The 2016 UCR men’s soccer team opened up 3-3 against a talented field of non-conference opponents. Head Coach Tim Cupello wanted exactly that, in order to strengthen his team and get them used to the high-level soccer he deems will be necessary for the Highlanders to make it through conference play and hopefully earn a spot in the NCAA tournament. However, making it into the tournament is not the sole goal of Cupello’s squad. They want to regain their team culture that Cupello believes the team has lost touch with since the 2014 season.
Cupello is also seeking to build a quality product on the field rather than in the win-loss column, saying, “The most exciting thing for me is our guys have showed a lot of spirit in every single game.” He also added that the team has been working on their culture for the better part of nine months and he now sees, “the fruits of that labor, these guys are conducting themselves with more courage and confidence on the field as well as supporting each other.”
These very same fruits were also appealing to the Big West Conference, as redshirt junior Vincent Morales won Defensive Player of the Week (September 8). Morales immediately credited his back four players for putting him in position to make good saves and mentioning how he wanted to turn the award into motivation for the team moving forward. Morales attributing his individual success to that of his teammates’ support exemplifies what Cupello wants to see from this team’s culture.
Unfortunately that momentum was not quite enough as the team traveled to Denver for two matches against the 11th-ranked Denver Pioneers and Air Force Academy, respectively. Both matches resulted in a Highlander loss. Despite the losses Cupello asserts, “We fought tooth and nail in both games,” even forcing Air Force to extra minutes. Cupello wholeheartedly believes both of these losses helped build his squad’s resolve and confidence as they move forward, as he mentioned, “We haven’t gone into a game thinking we’ve won, or that a team is head and shoulders better than us.”