By Kristy Koehler, November 20 2019—
The word historic gets thrown around a lot in sports. But in the case of Dinos men’s soccer this season, it’s probably the most fitting choice.
The team played in their first national championship in program history. Though they ultimately lost to the York University Lions 3–2 in the consolation semifinal, the result took a back seat to the clear progress of the program.
Defender Dondre Bailey said the success of the season had everything to with a change in mindset.
“We were tired of losing and not having fun while we were playing,” said Bailey. “At the end of the day, we all play the game because we love to play the game. I feel like when we were playing the game to try to impress the coaches a lot of our players didn’t have that feeling so we just started to play the game the way we all knew how to play it and just had fun instead of being so stressed out all the time.”
Team captain Cristiano De Carvalho echoed that sentiment.
“Halfway through the season was the lowest of the low for us,” said De Carvalho. “We lost 5–0 to the University of Alberta, we had back-to-back losses. The morale of the team was really low — people weren’t happy.”
De Carvalho said the team had a wake-up call and came together to get on the same page with what they wanted to achieve. He said that, while the senior players were the ones to spearhead the meeting, the rookies and sophomore players were on board.
“It was cool to see how the young guys were the ones to say ‘We know we can play better than this and we can compete with these teams,’ ” he said.
Playing for each other and depending on each other quite literally changed the game.
“We brought a mindset of doing it for ourselves,” said De Carvalho. “We said in our huddle before games about halfway through the season ‘Boys, let’s do it for us.’ We need to turn this around. And we did. Training sessions were more intense and more passionate and people were more motivated and supported each other. We started believing.”
Beating Mount Royal University on Oct.19, a team they fell 0–5 to in the season opener, cemented their resolve. The win had symbolic meaning beyond simply redemption for an ugly loss. MRU had beaten Trinity Western University — coincidentally by a score of 5–0 — earlier in the season. Trinity Western has always been the team the Dinos struggled with and beating a team who had beaten Trinity gave the Dinos confidence to do the same.
“We did everything differently. We went into the changeroom differently — no loud music playing. When the coaches were talking, we sat down and listened. It was very quiet. I even brought my saint that I never take out of my home — I brought it with me for good luck. Everything was done differently,” said De Carvalho.
The Dinos not only beat Trinity Western on Oct. 26, they did so on Trinity’s home turf, making the win even sweeter.
“That was for me personally the happiest in a game I’ve ever been. For me and a lot of the seniors, that game meant the most to us because we’d lost so many times to them,” said De Carvalho.
The Dinos qualified for the U Sports National Championships, ultimately losing both the quarter-final and the consolation semi-final. Still, Bailey is happy with how the team played.
“We all wanted to win, but we actually played some of the best soccer, in my personal opinion, that we’ve played the whole program,” he said. “We got matched up with some very tough opposition playing the first and second best-ranked teams in all of Canada. We gave both of them a game that they probably were not expecting out of us and I personally think, looking at it on a positive side because we did lose, it was a great experience for us younger boys who have a couple of years left in the program.”
Second-year player Derek Brust, who scored both of the Dinos’ goals in their final game of the tournament, said that having another year playing with the same group of men contributed to his success on the field.
“In soccer, I think it’s so important to have chemistry between players and to know what to expect from each other,” he said.
Brust hopes to be a leader both on and off the field next year and take an active role in mentoring the rookies, especially since De Carvalho is graduating this year.
Bailey also intends to step up and lead.
“I hope other people see that characteristic in me,” he said. “I’m a very competitive individual and I always want to win so I always try to help my teammates and get the best out of them.”
Of his final year, De Carvalho says he’s immensely proud of how far the program has come and reiterated that the team’s mindset had everything to do with their success.
“It was belief — and character. Our character got us where we are. We came together,” he said. “It was very special and something I’ll remember forever.”
As for next year, he thinks the team is well-positioned for success. So does Bailey.
“I think we have a pretty good opportunity to make a run for winning U Sports and in my personal opinion as a low point, medalling at nationals,” said Bailey. “I really think we have the capability to come first though.”