Student athletes at Colorado State University-Pueblo used their diverse backgrounds and love of soccer to create a team all their own this year.
The CSU-Pueblo men’s club soccer team finished its first season in the Region V Men’s Soccer Division with a 6-4 record, tying for third in the eight-team division.
As a first-year club from a school not widely known for its soccer programs, board members Trent Snarich, Cesar Paredes and TJ Thiebaut faced challenges putting the team together.
“We got started from an idea from previous high school and club teammates. A lot of former CSU-Pueblo intercollegiate soccer players were still in school, and we believed we could get enough players together to form a quality team,” said club president TJ Thiebaut.
The team progressed through the fall season without a coach or experienced goalie. It also struggled for weeks to consistently start with the same defensive players, and it had the second lowest enrollment of any school in the conference.
Even with the odds stacked against them, the team finished in the top half of its division in almost every statistical category, including Goals For, Goals Against and Goal Difference.
To the club’s surprise, talks of a second men’s soccer team created more buzz than even the most optimistic members expected.
“At the beginning of the season I didn’t even think we would need to hold a try-out, but with more than 25 players at practices, we had to bring in a local coach to help narrow down the roster,” Thiebaut said.
Until this fall, the only experience the club had together was a scrimmage versus a local U-18 club soccer team. At the time, CSU-Pueblo had a 12-man roster that included six students born in the United States, five born in Mexico and one from Nigeria.
At the start of the 2014 season, the team was narrowed down to 20 official players with varying experience and from across the globe, including those from Colorado, California, New Mexico, Mexico, Jamaica and Turkey.
“I liked playing with people of different backgrounds. Each person brought in a different playing style and ideology that really helped us bond as a team and boost our chemistry,” said midfielder Alex Alarcon.
This chemistry propelled the team to a 3-1 start to the season, beating schools such as CU-Denver, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs and the Colorado School of Mines.
“It was hard picking a starting 11 each week because we had so many talented players, especially attacking,” said club treasurer Cesar Paredes.
However, with no leader to hold things together, the team began to unravel after a close 2-1 loss in a rematch with CU-Denver. The team lost two of its next three games against Division I powerhouses University of Colorado-Boulder and the league champion University of Wyoming.
“Many of the schools we play have well over 10,000 students from which to draw players,” Alarcon said.
CSU-Pueblo has just over 5,000 students.
“However, I did not feel inferior given the size of the other universities. I feel like we can beat them if we keep improving,” he said.
Thiebaut led the team in goals with nine, but expressed his concerns about fulfilling the roles of player and coach.
“It’s hard to be on the field and have to worry about all the decisions that coaches have to make. Full-time coaches also make players more committed. They can’t come and go as they please, which began to occur in the middle of the season,” Thiebaut said.
After a brief bump in the road, the team bounced back to win its last two games to finish third in the table behind CU-Denver and Wyoming.
“At the beginning of the season, I knew we could finish top three in the league, but after playing, we all felt like underperformed compared to the season we should have had,” said club vice president Trent Snarich.
Looking back on their season, players spoke enthusiastically about their experience with the first-year soccer club.
“I enjoyed one semester on this team more than three years on the college team,” said Rene Chacon, midfielder and former starter on CSU-Pueblo men’s soccer team.
“All the players got along, and we just played for fun,” he said.
Club soccer is not an official school sport and, therefore, doesn’t allow athletes to receive athletic scholarships or grants. Players actually pay to play for the simple love of the game.
“We don’t have as much pressure to perform. We just go play and enjoy the beautiful game,” Thiebaut said.
CSU-Pueblo’s Men’s Soccer Club team will graduate five seniors and look forward to another year in Region V, as it breaks away from its status as a first-year program.