwest Division Champions. Currently two teams in Utah remain in this division, the Park City Red Wolves SC and Ogden City SC. BYU switched back to NIRSA in 2017 as the season lined up with the Fall semester and better suited students, whereas the PDL season was held in the summer. BYU has competed in the NIRSA Club Division since Fall of 2017.
While fans will enjoy blowing out in-state rivals like Utah and Utah State, the issue with this dominance is the lack of competition. BYU’s conference consists of club teams from Utah Valley (not connected to the NCAA D-1 team), Utah, Utah State, Weber State, Boise State, and the Madison Dragons (comprised of BYU-Idaho students). During the 2019 season, BYU recorded a regular season record of 8-0 against these opponents and scored 33 goals while conceding just 2 in those matches. BYU then competed in the Regional Tournament in the Tri-Cities in Washington, easily winning the tournament by winning the final 7-0 over Gonzaga’s club team. The Cougars scored 31 goals in the regional tournament and conceded just one. The Cougars record was then 12-0 with a goal difference of +62 in just 12 matches. Including the championship tournament, the Cougars goal difference increased to +77 on the season with 81 goals for and just 4 against in 18 matches.
Meanwhile, NCAA and JuCo options have popped up around the state. This has led to transfers leaving BYU as well as not being able to recruit top players from within the state. Crosstown rival Utah Valley competes in the WAC with men’s soccer, beginning in 2014, and since becoming a D-I program, the Wolverines have been able to snag several players from BYU. Among these recent transfers from BYU to UVU are Jaiden Waggoner and Blake Frischknecht. Frischknecht was one of BYU’s top players in recent years and was named the 2019 WAC Offensive Player of the Year at UVU after transferring. Additionally, Dixie State will be jumping to D-I from D-II in 2020 and will compete in the WAC, with their men’s soccer team able to offer scholarships and compete in the NCAA.
The state of Utah also has Westminster College in Salt Lake City, who competes in Division II. Salt Lake Community College, Snow College, and USU-Eastern all compete in the NJCAA. In-state talent has also passed on BYU for out-of-state schools like Portland, Washington, UCLA, and others in just the last few years. Meanwhile BYU-Hawaii ended their athletic program in 2016, leaving BYU as the lone Church-sponsored university offering sports. BYU-Hawaii was a D-II program.
As BYU continues in NIRSA, it will continue to have success and dominance, but will also continue to lose top recruits to rival local schools.
However, BYU has something that many local schools do not have…name recognition.
Many current BYU soccer players are exceptional players, and many could have played or did play on scholarship at another school before transferring to BYU. The team has the ability to recruit on name alone, at least at the soccer level, picking up several excellent players throughout the state despite not being able to offer scholarships to these athletes. Many students recognize the opportunity to attend an excellent university and still play soccer.
The Cougars also have a great opportunity in the West Coast Conference. The WCC includes men’s soccer as an official sport, with BYU and Pepperdine the lone teams not participating. It is worth noting that both schools have men’s volleyball teams. The WCC sent two teams to the Men’s 2019 NCAA College Cup, conference champions St. Mary’s and runner-up Loyola Marymount.
With funding clearly one of the main concerns with adding the men’s soccer team, the team would need a booster or several boosters to come together to help the cause. They would need to offer the amount necessary for the men’s team, as well as an equivalent amount for additional women’s scholarships. This wouldn’t be cheap, but BYU soccer is at an all-time high, and an opportune moment like this may not return for several years. The soccer culture in Utah is getting better and professional teams like Real Salt Lake, Real Monarchs, and Utah Royals have increased the popularity of the sport even more in the state. With the current state of the sport in Utah, a BYU men’s team would thrive and be a legitimate program in the NCAA ranks. The move would benefit not only the men’s soccer team but another women’s program on campus as well, enabling them to add more scholarships to a current program or even form a new team in order to be compliant with Title IX.
At a time when BYU Soccer fandom is at its highest, it is prime timing for the athletic department to seriously consider improvement and support for the men’s soccer team. BYU men’s soccer will continue to be a successful program, no matter the level. They had success at the PDL level for 15 years, and they have dominated at the club level.
But the main issue remains: BYU needs a opportunity at a competitive level that suits the quality of the program. The team has the staff, facilities, and talent, and with the resources and support from the school’s athletic department and the BYU fan base, this team can make the next step at the NCAA level and become a serious program in Division I men’s soccer.