VANCOUVER — When Sean Einarsson decided to return to the home of Canada’s most decorated men’s university soccer program two seasons ago, it was with the hope that he could fashion a finish to his career which would be every bit as satisfying as its storybook start.
It was back in 2013 when the redshirt freshman midfielder from Surrey’s Earl Marriott Secondary stepped right into the starting lineup of a vaunted UBC squad and helped lead the ‘Birds to its record 13th U Sports national championship title.
UBC has not won the grand prize since, yet with Einarsson back in blue-and-gold fold as a battle-scarred fifth-year senior, there is a near-palpable sense of purpose in the voice of the chemical engineering grad, who returned last season following a two-year sabbatical and on Wednesday spoke to the emotions surrounding the final month of his soccer career.
“That is kind of like the fairytale ending,” Einarsson said prior to training for Thursday’s key Legend’s Cup opener (5 p.m.) at Victoria (7-3-1), when asked what it would mean to help UBC (7-1-3) win its first men’s national soccer title since his rookie campaign. “And it would mean even more after what happened last year.”
To appreciate all of that, a short back story is in order.
After graduating with a degree in chemical engineering shortly after the 2015 season, Einarsson decided to direct his energies towards a potential career within his chosen field of study.
Ultimately, the path led him back to UBC to study towards a Master’s degree, and put him in position to exhaust the two years of U Sports eligibility he still had remaining.
Yet with the potential fairytale’s plot lines heightened even further by the fact that UBC was playing host to the national championship tournament, Einarsson barely got a sniff of the post-season after suffering a serious right toe injury in the opening game of the Canada West playoffs.
The injury still has not fully healed, and while he was able to return some five months later for the start of the team’s spring Keg Cup competition in March, adversity hit once again when he tore the MCL in his right knee in the team’s opening game.
“I won’t lie, it’s been quite frustrating,” begins Einarsson, who had a setback with the same knee earlier this season which sidelined him for three weeks. “You start to wonder when this going to end, but I’ve just got to do my part to keep myself as healthy as possible and keep myself available. The season isn’t going to stop for me, and it’s my last one, so I’d like to do as much as I can.”
A VETERAN’S VETERAN
As the second game in the Legend’s Cup series kicks off 2 p.m. Saturday at UBC, ‘Birds head coach Mike Mosher will be happy to be able to lean on a player like Einarsson, a veteran’s veteran, at such a critical juncture of the season.
“For me, I see Sean simply as a winner,” says Mosher, who recruited Einarsson into the program for the 2012 season, one in which the rookie didn’t play in because of a shoulder injury but nonetheless grew as a player, soaking in the presence of a ‘Birds team which went undefeated (16-0-3) to win its first of what would be back-to-back Sam Davidson Memorial Trophy national titles.
“That 2012 team was as good as we’ve ever had here, and he was able to learn from a pretty experienced group there,” adds Mosher. “Now, since he’s come back to us as a guy studying to get his Master’s degree, he’s gone through a lot to get to his final year. And it hasn’t been storybook stuff.”
Of course all of that can change if No. 5 UBC, the Canada West’s lone nationally-ranked team, can continue it’s impressive run through a perennially tough conference whose member schools annually take turns beating each other up and out of the Top 10 spotlight.
“We’re looking to get things right and peak going into playoffs,” says Mosher when asked of the importance of the Victoria series, one which carries first-place implications. “I told our group earlier this week that if they want to achieve first-place, and the advantages of hosting games at home, then this two-game swing is hugely significant.”
EIGHT SEASONS LATER
These days, Sean Einarsson’s stride is no less purposeful than it was when he first set foot on the sprawling campus grounds in the fall of 2012.
He will admit, however, that his pace isn’t quite as frenetic.
In fact the last time your author chatted with Einarsson, part way through the 2015season, he answered his phone a little out of breath as he conducted the interview while hoofing his was from class to soccer practice.
“Doing my degree in four years, while playing soccer, was quite demanding and a break was needed,” he reflects when asked about his decision to leave the program after the 2015-16 academic year and test the waters in his chosen field of study.
All the while, Einarsson became more and more passionate about finding his “perfect” job, and realized that his efforts could be attained with a sharper and more specialized focus by returning to UBC and studying towards’s a Master’s degree.
Of course it didn’t hurt that he had two more seasons of soccer eligibility remaining.
“I remember the last time we talked and I was running between classes,” chuckles Einarsson, who has recorded an impressive 75 points over 75 conference matches heading into Thursday. “It’s much more mellow now. Things are not as course-load heavy as they were before, so I have much better control over my time. I’ve been able to get to physio and sort out all of my injuries.”
He’s also been able to reflect on his time wearing the blue and gold, developing an increased sense of a gratitude for the moments he has been pain free and able to enjoy the success of his team and the company of his teammates.
“Sean is a guy you can trust in the big games, a guy who always shows up and can score the dirty goals,” says Mosher. “He was a missing ingredient for us last year at nationals. I know it was far from being a fairy-tale finish for him last year but that’s just the way that the games went. He’s gone through the adversity and now, hopefully, he’s getting healthy at the right time. He deserves it because he’s one of the good guys. And for guys like me who have been in this for such a long time, we do it because we get to work with talented people like him.”
And so now, some eight seasons later, his finish line is finally in sight.
“I am the only guy left with a championship,” begins Einarsson of the current roster. “And I want to share what that experience feels like with the rest of the guys in the room because I know how much it would mean to everyone.”
If that could happen, a chapter in UBC men’s soccer history could be closed between a most perfect pair of book ends.
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