One can only imagine the emotion of the players as each of them found their way off the soccer field at UNLV. A short but gratifying playoff stint for the Cougars had just ended in a 1-0 loss to the Ventura County Fusion. For each of the players the experience was new and will be looked at as something to learn from, but it will also provide a drive for them to make sure they get to experience it again. While others can look towards the future of the Cougars program, four seniors walked off the field for the last time as Cougars. They, like their teammates, had left everything they had out on the field and in the process were able to live a dream.
The Cougars have had a strong soccer program and with the desire to increase the competition, BYU left the college club ranks and purchased a PDL franchise in 2003. Being the only collegiate team in the ranks, the Cougars have had their work cut out for them and the last time they made the playoffs was in 2007. Just before their playoff appearance in that year, senior Jonathan Junca joined the Cougars and experienced the playoffs as a newcomer. The experience was enough to convince him that he wanted to come back and has worked with his teammates to do just that.
Early in July the dream was realized for these players as the PDL announced the team had qualified for the playoffs in 2014. Coach Watkins was paying close attention to the ticker that would let him know when it was announced and quickly sent out a text to his team upon hearing the news. After seeing the text, Junca stated that participating in the playoffs "..has been a dream of mine for the past 7 years so seeing it occur was very satisfying".
The start of the season proved to be a premonition of the special season that would be in store for the team as they ended 5-0 and outscored their opponents 23-4. Not only did they win their first game by the score of 8-0, but they followed it up with a 5-0 win over in-state rival Utah State. In fact, the Cougars kept their opponents scoreless until the third game when Utah Valley University put up two goals, but still lost to the Cougars by three.
The pre-season was just a preview to the regular season in the PDL, where the competition and talent multiplied. In the first PDL game of the year, the Cougars put up three runs on the Fresno Fuego while only allowing one, showing the fans what to expect on the home schedule. In the follow up game, the Cougars put another three runs up against FC Tucson, the top team in the division, and only allowed two, giving the FC Tucson their first of only two losses on the season.
The Cougars followed up with two more wins at home as they beat the San Jose Earthquakes under 23 team by the score of 2-1 and the Las Vegas Mobsters 3-2. With four wins to start the season, the Cougars held on to first place in the division as they embarked on their first road trip. Things didn't come as easily on the road and the players were a bit more tentative away from the confines of South Field. On the first road trip the Cougars split the games as they were given their first loss of the season when FC Tucson exacted revenge with a 2-0 win in Arizona and then BYU came back to knock of the Mobsters by another 3-2 score.
The Cougars played two more games on the road before coming home and again split the games as they were humbled in Fresno when they lost 4-0 but came back to beat the Earthquakes again by the score of 2-1. BYU returned home to play one game against the Real Colorado Foxes, winning 2-1 and then heading on the road for two more against the same team. Losing the first road game took some of the confidence away from the team, as it was one of only two wins for the Foxes, and the second game ended in a 0-0 tie. The tie gave the Cougars their first tie and first shutout of the PDL season.
Coming home the Cougars were excited to play in front of the home fans again, as they had only played one home game in a month and a half. With the LA Misioneros in town the Cougars tried to close the gap between themselves and FC Tucson but were unable to pull out the win and settled for a 2-2 tie. The following game was senior night and it had already been announced that the Cougars were in the playoffs. With the Albuquerque Sol in town and BYU resting some of the players for the playoffs, the Cougars looked like they would still pull out the win, but a goal in stoppage time by the Sol gave the Cougars another 2-2 tie. In the last game of the regular season, coach Watkins rested most of his players and the team ended with a loss and a final regular season record of seven wins, four losses, and three ties and a 2nd place finish in the Mountain Division. The most impressive feat of the season might be their undefeated record at home, as very few teams can make that claim.
Even with the first round playoff exit, the Cougars can look back at the season as a success. The product they put on the field was worthy to carry the BYU name and they proved that BYU can play with the best. As the season grew the stands continued to fill up and even reached over 3,000 fans for the final home game. As the coaches and players continue to pour their hearts and souls into this program, the fan base will continue to grow and support the team. To relive the games or catch some excitement for next year, make sure to check out the replays on the BYU Soccer YouTube channel.
Coach Watkins is working to keep the program special and has succeeded with his on the field product and players who are great people off the field. In the tradition of BYU, the soccer team holds firesides when they travel and interact with the fans in a spiritual aspect to go along with the game. Success on the field is seen by the coaches, players, and fans, but many times the most important growth for these young men is seen only by those closest to them as they become better people spiritually and emotionally.
When the team takes the field to start the next season, you will see a tried and true coaching staff that will help the players excel in life as well as at the sport they love. They play for BYU, they represent BYU, and they do so in an amazing fashion. Thank you for your passion and drive as fans we are proud to call you Cougars.