It’s a moment 40 years in the making. For the first time in team history, the University of Calgary Dinos men’s soccer team has punched a ticket to the USPORTS national championship.
“We’re going into unknown territory a little bit,” head coach Brendan O’Connell said. “We’re looking forward to it. We’re going to embrace it.”
The Dinos enter the tournament as the undisputed underdogs.
“From the beginning of the season this year I would never have expected us to make it to where we are now,” Captain Cristiano De Carvalho added. “It’s surreal.”
In a season nearly derailed by injuries, the turning point came in the 2019 quarterfinal versus the powerhouse Trinity Western University.
TWU had beaten U of C for four straight years.
A timely penalty kick from Calgary’s own Mark Bohdan sealed a 1-0 Dinos victory.
“We were all buzzing,” Bohdan recalled. “He almost had the save and I was nervous and ready to get the rebound and then it went in. I was stoked.”
The team cheekily gives some of the credit to Carvalho’s new good luck charm.
“I have a little saint I bought when I was two years old. It’s a little statue from Brazil,” Carvalho, who was born in Rio de Janeiro, explained.
“I’ve never brought it to a game or even out of my house but against Trinity I brought it and we won. I brought it to the semis against MRU, and we won.”
“I asked to buy it off him,” O’Connell joked. “He said: ‘No way.'”
The Dinos would eventually fall to the UBC Thunderbirds in the Canada West final but their berth at nationals is still secure.
“You compare the stats and we’re definitely the underdogs,” Bodhan said. “That’s a good thing for us because every win going on feels so much better.”
“We’re a bit of an unknown entity going there for the first time,” O’Connell said.
“I think the team we’re going to play are not going to expect or be prepared for what we might have for them.”
Many Dinos players have waited five years to experience that moment, but one member of the team has waited longer — much longer.
Gord Franson has been the team’s manager for 33 years.
For him, the opportunity to watch the team compete on university soccer’s biggest stage means something extra.
“Part of it was always hoping we’d finally make it to a national championship,” Franson said.
“Honestly, sometimes you think it’s never going to happen, but it happened this time. It’s really nice.”
“To see him after the game on FaceTime was probably the most special moment we’ve had,” De Carvalho added. “He’s been with us every step of the way. To see that happiness in his face was something I’ll remember forever.”
Now the Dinos will turn their attention to the nation’s best in Montreal, with nothing to lose and everything to gain.