When the Capilano University men’s soccer team takes to the pitch for the final home game of the PacWest season on Sunday, it will be the last time North Vancouver brothers Nicolas and Daniel Morello will suit up for the Blues on their home turf.
Nicolas is in his fifth year and about to exhaust his college eligibility, while third-year Daniel has indicated he’ll likely transfer to another university to pursue an engineering degree following this year. In two and a half seasons together, however, the brothers have become pillars of a powerhouse team, anchoring the defence – while also providing timely injections of offence – as the Blues have won two straight provincial titles and are hoping to claim a third at this year’s PacWest championships running Oct. 27-29 at Quest University in Squamish. They’ve also medalled at the CCAA national championships in each of their two full seasons together, winning silver in 2015 and bronze last year.
That’s a pretty good resume for the brothers, particularly considering how horrible it all went when they first started playing together for the Blues. Nicolas joined the team in 2013 after graduating from St. Thomas Aquinas, his decision made easier by the fact that Capilano University is located just a quick walk away from the Morello family home.
“I’d always heard great things about the school and the soccer there,” he says. “I had some friends that went to the school and played on the team that were a couple of years older, and it was nothing but great things I heard from the coaching to the staff – that’s why I made the decision to go there. … (Plus) it’s a 10-minute walk away, so you can’t beat that.”
Before the 2015 season Nicolas, having established himself as a team leader for the Blues, threw himself into recruiting his younger brother to join him at Capilano. It was a surprisingly tough sell – academically focused Daniel had been accepted into the engineering program at Simon Fraser University and was keen to get his career training started. Nicolas leaned on him, pointing out that he could take engineering courses at Capilano and transfer out after a few years of playing with the Blues and his big bro.
“I said, ‘You know what? You’re never going to have a chance to play with me at a school,’” Nicolas recalls. “It was a tough sell. I took him to a couple of practices and even Paul (head coach Paul Dailly) had to kind of recruit him too.”
Daniel finally accepted the call, and was in the starting lineup for the Blues on opening day of the 2015 PacWest season, the Morello brothers ripping up and down the sidelines as the team’s two outside fullbacks. But Capilano lost their opener. Then they lost again. And again.
By the end of September Capilano had compiled a winless 0-5-1 record and were dead last in the league. This was not the high-flying university experience that Daniel was promised when he signed up for the team.
“It was just kind of frustrating losing five games in a row,” says Daniel. “Especially in this league knowing that it’s such a short season, we may not be able to even make playoffs. … I wasn’t used to that, to be honest. Even my Burnaby metro teams, we would always win. Coming to a team that just started 0-5 was so unnatural to me.”
Nicolas even began to wonder whether he and his brother were to blame. Though they grew up playing backyard soccer together, they had never suited up on the same team due to their age difference. Even during their high school years Daniel stayed with the STA junior team for most of his Grade 10 year while Nicolas finished his Grade 12 year. Maybe they weren’t a good fit together on the pitch?
“We kind of thought maybe it was us,” says Nicolas. “We had just started playing together too. We weren’t sure if it was the team, or what was going on. My brother, he wasn’t used to losing this much. ‘Why did I come here?’”
Nicolas could see his brother getting frustrated by the slow start.
“He doesn’t like to lose either – he was pretty choked about the whole thing,” he says. “I just told him we’ve got to keep plugging away and keep grinding. It’s a super-fast season. You just win a couple of games and you’re back into it.”
And that’s what they did. The Blues won their next six games, lost one, and then won four more, including the PacWest championship semifinal and final.
“It was surreal,” says Nicolas. “Every game we were basically playing for our lives. … Basically every game was a final for us.”
Winning, as always, proved to be the best cure for a frustrated group of players.
“Once we started winning, everything kind of got easier. Everyone wasn’t so worried or frustrated with each other,” says Daniel. “Once we were winning game after game it was nice. Everyone was having fun – it was just back to playing as a kid almost.”
The Blues ended up in the national final where they lost a heartbreaker in penalty kicks following a 0-0 tie. It wasn’t a perfect finish, but it was more than enough to turn the terror of their tough start into a cherished memory for both brothers.
“Playing on that team that went to nationals my very first year, that was probably one of the best moments of my life,” says Daniel. “It was just so much fun, something that a lot of people won’t be able to experience.”
They liked their trip to nationals so much that they did it again, helping the Blues win CCAA bronze after claiming the 2016 PacWest title. Nicolas played a starring role in the run, earning MVP honours at the provincial championships and tournament all-star status at nationals.
This year the Blues sit comfortably in second place in the league heading into the final weekend of regular season play, four points back of the first-place Vancouver Island University Mariners.
It’s been a blast playing together, they say, even if Nicolas, a vocal team leader, is even more vocal when talking to Daniel.
“I probably give him the most grief though, because he’s my brother,” says Nicolas with a laugh, admitting that he doesn’t have the same filter when he’s talking to Daniel as he does with other players. Daniel takes it all in stride.
“If he’s being kind of harsh on me, I know that I should push myself a little harder,” he says. “It doesn’t bother me. … He pushes me to play harder. He knows me better than anyone else, and I feel like he can really tell me how he feels. With the other guys you can’t be that fully truthful with them. It’s nice.”
While the language they use may sometimes be rough, both say there a few players they trust more in important situations.
“I can always count on him to make good plays,” Daniel says of Nicolas. “I would trust him with the ball probably more than anyone, just because I’ve known him for so long, I know how he plays. … He’s probably one of the most dominant players in the league, if not Canada right now.”
Nicolas knows he can count on Daniel to make the right plays as well.
“He’s smart on the field,” he says. “He looks at the bigger picture. And he gets stuck in – he gets into those hard tackles when he needs too.”
He’s more happy than ever that he convinced Daniel to come to Capilano three years ago.
“A lot of people can’t say that they played with their brother,” says Nicolas. “We can look back a few years from now – 10, 15 years from now we can say, ‘Remember the time we played at Cap, all those championships we won there.’”
Sunday will be the last chance to see the brothers play together on home turf when the Blues host the Mariners starting at 2:30 p.m. at the Capilano Sportsplex field (weather permitting) to wrap up the regular season.
“It’s kind of sad to see it maybe come to an end,” says Daniel. “Playing on the grass field for three years, practising three times a week and then games every Saturday and Sunday.”
Nicolas too can’t help but look back to the start as the finish draws near.
“It’s kind of weird – when I first started I kind of looked at the older guys like, ‘Holy – you’re pretty old.’ But now that’s me,” he says with a laugh. “I have really enjoyed it. It’s one of the best things in my life, playing up there. All the memories, all the people I’ve met. Even going to nationals two years in a row – you can’t take those trips back.”
And they’re hoping for one more trip to nationals to finish it all off.
“To finally get the gold would be so nice,” says Daniel. “All the guys that are still on the team from those past two years just want it so bad.”
“It’s crazy – I can’t believe it’s going to be over soon,” adds Nicolas. “I’m just going to try to play every game like it’s my last.”
• • •
The Blues women have battled their way into second place in the PacWest standings entering the final weekend of regular season play.
Capilano topped Langara 1-0 Oct. 15 to earn their third straight win. They’ll travel to Douglas College on Saturday before finishing the regular season with a home contest Sunday against VIU. Kickoff at the Capilano grass field (weather permitting) is scheduled for noon.