2009 Gamecock Men's Soccer Season Preview
Aug. 27, 2009
COLUMBIA, S.C. - The University of South Carolina men's soccer team returns to the field in 2009 looking to improve on its 8-6-5 record from a year ago. The Gamecocks will take the field on a new grass surface at Stone Stadium, and will look to a strong senior class for leadership this fall. Led by head coach Mark Berson, who enters his 32nd season at the helm of the South Carolina program, the Gamecocks aim for an NCAA Tournament berth in 2009.
"Last year was a good year in many aspects and a disappointing year in others," Berson said. "The overall record was a disappointment due to the fact that we had five ties. On the surface of it, some of those ties were against quality opponents. We showed as a team our ability to hang in and compete, but this year our objective is clearly to win those games and to push ahead to where we are able to score more goals.
"This team tied for third in Conference USA in the regular season and advanced to the semifinals of the conference tournament for the third time in four years. Defeating Clemson for the second-straight year and shutting them out for the second-consecutive year was a big positive for our program. We have a lot to build on. There is a good nucleus of players that return that should give us something to build on going forward. The big thing for us will be winning those close games."
One of the key factors to South Carolina's success in 2009 will be the play of its goalkeeper, junior Jimmy Maurer, along with a strong defensive line. Maurer allowed just 16 goals last season in net, the fewest allowed by a Gamecock keeper since the 1998 season. Maurer also collected nine shutouts in net, and finished the season with an 0.80 goals against average, ranking him among the top goalkeepers in Conference USA and the nation.
"Allowing just 16 goals last year was a real positive for our defensive unit," Berson commented. "We have an experienced team now, and we expect that the ability to be solid defensively will continue in 2009. Jimmy Maurer returns as clearly one of the top young goalkeepers in the nation. He is supported there by redshirt-junior Sean Nguyen, redshirt-freshman Ross Power and freshman Alex Long. Sean and Ross gained a lot of experience working with Jimmy last season, and should be in a good supporting role for us this fall. Alex is one of the bright goalkeepers with a future here at South Carolina. He brings in tremendous experience at the club level and also with his time with the U-18 U.S. Men's National Team. He is very talented and needs to gain experience at the collegiate level.
"The rest of our back line comes in virtually in tact. Led by seniors Mario Burstein, Tyler Ruthven and Mark Wiltse, and junior center back Will Traynor, this is a group that was very solid for us defensively last year. This group understands our system, and they understand how to play. This season we will look to them to manage game situations more effectively and to help push our team forward on the field. Junior Evan O'Dell and redshirt-freshmen Luke Berson, Hunter Howayeck and Daniel Lynch all played a considerable amount during the spring and gained a lot of experience. Freshman Kevin Stam will also see time on defense this season."
The South Carolina midfield should be a solid and hard working group. Led by senior left midfielder Jeff Scannella, the middle third of the field will play a big role for both the Gamecock offense and defense this fall.
Scannella enters his senior season with 12 career goals and nine career assists. The 2006 Conference USA Freshman of the Year, Scannella has earned All-Conference accolades each year of his college career.
"Jeff returns as one of the most exciting and dynamic players in the country," Berson said. "He is so much more explosive and physically strong than he has been in the past, and he has all the experience necessary to make him one of the exciting players in college soccer."
Joining Scannella in the midfield are junior Josh Stewart, who will see the majority of his time at defensive midfield, and sophomore Stephen Morrissey, who will play more of an offensive center-midfield role. Stewart saw action in 18 contests last season, where he contributed one assist. Morrissey started 16 contests and made in appearance in all 19 games as a freshman last season, where he contributed one goal and one assist. His first collegiate goal came against then-No. 15 North Carolina competing at the Wake Forest Deacon Classic in early September. Burstein will also see time in the midfield, as well as at the left back position.
"In the middle, Josh Stewart and Stephen Morrissey have both been solid players for us," Berson commented. "Stephen earned a spot on the Conference USA All-Freshman Team last year, and Josh has been a steady player for us the last two years."
Sophomore Danny Cates and redshirt-sophomore Vance Benson will also see considerable time in the Gamecock midfield, along with redshirt-freshman Andre Bahri and freshman Ryan Goodwin. Cates contributed four assists last season as a true freshman, while Benson served as a solid role player for the Gamecocks as a redshirt-freshman in 2008.
"Danny Cates may see time at the left or right midfield position as a sophomore. He earned some playing time last year and learned about the speed and demands of college soccer. With that experience, we expect Danny to step up this year and contribute even further. Vance Benson is a very versatile player. He can play any of the midfield positions and was a very important player for us last year. He has a tremendous work rate and great defensive integrity. Every time Vance steps on the field, our team gets a lift.
South Carolina boasts two of the top forwards in Conference USA and arguably in the nation in the junior tandem of Sam Arthur and Blake Brettschneider. Both represented South Carolina on the All-Conference USA First Team last season. In 2008, Arthur ranked as the Gamecocks' leading scorer with 12 goals, while adding three assists. Brettschneider was close behind with six goals and two assists on the year. Both earned a goal and an assist in the 2-0 shutout over archrival Clemson last season, and proved to be dangerous threats for opposing defensive lines.
"Sam and Blake are two of the most exciting players in our league," Berson said. "The fact that both of these players were chosen by the other coaches in the league as First Team All-Conference USA is a tremendous honor and accomplishment, and is very well-deserved. Sam is a proven goal scorer. He is a dynamic player in coming forward, and he is opportunistic in his ability to strike the ball. Blake is one of the more versatile players we have in our program. He can play up top and score goals, he can come out in the midfield and score, and he has the ability to play in the center of the field or on the wing. The dynamic nature of Blake's play changes the game, and there are not many players who can affect a game in that way. We know that with Sam and Blake returning, we are going to be a force to be reckoned with up front."
Joining Arthur and Brettschneider at the forward position are seniors Bryan Lowder and Schuyler Reardon, along with junior Mike Lindsay. Lowder caught fire at the end of the 2008 season, scoring two goals in the final three games of the year, while he also added two assists earlier in the season. Reardon, who has eight career assists entering the 2009 campaign, is an explosive athlete who has a solid skill set at the forward position.
"Schuyler is a player who has great size and strength and a tremendous strike on the ball. He can certainly score goals, and he can be used up front and also in the midfield. His versatility on the offensive end will be a huge plus for us."
After a solid freshman season, Lindsay played through injury during his sophomore campaign, which hampered his playing time. After an injury-free offseason, he returns at full strength for his junior campaign.
"Mike has a blistering pace, and he is a solid finisher. We are looking forward to Mike returning to the form he played with prior to his injury. He is a player who can also contribute up front or in the midfield. With his speed, he will be a weapon for our offense this season."
Matches against four teams that participated in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, including three that were ranked in the final NSCAA (National Soccer Coaches Association of America) Top 25 Poll, highlight the upcoming 2009 season of South Carolina men's soccer. The Gamecocks will host 10 home dates at Stone Stadium, including one exhibition contest.
From the final NSCAA Top 25 Poll, South Carolina will host No. 2 Wake Forest in a mid-season non-conference contest in Columbia. The Gamecocks will also face No. 7 Northwestern in the Wildcats' home tournament in mid-September, while Carolina will compete against perennial Conference USA contender No. 16 Tulsa during league play in mid-October.
"The challenge for us will be to tackle a schedule that I think is very difficult and very demanding," Berson said. "We have Wake Forest returning on the schedule from last year, and we've added N.C. State, Northwestern, Northern Illinois, Butler, Charlotte and George Mason all as out of conference games that will give us a very accurate picture of where we are on a national level. Those teams are some of the top teams in their respective conferences, so we believe our schedule will present us with some good challenges and some big opportunities in 2009."