Most University of Colorado athletes know what the atmosphere feels like in the days before a match-up against rival Colorado State University.
However, the excitement surrounding the men’s club soccer game on Saturday against the Rams is unprecedented — this game is unlike any game the team has ever experienced.
What: Rocky Mountain College Cup
When: Saturday: 3 p.m., men’s and women’s black teams; 5 p.m., women’s gold team; 7:30 p.m., men’s gold team
Where: Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City
The inaugural Rocky Mountain College Cup — featuring men’s and women’s varsity and junior varsity match-ups — will take place at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, home of the Colorado Rapids soccer team. Despite the fact that tryouts just ended last week, the guys seem to be not only physically disciplined, but mentally aware of how to prepare themselves for this exciting game under the lights.
“I’ve been thinking about this game since I started planning it in April,” said Justin Macauley, the club’s president. “Every time you think about it, you get butterflies, but it drives you a little more to work hard towards it.”
Macauley, a senior, has worked with his fellow team leaders to organize the game at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park since last spring. Other CU teams, such as lacrosse and hockey, have hosted similar games in the past at Dick’s and the Pepsi Center in Denver.
“It was just a logical progression that soccer would be next, now that the sport is growing and that we’ve become better known on campus,” Macauley said.
During the past few years, men’s club soccer has undergone some major changes, including the arrival of coach David Vaughan. Vaughan has played a significant role in changing the way the club runs things, such as the introduction of the “player pool” system.
The club has about 60 players, and they are divided into three squads: gold, black and white. Depending on the level of play each team member exhibits from week to week, they have the opportunity to be moved up to a higher level or down to a lower level in order to accommodate everyone’s abilities.
“Before I got here, from what I understand, teams were selected and then they went off and did their own thing,” Vaughan said. “They never mixed players in, and there wasn’t any opportunity for someone who might be performing exceptionally well on the second team to move up.”
He added, “We make all the kids know that they’re part of a program and give them our best efforts as coaches, and they give their best in return as players. Everything seems to be working great so far.”
Goalkeeper Dylan Hogan also commented on the team dynamic. He said, “For the most part, everyone has settled into that rhythm. We are a team and we’re gonna play together, work together and make ourselves as good as we can as a collective unit.”
Since CU tied CSU 1-1 at home last season, that’s all the more reason for the players to continue their cooperation and teamwork in order to come out with a win this weekend. Not only that, but mental preparation is high on the team’s list of priorities.
“We’re gonna be in a big stadium under the lights, you know, on a professional field, but in the end, we’re still playing just another game. Just another team, another game. You can’t freak out,” Hogan said.
Vaughan also recognizes that the large venue could pose a distraction to the players, many of who have never played at such a big stadium.
“There’s going to be high energy level and extra excitement that we can’t allow to become a distraction. It’s a great opportunity to go play a game in an environment that we never may get a chance to play in again,” Vaughan said.
Macauley admits that the game on Saturday is going to be the biggest crowd he has ever played in front of during his 17 years of playing soccer.
“They’re expecting there to be around 4,000 people there. The biggest crowd I think I’ve ever played in front of is probably 400 or 500. It’s definitely gonna be a mental game more than a physical one,” Macauley said.
Despite the environment, the team is psyched up for the game and ready to take on the Rams. Most of all, they’re determined to come away with a hard-earned win.
“It’s about taking last year and building on it, because CSU came up here and tied us, and they actually outplayed us for much of the game,” Vaughan said. “So, we have to beat them. There’s a lot riding on this game.”