Players know there is work to be done and are prepared to improve

The 2012-2013 season has not been a good start for the Mount Royal University Cougars men’s soccer team.

Four games into the season, and the men’s Cougar squad does not have much to show for their efforts.

With zero wins and four losses in regular season Canadian Interuniversity Sport conference (CIS) play, it would seem things could not be any worse for the team.

 “We really need to get our intensity level up. We just are not matching the intensity of the opposition,” said head coach Jamie Pollock. “We need to get all of our players playing at the same level.”

The Cougars have allowed 16 goals against – tied with the University of Northern British Columbia for most in the Interuniversity conference.

To add insult to injury, the team has scored no goals – putting them dead last among CIS competitors in the goals for category.

The Cougars men’s soccer team completes drills at practice. The Mount Royal team is looking to improve on their 0-4 record.

Photo by Landon Wesley

Those are troublesome statistics for a team that had been the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) most winning program over the last 20 years – this is the Cougars first season playing in Interuniversity play.

Alan Miller, a fifth-year midfielder for the team, strongly believes the Cougars have what it takes to succeed at the university level, “Mount Royal has a good tradition of winning and the leap up to CIS is going to be a challenge. But I fully believe 100 per cent we will continue to win at this level.”

Kyle Henry, a sports information coordinator at Mount Royal, had some input on why it has been a rough start for the club.

“The CIS is a unique challenge and something we have been preparing for. However you can only prepare so much. It is always different when you are emerged in it,” said Henry.

“Playing in this new conference is a learning process, we are just rolling with the challenges. It’s going to take time until we see all the hard work pay off.”

Turning it around

Considering the rough start to the season, one would expect the players to be miserable.

That was not the case at a team practice on Wednesday. Everyone on the team was involved and active with the drills.

The players know that if their season is to turn around it is going to take some tightening up in certain areas.

Miller noted, “We need to fix up our defense. Lots of the goals against have been simple mistakes. We know better and it is a fixable problem.”

His teammate, third-year goalkeeper David Thalheimer, echoed the statement about the team’s defense. ” A lot of the chances are coming from in close. We need our defenders to be organized and communicating so we can stop breaks from coming in.”

The Cougars men’s soccer team huddles together during a practice. The team started off with a 0-4 record in CIS league play.

Photo by Landon WesleyStarting a season is hard enough when you are thrown into a very competitive university league. But it makes it even harder when you add in the fact the team had only 12 returning players, and 12 more new players were added.

Yet Thalheimer and Miller were quick to avoid using “new teammates” as an excuse for the team’s struggles.

“My defenders are all first years so it is a learning curve for me. But we can build with these new players, we can grow our team starting at square one,” said Thalheimer.

Miller added: “We have a good core group, and all the new guys bring lots of energy. They are willing to learn and lots have found their way into the starting lineup. We just need to work out some kinks.”

Miller noted that the returning players are having a tough time adjusting to play in the CIS.

“The teams in CIS are bigger, faster, stronger. They move the ball well. It’s a step up from every level,” said Miller.

The team needs one thing to get going, and Miller feels once they get it, there will be a snowball effect for the team and everything will start to come together.

“We are lacking confidence when attacking,” Miller added. “We need that first CIS goal. We have the talent to do it, we have to find it within ourselves —bring out the beast.”

The next step

With four games behind them, the Cougars are looking ahead to two very important away games in Saskatchewan against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies this weekend.

The Huskies are sitting second overall in the Prairie division – the Cougars are in the same division – and two wins against the Huskies could really turn the Cougars game around.

Thalheimer stated: “It’s going to take our two best games of the season so far. We have been improving since game one. I think we have a really good chance to pull out two wins.”

lwesley@cjournal.ca