The 2018-19 season kicks off this Saturday at 1:30 PM MDT for Head Coach Ryan Gyaki and the Mount Royal Cougars men's soccer team. It's a season full of wonder and expectations to be even better after last season's bitter playoff defeat to, eventual Canada West champions, the UBC Thunderbirds.
Last year, the Cougars team featured twelve rookies, nine of which started at least one game, and the team finished the regular season fourth in the Prairie Division in Canada West with a record of 4-4-6. In the quarter-finals, the Cougars travelled to Vancouver and took on the 10-4-1 UBC Thunderbirds. Justin Anderson-Louch put the Cougars up just before halftime, but the inexperienced team couldn't close out the game and fell 2-1 in extra time.
Head Coach Ryan Gyaki said last season's run was a pleasant surprise.
"Last year was a rebuilding year for us. It was also a big learning year as coaches and players. I am much happier with a lot of things on and off the field this year so far and we hope that results in more W's.
Since then, the team has gotten older and wiser despite the departure captain Jeff Blake and veteran striker Ryan Clancy. Exciting recruits such as Moe El Gandour, David Schaefer, Tysen Chatani, Mateo Ossa and others will help bring a youthful exuberance to the program this season. It may be the perfect blend according to last year's joint top goalscorer Justin Anderson-Louch.
"Our squad is looking sharp this year," said Anderson-Louch. "We have a good mix of older players and new recruits. We are really looking for our older players, Brendan Canejo, Jake Vickers, Rohin Nazari and myself, to provide quality and consistency. Of course, Daniel Harrison is going to be solid on our back line and a huge leader for the team. But we are also excited to see our new recruits who will give us a spark going forward and will entertain in the opposition's half."
Last year, the Cougars were sixth best in the conference in terms of goals against, conceding little over a goal a game. That record is one that centre-back Daniel Harrison and the team look to not only maintain but improve.
"This year we will be very organized and hard to break down," said Harrison. "We have the pace and skill up front to terrorize any team's defence and we've had a lot of guys step up as leaders over the past six months."
The starting eleven will look similar in many ways to last year. Between the sticks, Evan Kaake and Kyran Valley will return. In the midfield Anderson-Louch, Hafiz Mahjor, Branden Canejo, Trevor MacPhee, and Pavie Rai are all back for the 2018 season. Up front, Orest Ndabaneze and Jake Vickers look to terrorize opposing defenders. On defence, Harrison and Rohin Nazari will don the Cougars uniform again, but this will be an area the team's younger players have a chance to shine in.
The 2018-19 season kicks off Saturday, August 25 when they host the Lethbridge Pronghorns. The following day Saskatchewan rolls into town to play your boys in blue. Both of those games are at 1:30PM MDT.