The UF men’s club soccer team earned the third place in the 2017 NIRSA National Soccer Championships in Phoenix, Arizona on November 18. It was one of the biggest achievements in the club’s long history. Founded by Alan C. Moore in 1953 the UF men’s soccer club is the oldest University soccer club in the United States of America.
After founding the club, Moore also was the coach of the team from 1953 until 1990. He had a record of 503 wins, 220 losses, and 109 ties. But in all those years the UF team never was able to win the National Championships. The team made it to the finals in 2008 and finished this year’s season with a third place nationwide. Club president Oscar Skjaerpe believes that his team will do even better in the next season.
After winning the first two matches at the group stage and another strong performance in the Sweet 16 matchup against Illinois, the team faced Minnesota in the quarterfinals. After being down 1-0, a goal from Pete DiNapoli brought the Gators back on track. Even when Minnesota scored the 2-1 lead, the Gators did not get nervous and fought back with two goals from Tom McDowell and Stephen Mack to win the game 3-2.
Gators can’t pull it away
In the semifinal matchup against California Polytechnic State University, the Gators had some really good chances to score but were not able to finish. Cal Poly scored an early goal but did not have many opportunities afterward. With a total of ten corners and 15 shots on target, the Gators ended up unlucky and lost 1-0.
Club president Oscar Skjaerpe sums up the match against Cal Poly:
Taking the next step
As the team made it to the semifinals of the nationals this year, the club is going to try to get one step further in the upcoming season. Especially beating the division rival UCF and earning the No. 1 spot in the regionals is important for Skjaerpe.
Oscar Skjaerpe talking about future goals of the team:
The team to beat at the national level is Birmingham Young University. After winning eight straight national titles in the 1990s, Birmingham lost its Collegiate Club Status and played in the Premier Development League for 15 years.
In their first year back at club level they instantly won the title again. In the finals of the nationals, BYU beat Cal Poly 4:1. “I hope to see them in the finals next year. It would be a tough game but we also have a lot of quality on our team and really want to win”, Skjaerpe said.
Coach Bernier brought stability
Even if the UF men’s soccer team is well organized and have great conditions with the support of the University, president Skjaerpe still sees things to improve:
As the club is run by students all the officer positions are held by players themselves. The coach also used to be a student who organized practice as a player-coach. “That worked semi-well. It’s kinda hard when you try to play and also have to set up the drills and coach. So we decided to hire coach Bernier”, club president Skjaerpe said.
Darnell Bernier works as a club coach in Gainesville and has been coaching the UF men’s soccer team for the last two years. According to Skjaerpe, hiring a coach had a great impact on the team: “He has been great! It definitely helps a lot having more structure and also an authority figure. He has got a lot of insight and experience that we might miss”, Skjaerpe said.
The club used to have 25 guys on the team and took 15 of them to the nationals in 2016. During the first two games of the 2016 nationals, four players got injured and could not continue. “Our backup goalie had to play as our forward so we were really lost at that point. That was when we decided to add more guys to the team”, Skjaer said. Right now, the team has 42 members and is looking forward to the next soccer season.