Isaac Koch is blessed not to know the feeling of whacking his forehead on low-hanging basement beams.
As a smaller player, he trained and competed against older, bigger and stronger kids when he was younger as a way to enhance the development of his skills. Eventually, those skills earned him the opportunity to train with Pacific Football Club (FC), a second-year club in the Canadian Professional League.
His childhood dreams of playing professional soccer were coming true until the coronavirus took over the world and shut everything down.
“There’s never a great time for a global health crisis like this, but it definitely didn’t come at a great time for me. I was just getting going with [Pacific FC],” said Koch. “That’s OK. This will pass and hopefully I get my shot with them again in the future.”
From the moment he started kicking around a soccer ball in his West Kelowna backyard, Koch wanted to play professionally.
Rising through the ranks, Koch was asked to play with the U13 teams as an 11-year-old. He was one of the top talents around until his family, with the assistance of their church, moved to Thailand for a year to help install water systems into refugee schools.
In the border town of Mae Sot, there was no soccer for his age group. Once a week, he would help teach high schoolers English. Once the weekend rolled around, he suited up and played in their organized school tournaments. At 12-years-old, he was competing against kids four-to-six years older than him.
That trend continued upon his families return to the West Bank the following year. His talents progressed and earned him a spot with the Thompson-Okanagan Football Club – an elite travel program in the Okanagan.
“Playing up an age group was super helpful for me. I’m not a big dude as it is, so I had to learn how to use my body and my skills because everyone was automatically bigger, stronger and faster than I was,” said Koch. “That way, whenever I did play with my own age group, I felt like I was ahead of them.”
The summer of 2015 was a memorable one for the future Vike star. His U18 Penticton Pinnacles won the provincial title and he debuted with the older Pinnacles in the Pacific Coast Soccer League (PCSL) – a summer league loaded with players from the Canada West.
Eager to play for Vikes legendary Head Coach Bruce Wilson, Koch went into his first season with the Vikes brimming with confidence after his first summer in the PCSL.
“It’s definitely a pretty big jump to go from club soccer to university soccer, but I had some great coaches with the Pinnacles that moved me from the middle out to the wing, which allowed me to develop and utilize my strengths a little better,” said Koch.
Koch was ascending in the program and the conference rather quickly.
“I just tried to learn as much as possible from my new teammates. Training everyday with guys like Cam Hundal really helped my growth. He was a great teammate and I picked up so much from working with him,” said Koch.
Inserted into the starting lineup after his fourth game during the 2015-16 season, the 5-foot-8 Koch began building his goal-scoring resume.
After three regular seasons with the Vikes, two summers with the Pinnacles and another with the Victoria Highlanders of the PCSL, Koch was primed to take his game to the next level with the Vikes, until his left knee buckled underneath him.
“I was sprinting down the sidelines with the Highlanders and I heard something pop. I’m still not sure what happened,” said Koch. “It hurt a little at first, but I was still able to jog off the field. Later that night, I couldn’t even stand up. I needed a wheelchair to get off the ferry. That’s when I first thought something was seriously wrong.”
Despite his best wishes, the MRI revealed his worst nightmare when Dr. Steve Martin told him that his ACL was blown out one month before the start of the preseason.
“Isaac was great right from the start. A lot of times, athletes in that situation will be in disbelief for a while [about their injury], but Isaac got his head wrapped around it quickly and started working on getting his knee on the right path,” said Vikes Head Athletic Therapist Traci Vander Byl.
Immediately, the Vikes team at the UVic Varsity Sport Injury Clinic went to work developing a plan to get Koch back on the field.
“Isaac was a dream patient to work with. He always had a positive attitude. He was engaging and tried to relate to other athletes going through injuries at the same time,” said Vander Byl, who will enter her 15th season with the Vikes next fall. “It was also a challenge keeping up with his training exercises. We gave him a task and he went home, accomplished it that night and came back looking for more work to do. His body responded very well to everything we threw his way.”
Nearly everyday for one year, Koch spent hours training, stretching and working out his leg to get it back in shape.
“I had plenty of doubt what I would be like after surgery. So much of my game involves quick movements and explosiveness, so I wasn’t sure how much I could trust my new knee,” said Koch. “I just kept working, leaned on my faith during the tough days and hoped everything would be back to normal.”
When he stepped back on the pitch for preseason last August, not only did he look like he hadn’t missed a step, but it was almost as if he got better from having a year off.
“I was just happy to be playing actual games again and being around the guys. I had a great preseason and entered the season feeling very confident,” said Koch.
The current Vikes Varsity Council President wasted no time getting reacquainted with the back of the net.
In the first game against the Trinity Western University Spartans, Koch assisted on all three goals in a 3-0 victory.
He added two goals and another assist over the next two games to take an early lead in Canada West scoring.
“I have a tendency to be super hard on myself. So even when I got off to a good start, there were still missed shots that I know should have went in. I felt like I should have been scoring multiple goals every weekend,” said Koch.
One month later, he was.
The scoring barrage started with a goal and an assist during an unusually warm road game at the University of Calgary. The following weekend, he netted his second career hat trick with the Vikes at home against the University of British Columbia Okanagan Heat. The following night, he racked up another two goals, highlighted by a remarkable free kick from 35 yards out against the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack.
“All those goals came as a relief to me. I know it’s kind of crazy to score like that, but in my head, that’s how I have always felt I should be playing all this time,” said Koch, who finished the season first in assists (8), tied for second in goals (9) and first in points (17).
The eventual Canada West Player of the Year (and runner up for the U SPORTS Player of the Year) led the Vikes to their best record since the 2014 season. In any other year, the Vikes would have earned the right to host a playoff game, but this year’s Pacific Division was one of the tightest in recent memory and the Vikes had to travel to Saskatoon and lost to the University of Saskatchewan Huskies 2-0 in Arctic conditions.
Just because the Vikes season ended, didn’t mean Koch was done with soccer that year.
All season, scouts and coaches from Pacific FC were tracking Koch’s success and brought him in for a training session just before the holiday break in December.
“It’s great that Isaac got noticed, he certainly deserved to be noticed after the year he had. I was certainly worried for him the same way I would worry about anyone coming off a major injury and surgery like that. But he kept himself fit, worked with our training staff and came back better than ever,” said Vikes Head Coach Bruce Wilson.
Once March rolled around, Koch received another invite to return to training with Pacific FC.
“It is such a jump from the Vikes to Pacific FC. Everyone was so much faster. It forced you to think the game at a faster level,” said Koch. “It was really cool to be in such a high-level environment. It makes you to improve so much just to keep up.”
When it fit around his class schedule, Koch was running two-a-days with Pacific FC, working on skill development and different aspects of the game.
He was even slated to suit up in preseason games with the club before the COVID-19 shutdown.
“We saw that Isaac was a great soccer player. But we also liked that Isaac is committed, dedicated, focused and is excellent in the classroom,” said Pacific FC Associate Head Coach and Technical Director James Merriman. “Isaac is very dynamic, explosive and puts a lot of pressure on the opposition with his ability to handle the ball. We wanted to give him an opportunity to see how he stacked up against other professional players.”
The reigning Vikes Outstanding Male Athlete of the Year slipped through the Canadian Premier League draft and was asked to train with Pacific FC. Koch was working his way to a professional contract with the club before the temporary work stoppage. Even if he did sign with the local team, he would still be eligible to return for his fifth and final season with the Vikes.
But these days, Koch is back home in the Interior, waiting to see how different the world looks from one day to the next. Pacific FC’s regular season was supposed to start on April 11. There is no word on when they may begin to start soccer activities once again.
“This shutdown is unfortunate – but we aren’t going anywhere. We enjoyed having Isaac with us and we want to give local players a chance with our program,” said Merriman. “There will be opportunities for him moving forward.”
Soccer isn’t the only thing on Isaac’s mind, as he still has one semester to go before graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree of Arts in History with his sights set on a degree in Elementary Education where he can eventually work with people younger than him for a change.