Pat Onstad (MSOC | Student-athlete)
Updated: Oct 13
NAME: Pat Onstad (Class of 2020-21)
UNIVERSITY: British Columbia
YEARS ACTIVE: 1991-94
Three-time national champion (1991, 1992, 1994)
Two-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year (2003, 2005)
Three-time MLS Cup champion (2003, 2006, 2007)
57 starts for Canadian national team
Canadian Player of the Year in 2003
Life in soccer can be a winding road.
Just ask Pat Onstad, who grew loving hockey in Vancouver, before the beautiful game took him across the globe first as a player, and now as a coach.
“Growing up in Canada, like any Canadian I wanted to be a professional hockey player,” said Onstad, who admittedly realized as a teen that his soccer prowess was superior to his skill on the ice.
While hockey might have been his first sporting love, soccer proved to be Onstad’s true calling.
After playing five seasons in the newly created Canadian Soccer League, Onstad joined the UBC Thunderbirds in 1991, setting in motion a Canada West Hall of Fame career that would help springboard a playing career that was just getting started.
“I didn’t know if I was going to have much of a pro career, so I wanted to make sure I had something to fall back on,” said Onstad, who continued to play in the CSL during his university career, earning education and human kinetics degrees along the way.
At UBC, Onstad would get a first row seat to coaching excellence.
Guided by fellow CW Hall of Famer Dick Mosher, Onstad was part of four straight CW titles and three national titles between 1991 and 1994.
“We had a very experienced team. We had a lot of pros. I think in the national final when we played at Queen’s in Kingston…we had eight guys that played in the Canadian Soccer League and we played McMaster who had five, so it was a pretty impressive final for the university level.”
“We had a high level group, guys that nowadays with the MLS, a lot of those guys would’ve played MLS had it been around at that point in time. We had a good group and we were fortunate that we had a really good coach in Dick Mosher, who knew how to manage us and kind of let us let us run it to a certain extent,” explained Onstad.
“But in the end when I look back on it I realize he did a good job of it having the appearance that we were running the show, but he was definitely in charge and did a good job of making sure we were prepared to play every week.”
Watching Mosher proved invaluable for Onstad not only as a player, but later as a coach, as Onstad picked up a lot from Mosher, who managed a unique assortment of talents.
“We were not the typical university student-athletes. We had a bunch of guys playing pro soccer that wanted to make a living at it,” said Onstad., who was part of a 54-game unbeaten streak at UBC.
“We had a bunch of guys that were pretty high performing athletes in their sport, so it was difficult with the guys he had and the personalities.”
“He did a fantastic job for us and I was really lucky to have him as a connected influence when I look back at the way he coached and handled that group and how it’s influenced my coaching career,” explained Onstad, who has enjoyed a successful career in soccer operations since retiring as a player in 2010.
Following his time at UBC, a career in pro soccer was far from a certainty for Onstad, who briefly retired in 1995 to focus on his teaching career.
“I finished my education degree in ’95 and actually went and played soccer right away with Montreal and then came back and said ‘ok, that’s enough of soccer’ and I retired and taught full-time in Vancouver at an elementary school and absolutely loved it,” recalled Onstad, whose parents were both teachers.
“I loved teaching and really loved working with the kids. For me it was something I pretty much had my mind set on.”
But as fate would have it, Onstad’s soccer career wasn’t over. Far from it, as a call from the Edmonton Drillers of the National Professional Soccer League in 1996 reignited Onstad’s career, which was on the upswing after a stint with the Rochester Raging Rhinos in the A-League.
“It was a new experience for me. We played in front of like 11-12,000 people every game. We were a big fish in a small pond. It was a great couple of years, I really enjoyed it,” said Onstad of his first stint with Rochester between 1998 and 1999.
“That’s where I got picked up by Dundee United Scotland. I went over there and started playing well with the national team, and that’s where my career had this second chance at it I guess and it took off. Fortunately I got a chance to play MLS and got to play eight great years in MLS and really enjoyed it. I was kind of lucky. A late bloomer you could say.”
And bloom he did, backstopping the San Jose Earthquakes to the MLS Cup in his first season in 2003, while also being named the league's Goalkeeper of the Year and Canadian Player of the Year by Soccer Canada.
“I was 35 when I played my first game in MLS and then played 200 some odd games in the league. That was almost like the third stage of my career,” said Onstad. “For me, I started making a decent salary, but more importantly we started playing in front of big crowds and it was really professional.”
“I really enjoyed it and really didn’t want to let go. That’s probably what kept me going into my early 40s.”
He would again be named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2005 with San Jose, before the franchise moved to Houston in 2006.
While in Houston, Onstad would add two more MLS Cups to his resume (2006, 2007) over five seasons.
“We had a lot of really good guys and really interesting guys on those teams that we played on. I was just fortunate to be a part of and you just reflect back on it with a smile on your face,” said Onstad.
All told it was a remarkable pro career for Onstad, who also earned 57 caps for the Canadian national team over more than two decades (1988-2010), making him the longest serving member in team history at the time of his retirement.
“I grew up watching hockey and the Olympics…I always wanted to wear the Canadian jersey and (represent) the Canadian flag, so I was always proud at any moment to put the jersey on,” said Onstad.
Now in his early 50s, soccer remains a cornerstone for Onstad, who after retiring in 2010 has enjoyed another successful stage in his soccer career, coaching at the MLS level.
Currently the technical director and vice president of soccer operations for the Columbus Crew, it’s unlikely you’ll find the latest Canada West Hall of Famer back in a Vancouver classroom anytime soon, as his soccer journey continues to unfold.
Written by Evan Daum