The rollercoaster ride of a season for the Capilano University men's soccer team stopped one step short of the pinnacle Saturday as the Blues finished second at the CCAA national championships held at Champlain College Saint-Lambert in Saint-Lambert, Que.
This season the Blues started their wild ride by going 0-5-1 in September before turning in a completely dominant October that ended with a PacWest championship win on Halloween night. Two wins to open the national tournament put them in the gold medal final but the fun ended there as the Humber Hawks held off the Blues to claim a shootout win following a 0-0 tie.
Capilano appeared poised to claim the national title after two Humber players were shown red cards in the first half - defender Dominic Roberts picked up his second yellow for a late tackle 30 minutes in and Joshua Paredes-Procter earned a straight red for an elbow just eight minutes later - but the Blues could not capitalize on their huge advantage "At that point you're thinking it's just a matter of time before we can break them down," Capilano head coach Paul Dailly said of gaining a two-man advantage. "We definitely had some chances, the goalie made a couple of good saves. We hit a post.... We just unfortunately couldn't make a breakthrough and couldn't finish the job in the end."
Dailly praised the Hawks for withstanding the pressure long enough to send the game to a shootout following regulation time and 30 minutes of overtime. "You've got to give them credit - they obviously defended well, sat back and they were playing for penalties the whole time," he said. "They just made it difficult for us. Every time we got the ball wide it seemed like when we did get the cross in their big centre-back was just clearing danger, clearing everything out. ... We did get the ball into good areas at times but unfortunately our service just wasn't very good on the day"
In the shootout Humber goalie Eugenio Garro, named Player of the Match along with Capilano goalie Hudson Nelles, made a big save in the fourth round, opening the door for Humber to score a 5-3 shootout win to take the title.
The third-ranked Blues opened the tournament with a tense 3-2 win over the Holland Hurricanes from Charlottetown with Sutherland grad Kristian Yli-Hietanen scoring the winner with less than two minutes left in the game. Sentinel grad Bruno Fieri-Marinho opened the scoring for the Blues with Handsworth grad Kamyar Amini, named Player of the Match, picking up the other marker for the Blues.
"The guys have been doing it all year," Dailly said of Capilano's late-game heroics. "They're kind of the cardiac kids. They just never, ever stopped believing in each other. They just gave everything they've got, game in and game out, and that's all you can ask for as a coach."
The Blues put it all together in a 5-1 win over Kwantlen University in the national semifinal in what was a rematch of the PacWest championship game. Fieri-Marinho, named Player of the Match in the semifinal, and Yli-Hietanen each scored twice while Lucien Kessler added a solo marker in the win over Kwantlen.
Fieri-Marinho, Amini, and Yli-Hietanen were all named to the tournament all-star team. That honour topped off an outstanding season for Yli-Hietanen who was named an All-Canadian prior to the national tournament after winning the PacWest Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards. Dailly acknowledged that his rookie super striker has generated a lot of interest from university programs but he's hoping Yli-Hietanen will be back with the Blues next year.
"He's definitely on a lot of people's radar, of course, after the season he had," he said. "If he's going to be back at Cap I would love to have him. I hope he'll be around here next year for one more kick at the can."
No matter what, there should be a lot of Blues back for another kick at the can next season. This year's squad featured 13 rookies and only four players in their third or fourth year. Defender Thomas Arnott was the only fifth-year Blues player this season.
"It's just unfortunate we couldn't send out Thomas in his fifth year on a real high there," said Dailly. "The guys got a little bit of a taste and it was bittersweet in the end. They all think they left something on the table there. I'm hoping the majority of them are going to be back next year and we can make another run at this thing."
This season, however, which began in anguish and ended in the national final, is one Dailly won't soon forget.
"It's still a great accomplishment," he said. "September obviously wasn't great, there aren't too many fond memories there, but I never gave up on these guys, I always knew that they had what it took. Even starting 0-5-1, I saw lots of glimpses of what might be. It wasn't like they were playing poorly or anything, we just weren't getting the bounces or results. The guys kept believing in themselves, kept believing in me and we managed to turn it around. That first win was huge for their psyche and confidence - they just took over and ran with it from there. October was one of the best (months) I've ever been a part of with this program it was just amazing to see the turnaround and the confidence they were playing with. That obviously went right through to the PacWest championships and they carried that to nationals as well."
Dailly is hoping it carries right over to next season as well. And maybe next time around they won't wait nearly half the season to score their first win?
"Yes," Dailly said with a laugh. "Yes please."