Under bright lights at a small stadium, fans would assume it’s the typical Friday night football game. But these lights are different. They are fluorescent, illuminating a smaller than usual soccer field full of 20 young players. On the turf, the USC men’s club soccer team celebrates its successes, including a league title in the West Coast Soccer Association. They only lost one game this season—to UCLA—and now prepare for regionals.
USC hasn’t housed a Division I team since the 80s following Title IX regulations and has since been relegated to be a club team. Title IX is a 1972 law that assured equal treatment and benefits to NCAA athletes regardless of gender.
Since 1998, the NCAA has cut 330 Division I men’s teams while 830 women’s teams were added.
Soccer viewership in the U.S. is on the rise; in 2018, over 14.3 million viewers watched the World Cup’s final match. Near USC, soccer enthusiasts can catch a game at the Banc of California Stadium.
This season alone has seen 378,265 attendees in 17 games. Every semester the club soccer team sees over 100 players at their tryouts for only 35 spots.
They can only accept a limited amount because they aren’t an NCAA team, so they place an emphasis on quality versus quantity. Their budget and coaching staff prevents them from adjusting to soccer’s popularity on campus.
The USC men’s club soccer team is having a successful season, but they’ve had hurdles in its path because they aren’t a Division I team.
The president of the team, Jonas Burke, a junior studying civil engineering, is responsible for building the team’s schedule.
Recreational sports at USC allows club teams to book Cromwell and Brittingham fields, placing a strain on teams and their schedules.
“The fields Cromwell and Brittingham have to be shared among soccer, lacrosse, frisbee, and rugby,” Burke said. “A lot of teams use those fields, which is why we have late practice times.”
Regardless of the tight schedule, Burke managed to schedule weekly practice Mondays from 8 to 10 p.m. and Wednesdays from 10 p.m. to midnight.
Burke and head coach Adam Maier adapt to the scheduling conflicts and plan separate practices for the two differently sized fields.
“We get a lot of complaints about our home field Cromwell,” Burke said. “[The] complaints come from our players and other teams, but we’ve become used to it.”
Coach Maier, a USC alumnus, played from 2010 to 2014 with the club soccer team. Maier recalls a time when McAlister Field, where the women’s team plays, was used for some games and practices, but then they lost access to reserving the space.
According to players, Burke and Maier have injected the team with positivity and perseverance in the face of adversity.
Both Burke and Maier refuse to take credit for transforming the team, but they both say the only thing they did was put time into their team.
Coach Maier entered the team roughly four years ago, helping different coaches and learning about the coaching world to continue with his love for soccer.
“I wanted to stay connected to the team because there was a great community there,” he said, “but also because I wanted to keep playing soccer at a high level.”
He stayed with the team through a series of coaching changes, but in 2017 he got his chance. He worked with coach Christian Chambers, and once Chambers found out his wife was pregnant, he asked Coach Maier to become the co-head coach.
Maier accepted, and at the beginning of that semester during tryouts he received an unexpected surprise.
“His wife went into labor the day of tryouts,” Maier said.
Once Chambers had his child he asked Maier to take over the head coach position. This made him excited for the possibilities but also scared him because of his experience level.
Maier still has a full-time job, but he’s dedicated as much time as possible to the team. The club is student-run, so he gets a small portion of pay for his time.
“It's not enough to live anywhere,” Maier said, “but it's a show of commitment from them to us.”
Through his time as a coach, he’s learned the dedication and commitment to players it requires because they’ve trusted him from the beginning.
“The couple semesters that I have been coaching we came in third place and then second place and then first place in the league,” Maier said. “Now, we are looking to do the same and go on to win regionals.”
In comparison to soccer, USC’s football team has 15 coaches and many assistants to work on scheduling, gear, and training; club soccer has Burke and Maier.
As the president, Burke is responsible for day to day and long-term objectives including paying the league registration fees for next semester, recruiting, gear and scheduling.
“The main thing is planning and organization,” Burke said. “The school gives us some resources, but the onus is on you to take advantage of those resources and allocate them.”
He likes the freedom, but then that places the responsibility on him to assure that they have set practice times for the semester and transportation for away games.
Aside from the time Burke gives to the team, he’s changed the attitude of the team on and off the team.
“We looked sloppy. We didn’t have matching jerseys,” he said. “some of them were torn; people wouldn’t wash their jerseys, and we would show up to the game wearing dirty jerseys.”
In order to get others to think seriously about the team, getting gear, creating a website and managing social media accounts are essential to Burke.
Burke refuses to take any credit for co-creating a successful season with Coach Maier.
“[Our success] has to do with the group of guys that have joined the team the past two years,” Burke said.
With a new interim athletic director stepping into USC, the only thing Burke asks for is for the team to practice on a regulation-sized field at least twice a week.
Coach Maier believes that this might help players train more consistently and efficiently, helping them improve to potentially winning nationals.
“When people come here, I let them know whose house this is,” Maier said. “For them to step up and show them who we are as Trojans and who we are at USC.”
For many students, this team has become their home away from home. They have played soccer their entire life. It has become their identity.
Senior Rohan Mehon has been on the team since freshman year and really enjoys the new attitude the team has.
“We push each other to be better,” Mehon said. “ That makes the experience all the more valuable.”
Although the team lost their last game to UCLA last Sunday, they have high hopes for regionals this weekend.
“Guys on our team are motivated and they’re hungry.” Mehon said. “We’re hungry for what the rest of the season is gonna bring.”