BURNABY — In mid-November of last year, on the heels of the program’s fifth GNAC championship title and yet another run to the NCAA playoffs, the Simon Fraser men’s soccer program received one of the biggest individual honours in its sport.
Adam Jones, the team’s dynamic junior sniper, was named NCAA Div. 2 West Region men’s Player of the Year.
And while Jones, his teammates and the Clan athletic department so rightfully celebrated a hard-earned and richly-deserved accomplishment, the momentous occasion carried some added significance, the likes of which were lost on all but a few.
“It was a re-affirming moment for us,” remembers Clan head coach Clint Schneider, whose team this week is ranked No. 2 nationally, “in that we needed to just keep doing the same things that we have been doing with our recruiting.”
A re-affirming moment.
In the present, it’s easy to see why Jones, who has made a habit of scoring the kinds of goals like the 90th-minute winner he canned last Sunday in a 2-1 win over Cal Poly Pomona, is so highly regarded.
Yet it wasn’t so much so back in 2012, when as a 5-foot-7 midfielder with a much lighter resume, he didn’t pass what Schneider and so many other coaches call “the eye test.”
Too small. Athletic. But athletic enough?
These days, the redshirt senior from Coquitlam is one of the most dynamic players in all of NCAA soccer, regardless of tier.
He has starred for the Seattle Sounders U-23 entry in the USL’s Premier Development League the past two summers, the latest in which he led the team in scoring.
And now, as he laces his boots Friday (7 p.m.) for the team’s final non-conference game at home to Slippery Rock, his professional prospects seem brighter than ever.
So what did Clint Schneider, and by extension former head coach Alan Koch, and the rest of the Clan coaching staff find so re-affirming the day Jones was named West Region Player of the Year?
CREATING YOUR OWN CHECKLIST
Bigger, faster, stronger is a pretty unassailable mantra when you’re putting together the pieces of a championship team.
But what if you believed there were some other traits that were actually more valuable?
When Adam Jones graduated from Coquitlam’s Dr. Charles Best Secondary in 2012, he decided to take advantage of NCAA D2’s gap year provision, where he could, in effect, postpone the possibility of a university soccer career for one season and still have four years of eligibility.
Following that gap year, however, he elected to play for the Whitecaps’ U23 program, and that meant a loss of one year of NCAA eligibility and a season which would have to be spent as a redshirt at whatever school he chose to attend.
“He had been playing men’s soccer since he was 16, but there was always talk of him being too small and not athletic enough to make an impact at the post-secondary level,” admits Schneider. “Even after his gap year, we weren’t actively recruiting him. We were still making up our minds. We knew he would have to sit out a year (after playing for the Caps) but the more we watched him play, the more we understood his talent.”
And the more Schneider and Co. were starting to formulate their own belief system as to the kind of talent they needed to bring in to make Clan soccer a perennial national-title contender.
“It’s not just how tall and fast, and while I say that, Adam is not slow,” says Schneider. “He’s actually very quick, but if you were to list all of attributes, (speed) wouldn’t be his top one. You have to watch him play, talk to him, and then you start to gain an understanding of how special he is.
“He is a guy who builds things around him because he can make things go. He has a great understanding of how to tactically play, and it’s like what we tell all our guys now, that a large reason they are SFU players is because of their soccer IQ. And you’ve heard me say it all the time, that Adam’s is just off the charts.”
IQ + POSSESSION = SUCCESS
Schneider is never going to turn down size and speed if it comes in the right package. But IQ is huge, and so is the ability to hold the ball.
Fittingly, as Jones begins his final season on the hill, another seemingly similar prospect is just beginning his.
Rahid Rahiem, a sophomore midfielder out of Burnaby, is listed generously 5-foot-9 and 140 pounds.
“There is a school of thought that would say he is not athletic enough or big enough and there is some merit to it,” Schneider beings, sounding as ion he was talking about Jones a few seasons back. “What if he was 6-4 and 220 (pounds) and as good a footballer as he is now? But the reality is that he is good at what he is right now. He’s one of the most competitive guys on our team and he is a winner. He’s already been very impactful for our team.”
Because he checks off those other boxes first.
Ask Jones what the younger faction within the Clan roster needs to do to be successful, he boils it all down to the basics.
“First off, it’s to play simply, to play your game,” Jones said. “As long as they play their game, play simple and keep the ball moving, they will get their chances.”
It’s almost a soccer version of baseball’s Moneyball.
Except in this case, of course, it’s got nothing to do with having to react to the financial restraints like the ones which faced the Oakland Athletics in the 2003 book-turned-2011 movie.
But if you will recall, Moneyball’s protagonist, A’s GM Billy Beane, needed to have an unquestioned belief in the kinds of players his team was going to need in order win, and he made finding players who could get on base as his No. 1 priority.
In the case of Clan men’s soccer, it’s the combination of soccer IQ and ball-possession skills that need to come first.
And that’s why, after Adam Jones was named not only the GNAC, but the West Region’s Player of the Year last November, a coaching staff’s belief system got its most positive re-affirmation yet.
“To play the way that we want to play,” says Schnieder, “we have looked for guys who are not only athletic, but understand the game. It’s been so important to us that they have a competitive soccer IQ. And now we have lots of guys like that. And we want to win by keeping the ball, by playing possession football.
“I don’t know if Adam revolutionized all of that as far as the way we want to play, but certainly he has tweaked it.”
The revolution, it appears, has begun.
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