2011 South Carolina Men's Soccer Season Preview
Aug. 23, 2011
COLUMBIA, S.C. - The South Carolina men's soccer team kicks off the 2011 season on Friday with a nationally-televised Fox Soccer Channel contest at College of Charleston. Led by head coach Mark Berson in his 34th season at the helm of the Carolina program, the Gamecocks return a core of veterans from last season's NCAA Tournament squad, while welcoming nine newcomers to the team this fall. Berson's squad is ranked No. 15 in the NSCAA Preseason Top 25 Poll.
The Gamecocks enter the 2011 season with a combined 19 freshmen and sophomores on their roster and just 10 upperclassmen. With the graduation of four-year starting goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer and offensive minded forward Blake Brettschneider, who led the team with seven goals and 10 assists last season, as well as four others from its starting rotation, South Carolina will have new faces in its lineup this fall.
"The overall statement heading into this season is that we have a lot of moving parts right now with this very young team," Berson said. "I think that there will be a number of changes as we go forward. It's going to take us a little while to determine within the group who is able to step up and carry more responsibility and what their positions might be. I think right now, we are looking at a lot of different players fulfilling a number of different roles. As a staff, we are very pleased with their fitness, and we are pleased with their effort and attitude. A lot of the factors that are going to determine where this team will be at the end of the season are going to have to shape up as the year moves along."
With the departure of Maurer to the professional ranks, redshirt-sophomore goalkeeper Alex Long looks to take over the starting role in net this season. Long has been a member of the squad for two seasons, working closely with Maurer and the Gamecock coaching staff in training. Berson feels strongly about his core of goalkeepers, which includes redshirt-junior Ross Power, redshirt-freshman Chris Duzan and freshman Robert Beebe, a 2011 ESPN Rise Spring Second Team High School All-American.
"In the goal, Alex will be the guy that would be the initial first starter," Berson commented. "He has had two years in the program, is very capable and he is going to have to gain game experience as we move along. Behind Alex right now, Ross Power is in his fourth season with the program who has done a good job as a backup. Robert Beebe is a freshman who has great potential, and we think that he is going to be a very good goalkeeper. Chris Duzan is a second-year player in the program, so we think that the goalkeeping core is very good and that it will develop as the season moves along."
The Gamecocks also lost two members of a strong defensive line with the graduation of Will Traynor, who scored six goals last season, and fellow central defender Evan O'Dell. The squad does return both of its outside backs, with senior Danny Cates handling the right side of the field and junior Mike Mangotic the left.
"In the backline, the two outside backs in Mike Mangotic and Danny Cates return, and that should be a strength for this team," Berson said. "Both of them have played a lot of games in their careers and have played very well.
"The center of the defensive line is where we lost two excellent players in Will Traynor and Evan O'Dell. Juniors Kevin Stam and Eric Martinez, freshmen Mahamoudou Kaba and Braeden Troyer, and Daniel Lynch in his fourth season in the program, have filled in and done very well in the center. Kevin played extremely well at the end of last year and Eric (who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury last season) has had a very good preseason. Mahamoudou is a tremendous talent and a young player that we think has a great future for our defense. Braeden is also another young player who has a good future for the defense but can also play in midfield."
The Gamecock midfield and forward line will consist of a number of different players, utilizing several different roles within the game. Carolina returns sophomore striker Bradlee Baladez, who will be a key member of the offensive unit. Baladez, a 2011 C-USA Preseason All-Conference team member, scored six goals, including five game winners for the Gamecocks last season as a freshman. Berson is excited about the mix of newcomers and more senior members of his team within the midfield and forward lines.
"On the flanks, freshman Asa Kryst and sophomore Trevor Hubbard have done a good job out wide throughout preseason," Berson said. "Sophomore J.P. Rafferty, senior Vance Benson, sophomore Jason Chapmen and redshirt-freshman Hunter Wyer have all played wide and have done well in those roles. In the center of midfield, we are certainly anchored by Stephen Morrissey. Steve is a senior, and his leadership in the center of the field is going to be important. Who will play next to him in the middle will be by committee as we work through the season. Emmett Lunceford as a freshman has come in and done very well, as have redshirt-junior Hunter Howayeck and freshman Niklas Kivinen. It is very much a work in progress in the middle of the field, and we are going to have to see how things develop in that area.
"Clearly the loss of Blake Brettschneider is a big one. I think that Bradlee Baladez did very well last year, and we hope that Bradlee can continue to be a force for us up front. Sophomore Chipper Root is coming off an injury from the spring, but he has done extremely well. He is the type of player who can unbalance defenses with his runs and his effort. Freshman Snoopy Davidson has done well and we think he is going to be a guy that will be a very good attacking player for us up front, or out wide."
Showcasing this young team is its home field in Stone Stadium. The venue, which also plays host to the South Carolina women's soccer team, is described as one of the best in the nation for collegiate soccer. A strong student fans base joins with great community support to cheer on the Gamecocks each season.
"The atmosphere at Stone Stadium is one of the best in the country," Berson commented. "It's a stadium with a great history and a stadium that opponents know when they come in that they are going to be in a wonderful atmosphere. Our fans are tremendous; the support of the student body is outstanding. I think that if you look at our team, we perform well at home because of the environment, the atmosphere and the crowd that we get at home. It is a great place to play."
The Gamecocks once again will play a highly-competitive schedule. The slate features contests against four teams ranked in the final 2010 NSCAA Top 25 Poll and eight teams that advanced to the 2010 NCAA Tournament. Three of those teams advanced to the Round of 16 and one to the College Cup, while 12 of the 18 regular-season opponents for 2011 amassed double-digit win totals last season.