Defences win championships and UBC Thunderbirds certainly know how to win championships.
With a record setting 13 U Sports national title under their belts, the Thunderbirds have been a dominant force in Canadian college soccer. Many of those titles have been built on a very solid and stingy defensive footing, but their last national championship came in 2013, and getting to number 14 has proved to be particularly elusive.
Last year UBC head coach Mike Mosher built a team expected to make a significant push for the U Sports title, boosted by hosting the championships on home turf. A shock first round exit hurt, and an even stronger rebuilding program followed.
Mosher’s recruitment this year certainly raised some eyebrows and clearly laid out his stall for the season – the Thunderbirds were wanting another playoff run and they felt that adding some experience was a way to get them there, adding former Whitecaps Jordan Haynes and Jackson Farmer to a squad that already consisted of former WFC2 teammates Thomas Gardner, last year’s Canada West Rookie of the Year, and Mitch Piraux.
“We’ve got a lot of experience on the team,” Haynes told AFTN. “Mitch, Jackson, and myself, we’ve gotten quite a bit of experience with other teams in the past in pro environments. We’ve been through playoff experiences before, so we’re more than capable of doing a really good run in the playoffs and being well prepared for it too.”
Both Haynes and Farmer were tipped to join the fledgling Canadian Premier League, but for Haynes things hit a bit of a speed bump in that regard, and faced with something of a crossroads in his footballing career, UBC became his number one destination.
“I had a little bit of an unlucky road with the CPL,” Haynes revealed. “Everyone’s going to be a little biased for themselves, but I didn’t want to give up on the football dream. So I thought if not the CPL, where’s the best place I could go and I got in contact with Mike [Mosher] in springtime.
“It was a little bit of a late registration and I thought that this would be the best place for me to do both, maybe CPL next year and college. I thought that UBC was the right place for me.”
It’s certainly looked that way and the CPL scouts have been in attendance and watching.
Haynes has had a fantastic first year in college soccer and was AFTN’s pick for UBC’s Player of the Year after a season that saw him excel as an attacking left back, playing in every match, leading the team with seven assists, and grabbing his first college goal in last weekend’s Canada West quarter final win over Alberta.
Haynes has made the adjustment from the pros to the college game with a seeming ease, and while some people will point to his experience at both club and international level and say that making such a move was a drop, he argues that it’s still a very challenging environment and the ideal one at this stage of his career to help him get his game back on track and make that future jump to the next level.
“I would say that it’s a different experience, more than a drop,” Haynes told us. “Just with the places I’ve been – Whitecaps, Foothills – I would say that it’s more of just a different game. It’s a lot more physical like PDL I would say than in the pros, where games are obviously that little bit faster, a little bit more technical.
“But I’d say going through what I have done in the past it’s more what I can do to help my teammates, and help them change their game.”
Haynes spent the 2018 USL PDL season with Tommy Wheeldon Jr’s championship winning Calgary Foothills side, unfortunately missing the championship game due to injury. While many of Wheeldon’s squad made the jump with him to the CPL with Cavalry FC, Haynes wasn’t one of them, leaving him with a decision to make about his future.
But it certainly wasn’t the first time in his career that he’d found himself at a crossroads, having been left to make some tough decisions after the Whitecaps released him from WFC2 and subsequently disbanded their USL team.
Europe was a possibility, he holds a UK passport as well as his Canadian one, but again, things didn’t quite go according to plan and Haynes took it as a life lesson, and one which many young players could learn from.
“I thought I had an opportunity to go to Europe right before my time at Whitecaps 2 ended,” Haynes revealed. “Something happened that it fell through, but I was actually quite naive in thinking I’ll get another opportunity. I wasn’t naive in that I thought there would be another shot for me. I just thought I’ll have no worries.
“But I didn’t give up. I still haven’t given up and never will give up. If there’s one thing I’m going to tell anyone in the world, whether it’s playing football, whether it’s another sport, whether you’re doing anything, just never give up. So that’s where I kind of found myself after I left the Whitecaps.”
As it worked out, Haynes has now come home.
He may have been born and bred in Ontario, but the Peterborough native first made the move west to Vancouver as a 15-year-old in 2011. He’s back playing with some of his best friends in football, but it’s the team spirit and the brotherhood of the squad as a whole that’s made him feel that’s he’s truly back home.
“It’s a homecoming, a hundred percent,” Haynes said. “I do feel at home. With Whitecaps 2 we played at Thunderbird all the time. We’d see all the UBC guys. Me, Jackson. Mitch, we’ve been best friends for a long time. It’s always good to play with them, but I’ve made some other really good friends on the team.
“This is one of the first times I’ve had a team where there’s no cliques. Everyone likes everybody. No-one has any gripes with each other. It’s probably the most welcoming team I’ve ever been on, so it’s definitely a homecoming.”