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Blues begin their title defence

Capilano men hope for all of last year's success without the early-season stress

Capilano University men’s soccer coach Paul Dailly is hoping his Blues end up at the same place they did last year, but he could do without the heart attack along the way.

In a story that was a sportswriter’s dream, the Blues started last year’s campaign with an 0-5-1 record and seemed left for dead before ripping off a run for the ages, winning 10 of their next 11 games to come back all the way from last place to win the PacWest championship title. They topped it all off by claiming silver at the CCAA national championships. 

A trip back to nationals would suit Dailly just fine, but could he do without the winless first month in a two-month season?

“That would be the understatement for sure,” he said with a laugh. Calling the start of the season a heart attack may be a bit of sportswriter hyperbole, but the winless September certainly brought some stress for the coach who has been recording strong seasons on the Capilano campus for more than a decade. “We definitely don’t want to crawl out of the gate like we did last year. If you told me we could crawl out of the gate again this year and end up the same way we did last year getting to a national final, I would take it for sure. But obviously it was a little stressful at the beginning of last year.”

The good news for the Blues is that many of the leaders of last year’s team are back this season, ready to hit the ground running instead of crawling. Topping that list are team captain Devan Woolley and second-year forward Kristian Yli-Hietanen.

Yli-Hietanen, a Sutherland secondary grad, is coming off a dream season in which he led the league in scoring with eight goals in 14 games and was named PacWest Rookie of the Year, PacWest Player of the Year and a CCAA All-Canadian. The SFU Clan showed interest in adding Yli-Hietanen after his rookie season but he’s back at Capilano for at least one more year.

“We’re more than thrilled to have him in our lineup again,” said Dailly. “I’m expecting much the same as last year. The league is going to know Kristian this year and know who he is and what he’s all about, but he’s just got tremendous work rate, he gives you everything he has, game in and game out. He definitely has a knack for the net and can finish.”

blues soccer
Kristian Yli-Hietanen finds some room to move during a recent exhibition match. The reigning PacWest Rookie and Player of the Year is back for his second year with the Blues. photo by Paul McGrath, North Shore News

Woolley, returning for his fifth year, leads the Blues on and off the field, said Dailly.

“He’s sort of our last line of defence, centre back,” he said. “Win headers, tackles – you can’t fault his effort, he gives everything he’s got, every single game.”

Woolley will be joined on defence by brothers Nicolas and Daniel Morello, a pair of St. Thomas Aquinas grads.

“One on the left, one on the right,” said Dailly. Nic is another team leader in his fourth year with the Blues while Daniel is in his second year, having played big minutes as a rookie.

Second-year Handsworth grad Kamyar Amini, who earned a tournament all-star award along with Yli-Hietanen at the national championships, is back this year with a heavy workload on his plate.

“We’re looking for him to control the middle of the park for us in midfield,” said Dailly. Third-year Sentinel grad Hudson Nelles will pick up where he left off as the team’s starting goalkeeper. Other key cogs returning this year include second year forward Ty Barbieri, a Sutherland grad, and second year midfielder Kuroush Faritous, a Handsworth grad.

There’s a distinct North Shore flavour to the team as 13 of the 21 players on the opening day roster come from North Vancouver or West Vancouver. That’s a testament to the strong youth leagues on the North Shore as well as a good indication of the strength of the Capilano program, said Dailly.

“It’s big for us,” he said. “It’s obviously nice for me when there are so many North Shore products because I think we are, for the most part, their first choice as far as colleges or universities go. … North Van, West Van and Burnaby are the three areas we draw most of our players from. It says a lot for NVFC, Mountain United – these groups are producing some good players that are from this side of the bridge.”

The slow start isn’t the only thing the Blues want to change from last season. There’s also the small matter of the national championship game against the Humber Hawks, which Capilano lost in a shootout after a scoreless draw. Two Humber players received red cards in the first half but the Hawks – and the goalposts – thwarted every Capilano attack for the rest of the match.

The Blues would love to add a little more gold onto last year’s colourful story.  

“The goals are the same as pretty much every year – every time I come we try to build a team that is going to get us to nationals,” said Dailly. “They believe in themselves and they believe we have a very good group again this year. A lot of them were there last year. Some people say you need to lose big games before you win the big games.”

The Blues lost a lot last year, but they won almost every game when it mattered most. All but one. With the talent they’ve got back this year they appear poised to take another shot at winning it all. No matter what happens, it’s shaping up to be another interesting story.

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The Blues start their PacWest title defence Wednesday night with a road game against Quest University before returning to Capilano for their home opener Saturday against the Langara Falcons. Kickoff on Saturday at Capilano is 1 p.m. for the women followed by the men at 3:30 p.m.