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Blues men cap incredible turnaround with PacWest soccer title

Capilano comes all the way back after beginning season 0-5-1
capilano soccer
The Capilano Blues celebrate their 2-0 win over Kwantlen in the PacWest men's soccer championship final Saturday at Burnaby Lake Sports Complex.

On top of having a ton of talent, the Capilano Blues men’s soccer team also has a pretty good DJ.

As the team celebrated their 2-0 win over Kwantlen in the PacWest championship final Saturday night, the players wheeled a powerful little stereo onto the field and started kicking out the jams.

First came Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” an obvious classic choice given the situation, but then Drake’s “Started From the Bottom” came blaring, and there really couldn’t be a better song to describe these Blues. They started from the bottom – the Blues were dead last in the league standings halfway through the season – and now they’re here.

“I can’t even describe it,” said team captain Devan Woolley as Capilano’s celebration continued under a sky full of fireworks, graciously provided by Halloween revelers in the neighbourhoods surrounding Burnaby Lake Sports Complex. “I’m so happy, so pumped. Biggest comeback for the boys.”

That the Blues would be blaring Drake with gold medals around their necks seemed nearly impossible after they started the season with a record of 0-5-1 in September, planting themselves firmly at the bottom of the standings. One player quit the team but other than that the Blues insist there were no blow-ups, no dressing room fist fights, no angst-ridden team meetings even while the playoffs were seemingly slipping from their grasps.  

It was assistant coach Desmond Tachie who coined a phrase that summed up the situation. The Blues, Tachie told the team, were the best 0-5-1 squad he’d ever seen.

Then the calendar flipped to October and the Blues started proving Tachie right. They won a game. Then another and another. Six in a row, in fact, then one loss to Vancouver Island University, and then four more wins, including Friday’s 2-1 semifinal win over VIU and Saturday’s championship shutout.

“Crazy year,” said Capilano head coach Paul Dailly after the final. “We just kept believing in each other, kept believing in the system, the guys we had in place. We got a couple of bounces here and there and that just seemed to steamroll things for us.”

“I knew we were good, I knew it was there, we just needed the bounces,” said Woolley, who was named the PacWest tournament MVP after playing two games of his normal hard-hitting, ball-winning style at defensive midfield. “We started getting (the bounces), and we started getting the wins.”

In Friday’s semifinal against VIU, the Blues got goals from second-year Sentinel grad Bruno Fieri-Marinho and third-year St. Thomas Aquinas grad Nicolas Morello before holding off a late rally to score the win that sent them to the final and also earned them a berth in the CCAA national championships.

Saturday’s final got off to a smashing start for the Blues as Fieri-Marinho scored again, collecting a header knocked on by Kristian Yli-Hietanen and blasting it full volley into the top corner six minutes into the match.

The match could have turned early in the second half when Yli-Hietanen missed a header on one end of the field followed almost immediately by Capilano defender Andres Romo picking up a straight red card for a flying, studs-up challenge at the other end. Down a man but up a goal, the Blues defended ferociously and actually created more scoring chances than the Eagles throughout the half. Yli-Hietanen wreaked havoc on the Kwantlen defence, his strong runs down the left side putting pressure on the Eagles nearly every time he touched the ball. As injury time began Yli-Hietanen sealed the deal, beginning a play killing the clock near the corner flag before wheeling back into the crease, racing past the defence and firing in a low shot for a 2-0 lead. A couple of minutes later the final whistle blew and the celebration began.

“Credit to the guys, they just gave everything they had, they left everything on the field,” Dailly said of how his team kept in control despite playing down a man for most of the second half. “What a battle, what an effort from everybody. I just can’t say enough about these guys…. And thank goodness for Kristian sealing things up there at the end with a few minutes to play. Obviously very nice to see that second one go in, took a lot of pressure off and we could finally exhale.”

The last-minute goal capped off an incredible rookie season for Yli-Hietanen, another Sutherland grad who led the league in scoring with eight goals in 14 games, earning the PacWest Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards as well as a spot on the league all-star team.

“He’s the real deal,” Dailly said of his star striker. “He’s been everything we thought and more. His work rate is unbelievable. It really is. Very unselfish player. Just a team-first guy.”

“He deserves it - he’s had a hell of a year,” Woolley added about Yli-Hietanen’s awards. “He runs his bag off the whole game, leaves it all on the field every game.”

The Blues picked up other awards along the way. Fieri-Marinho’s two goals helped him earn the nod as the tournament’s Top Forward.

“He’s found the net, he’s gotten hot at the right time,” said Dailly. “(Friday’s) goal was a beautiful free kick from 30 yards out with the wind at his back. We love to have him as hot as he is now, playing with as much confidence as he is.”

Second year Sentinel grad Hudson Nelles was named the tournament’s Top Goalkeeper after earning Player of the Game honours in both the semifinal and the championship shutout.

“Clean sheet in the final – that’s what it takes to win these types of games,” said Dailly, who earned an honour himself, claiming the PacWest Coach of the Year award.

The coach, however, wanted only to heap praise on his players, in particular a few veterans who set the tone on defence.

“Dev Woolley always gives you all he’s got. I’m just so happy for these guys. Thomas (defender Thomas Arnott) is in his fifth year. Dev in his fourth year. There’s been some lean years for them and finally they get a bit of reward.”

Woolley credited the team’s chemistry with getting the Blues through their tough start and keeping them rolling all the way to the provincial title.

“I’ve been here for four years and this is, by far, the tightest team. Just from Day 1. I wouldn’t pick any other group of guys to win this with. It’s been awesome.”

The team will now turn their attention to the national championship scheduled for Nov. 11-14 at Champlain College Saint-Lambert in Saint-Lambert, Que.

“I feel good. We have to feel good,” Dailly said about challenging for a national title with his red-hot Blues. “I like our chances. It’s eight teams and we’ve got just as good a chance as anyone.”

No matter what happens in November, Dailly won’t soon forget the incredible October that came after a nasty September.

“This month has been unbelievable,” he said. “What a turnaround. They’re just oozing confidence, and they should be. They’ve been playing great as a unit, they’ve been battling.... It’s just tremendous heart, tremendous desire, tremendous gut check on this team. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”