It’s hard to find only one word that will completely define the 2011 Fairfield University Men’s Soccer team. ‘Exciting’, ‘thrilling’ and ‘dramatic’ don’t give this squad the justice that they deserve. How about ‘winning’?
The Stags cemented their first-place hold in the MAAC as they upset the 19th best team in the country, the Iona Gaels, in a 1-0 overtime instant classic on Lessing Field.
“Absolutely brilliant. Everyone came out to play and we really showed we can play with anybody in the nation,” said Stags goalkeeper Michael O’Keeffe.
After starting the season 0-4 culminating in a 4-1 drubbing by Stony Brook, any team could feel frustrated or dejected. But that would go against the very core of this group.
“We’ve learned a few things along the way so we want to maintain our attention to detail, our commitment to the cause and of course our never say die attitude has been unbelievable,” said Head Coach Carl Rees.
This never-give-up motto has been followed by a zany and inseparable collection of distinct lads from all around the world that together create this unique and memorable team personality.
“[We’re] so close, mate,” said the New Zealand product Michael O’Keeffe . “Our character is top notch at the moment.”
The chemistry became even more evident after the winning goal against Iona. Observing the twenty-two individuals laughing, joking around and sprinting to form a mass frenzied ecstatic jumble near the surprisingly electric student section was a sight to see.
“From the first day of pre-season all the boys have come in [and] clicked. The atmosphere in the dressing room is just unbelievable. The banter is through the roof,” said sophomore forward Jon Clements while he was bursting with laughter at fellow England native Daniel Shaw dancing around with his blue pinnie.
“Everyone is just good friends with each other, we’re all family,” he said. “And you can tell we are really going to go far this year.”
Clements was the latest Stag to play the varied role of hero in the fairy tale that has been the 2011 season. The forward touched net in the 95th minute to give the Fairfield the hard-fought victory. Dramatic games have not been uncommon for this squad, as Fairfield has either tied or won a game in the final minutes four times this season.
“It’s the character of the group. Everyone wants to just win so much. Everyone puts their heart and soul into it and at the end of the day, we want it more than everybody else,” said Clements.
Head Coach Carl Rees had the makeup of the team in mind when he was building this particular bunch.
“We put a focus on the character of the kids that we bring in here and we try to help them grow as people through the game of soccer through the platform that the university gives us,” said Rees.
And this rare brand of a close-knit community seems to be working. They are the only unbeaten MAAC team in conference play and hold a two game lead in the MAAC with two matches left. The last time the Men’s Soccer team won a regular season championship was in 2006 and they are the only Fairfield athletic program to win a game in the NCAA tournament.
Breaking down all of the drama, storylines, and camaraderie of the 2011 season and trying to find one word to correctly describe this team can be difficult.
But Carl Rees might have found just the right word, “It’s already a special team. A championship team, that remains to be seen. But these guys are special to me anyway.”