BURNABY — It might not be the catchiest mission statement in college sports, but ‘controlling the controllables’ seems to be working fine for the Simon Fraser Clan men’s soccer team.
As the Clan prepare to open the Great Northwest Athletic Conference campaign at home Thursday (7 p.m.) against the Montana State Billings Yellowjackets, the team is percolating in a most envious state.
Head coach Clint Schneider’s Clan, who are finally ready to test their cleats on the home turf of Fox Field, are coming off a perfect 6-0-0 preseason against exclusive U.S. competition in which it surrendered just two goals and recorded four clean sheets, including their last three straight by a combined goals for-and-against margin of 14-0.
That’s not even including 3-1 and 3-0 wins over both UBC and Fraser Valley respectively in non-counting friendlies in late August.
Put it all together, and a No. 3-ranked Clan team which was grossly mis-cast at No. 20 in the first NCAA national poll of the season, had marshalled its collective might to the point where its focus heading into conference play is right where Schneider wants it.
“The goal of the group is to win every game, no matter what the environment, no matter who we are playing against, no matter where we’re playing, no matter the heat, no matter all of those other factors you can’t control,” he said Wednesday before practice.
Shy of being forced to play in zero gravity, it looks like Schneider has left no preseason stone unturned.
In fact, after being a part of six GNAC titles over the past eight seasons, the last three as head coach and first five as former head coach Alan Koch’s lead assistant, Schneider has neatly crystallized his team’s motto.
“We talk to our team a lot about the controllables,” Schneider says. “We feel we have the best team in the country, in North America. We firmly believe that to do what we’ve done, and to be consistent, you have to deal with the uncontrollables. The weather. The refereeing. The size of the field. Grass. Turf. Heat. And I have to give credit to our guys. They’ve done a good job of that.”
And the total buy-in and sacrifice from the top of the roster to the bottom has been huge.
Sophomore winger Connor Glennon, who scored four goals and added two assists in the Clan’s final two preseason games — respective 5-0 and 6-0 wins over Mary and Oklahoma Baptist last week in Bismarck, ND — was named the United Soccer Coaches Div. 2 men’s National Player of the Week.
“He is doing what he was recruited here to do,” said Schneider of the former Whitecaps Residency standout from Vernon. “He’s scoring goals, and he’s remaining dangerous in one-V-one situations and he’s just a winner. I like that he is very direct in the way he plays and he’s following in a long line of really good wingers we’ve had here.”
Glennon’s most recent outbursts have put three Clan players in the NCAA Div. 2’s Top 20 charts.
Attacking midfielder Matteo Polisi, the second-year Coquitlam native, has bagged six goals and added eight assists in six games, his 20 points putting him in a tie for second place nationally among all D2 programs. His six goals have him sitting in 14th place.
Also among the Top 20 are senior forward Mamadi Camara, the Montreal native, who has four goals and six assists for 14 points, and Glennon, who has five goals and three assists for 13 points.
“I sat down with Matteo prior to the season and we talked about what role he would have on the team,” smiled Schneider. “I said ‘Matteo, we want to get the best 11 on the field and I don’t know what that looks like.’
“I told him that I knew it included him, but I didn’t know if that meant he was a 9 or a 10.”
That’s soccer talk for centre forward (9) and attacking midfielder (10).
“He looked at me and said ‘Coach, I am best as a 10’ and he added that if he played there, that he would score 20 goals. Well, credit to him. He’s gotten his opportunity and he’s been fantastic.”
Of course, Schneider is quick to credit Camara who, at that 9 spot, has helped the chemistry work with his efforts at centre forward.
Large credit,” the coach said. “Mamadi is playing his third position in four years. He is playing as a forward now and his relationship with Matteo has been outstanding. He’s been unselfish. He’s done a lot of work out of possession that doesn’t show up. But we are so good because we have players like Mama, like Matteo, Connor, Rahid (Rahiem), Dzenan (Bezdrob), Bjorn (Borren). They are all guys who are committed to making things very difficult for the opposing team, and when you have guys like that who have bought in, it makes life easy.”
Will it be tough to keep the same mindset when Thursday not only brings the start of the GNAC campaign, but also, the team picked to finish third in the standings?
“The only thing that changes is that we’re at home,” said Schneider of the team’s first game on Fox Field this season. “And we’re excited about that. I expect we’ll have a little more energy, a little more jump in our step. And we’ll control the controllables.”
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