October 22, 2004
Although they enjoy a first place ranking in the Sunrise Athletic Conference, the University of Maine at Fort Kent men's soccer program is practicing hard to host either Lyndon State College or the College of St. Joseph of Vermont on October 31 at 1:00 p.m. at Alumni Memorial Field.
Following a 3-1 defeat of Sunrise Conference rival U-Maine Machias October 17, the Bengals now stand at 10-1-2. With the win, the team earned home field advantage for the upcoming Sunrise Conference Tournament.
You need look no further than Coach Melik Khoury to explain the men's soccer success over the past four years.
Khoury, a former UMFK soccer star himself has an equally impressive winning record as a coach.
Players of all sorts have worn Bengal green and gold during his tenure with consistent positive results.
To date, Khoury's record as head coach is 44 wins, 13 losses, and 4 ties, but the record only begins to explain Khoury's ability to succeed.
To understand this success, one must understand the University of Maine at Fort Kent's unique environment and location. Soccer is a big part of Aroostook County life in the fall as it is in many small towns throughout Maine.
However the soccer season, which begins with summer-like temperatures reaching into the 80's often ends in what appears to be winter. Just ask the Bengals who have been forced to shovel off Alumni Field the past two seasons in order to host a playoff game.
Quite simply put, the snow comes quickly for the high school and college soccer teams in Aroostook County. Although the season seems to be short, Khoury's resume continues to grow longer and his teams better.
In increasing number, talented area soccer players have selected UMFK first when looking to extend their playing careers at the college level.
UMFK soccer was re-established during the 2001 season when former UMFK athletic director and soccer coaching legend Larry Murphy was re-hired to get the program going back in the right direction.
It is no coincidence that Coach Khoury was Murphy's co-coach that season. That year, the Bengals began a resurgence of dominance with a careful blend of talent, diversity, and Coach Khoury's fierce competitive personality which rubbed off on the players.
Recruiting and players, they say, make a program at any college level. That is exactly what Coach Khoury has brought to the field in his first and subsequent years, recruiting and players.
During his first year the Bengals, under Murphy and Khoury, went 9-7-1 and were the Maine Athletic Conference Runners-Up (now called the Sunrise Conference). The Bengals lost to Thomas College in the conference final that year, but they were back on the competitive soccer map.
Recruiting that season brought solid players from in and around Aroostook County and also from around the world. The Bengals were becoming extremely competitive with a perfect mix of local and foreign players. The success of 2001 only spilled into the spring, summer, and eventually the following fall season in which the Bengals achieved the best record in school history and national recognition.
In order to appreciate Khoury as a coach, you must learn a bit of him as a player and person. Coach Khoury lives and breaths the game of soccer.
He has played soccer since he could walk in his native Gambia, Africa. Khoury was a four year starting keeper for UMFK during the 1995 - 1998 seasons.
During his time as a player, Khoury was twice named a United States Small College Association (USSCA) All-American and Scholar Athlete, a three year team captain, and helped lead the Bengals to the 1997 USSCA New England District Championships.
Following Khoury's graduation from UMFK in the spring of 1999, both Khoury and men's soccer went in different directions. Khoury went to U-Maine Orono and began work on his master's degree while men's soccer went into some tough transitional phases.
A small college team trying to compete with the likes of U-Maine Presque Isle and Husson College of Bangor, who were both National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) schools proved to be very rough.
The Bengals, thanks in part to the success of Khoury and past teammates, had been able to get schools of NAIA caliber on their schedule. However, they rarely were able to beat these teams and quite often were forced to face them away from friendly Alumni Memorial Field in Fort Kent.
Khoury returned to UMFK, where he enjoyed success on and off the field during his college years as assistant director of admissions and women's assistant soccer coach in 2000.
Khoury began to immediately flourish in this role as both recruiter and soccer coach. Once Khoury became co-coach in 2001 and then head coach following the 2002 season, he was really at home.
The next level ultimately resulted in a record 2002 season. To put things into perspective, UMFK had joined the NAIA in the year 2000.
Teams which gave the Bengals fits during these first couple of seasons, all of a sudden could not even score on them. UMFK went 15-2-1 and was undefeated at home. Fourteen of the 15 wins were shutouts and the 12 goals allowed placed the Bengals at number two in the nation.
The Bengals' goal against average (GAA) .60 was also good enough to place them second nationally. These are staggering numbers to comprehend in an era of great athletes and very tough competition.
For the second straight year, UMFK was conference runner-up and lost in the title game. However, this time, the Bengals were recognized nationally for their season and were rewarded with an invitation to play in the regional tournament, one step away from nationals.
The Bengals lost to Goldey-Beacom College, which is now an NCAA Division II member, but were able to take another step in earning national recognition and respect.
As good as 2002 was, 2003 seemed even better. The Bengals, although they lost key players, returned with some experience and as Coach Khoury had done the previous two seasons, brought in impact student-athletes from Maine and all over the globe.
All the Bengals did in 2003 was earn a number two national ranking under the USCAA (the Bengals had duel affiliation with both the USCAA and the NAIA) and an NAIA Sunrise Conference Championship.
The only disappointment was that the Bengals, due to conference restrictions (only four teams competed in region IX) would not be able to continue their season at the regional level. However, the Bengals ended their season at 10-3-0 with a win on their home field.
Coach Khoury, once again went to work during the 2003 recruiting year and proved extremely successful. A small but extremely significant part of the 2004 record recruiting was Khoury's men's soccer class.
Khoury brought in 11 new players from Aroostook County, Southern Maine, New York, New Jersey, Spain, and Columbia just to name a few.
The result is currently a 10-1-2 record with the only defeat coming as a result of a forfeit to U-Maine Machias. The Bengals avenged the forfeit last weekend in Machias, a game, which is a five hour road trip from Fort Kent, that had more fans present than the host Clippers.
This is a true sign that the Bengals have no doubt come a long way to achieving success and respect as a program. Loyal Bengal fans, in fact, have a strong passionate love for Bengal Soccer that can be directly tied to Coach Khoury's vision and passion he brought to campus back in 1995.
The Bengals recently traveled to New York to play NCAA Division II Bloomfield and Dominican College to complete their regular season on October 21 and 22.
A strong showing against the likes of NCAA Division II schools in the New York City area will only add to the Bengals' success.
So with shovels on the sidelines to take care of any white blanket obstructions, Coach Khoury's team is ready to enter the playoff season for what all involved hope will be the program's most successful season.