For most of the '70's, '80's, and '90's Clemson soccer was a dominant national force. Under legendary coach Dr. I.M. Ibrahim, the Tigers won eight straight regular season conference titles from 1972-1979, and 13 total in his 28 seasons. The Tigers also won two national titles, finished runners-up in the NCAA Tournament once, and finished third or fourth in the NCAA Tournament four times. After Coach Ibrahim came Trevor Adair, who led Clemson to more ACC titles and NCAA appearances. Towards the end of his tenure, the program declined until he left under a cloud of legal questions. Mike Noonan took over in 2010 and has engineered a steady rebuilding job.
2013 Season Recap
This past season was a long awaited breakthrough season for the program, with the Tigers reaching the NCAA Tournament and winning 10 games for the first time since 2006. Clemson started out the season with six straight wins, including a 2-1 OT win against South Carolina. They reached as high as #4 in the country. Clemson's first loss was a 3-1 defeat to arch-nemesis Maryland. The ACC is widely considered to be the toughest soccer conference in America, especially with the addition of Notre Dame and Syracuse. In the middle of the season, the Tigers took three straight ranked teams, ND, UNC, and Wake, to overtime. Clemson went 1-1-1 in those three games.
The Tiger's finished with a strong record in league play, guaranteeing a top four ACC finish. This allowed the team to host an ACC tournament game which resulted in a 2-1 win over UNC. The Tigers lost in the semi-finals to Maryland (again) 0-1 in OT. Clemson was then selected for the NCAA Tournament, where they were defeated by higher ranked Elon in penalty kicks.
Key Wins: UNC (twice), Virginia, South Carolina
Key Losses: Maryland (twice), Duke, Syracuse, Elon, Furman
- Jack Metcalf: Metcalf was a key member of the back line, starting for most of his four years on campus. He was actually tied for second on the team with three assists from his fullback position. Metcalf was also a Third Team All-ACC selection.
- Thomas McNamara: McNamara is one of the best players to come out of Clemson in the past few years even though only one year was spent with the Tigers. The midfielder and captain lead the team with 7 goals and 8 assists. McNamara was clearly the best offensive weapon for Clemson and he will be sorely missed going forward. McNamara was team MVP, First Team All-ACC, All-ACC tournament team, multiple All-American awards, and a first round draft pick of Chivas USA in the MLS.
- Alex Stockinger: Stockinger started 13 of the 19 games he played in this past season and played in more of a holding midfield role.
- Ara Amirkhanian: Amirkhanian, the local kid, was the second leading scorer for the Tigers. Entering his senior season, Amirkhanian will be one of the midfielders tasked with replacing McNamara's production. He has played in almost every single game in his time at Clemson.
- Amadou Dia: Dia is a senior and key member of the back line. He started out at as a winger, but has been moved back to full back because of the depth that Clemson has in the midfield. His speed gives him an advantage going forward in attack and in recovering defensively.
- Manolo Sanchez: Along with Amirkhanian, Sanchez will be tasked with replacing McNamara's production in an attacking midfield role. The rising senior and one time Louisville transfer was third on the team last year with 5 goals.
- Paul Clowes: Another member of the Tigers' deep and talented midfield unit, the former Manchester City Youth player has started 37 games for Clemson in his first two seasons. Unlike Amirkhanian and Sanchez, Clowes plays more of a holding role in the Clemson midfield.
- Andrew Tarbell: As a freshman, Tarbell started 15 games for Clemson, including the last seven, over sophomore Chris Glodack, who started 6 games. The Tigers have options at goalkeeper and Tarbell appears to be the man between the pipes going into the 2014 season. Both have played well when presented the opportunity.
- Phanuel Kavita: Along with McNamara, Kavita was a captain for the 2013 season. The senior has started 59 consecutive games for Clemson in his first three seasons, and is a formidable center back. He is one of the reasons that Clemson allowed less than one goal per game.
- Kyle Fisher: Another local kid, Fisher forms a rock solid center back pairing with Kavita. The rising junior has started 41 consecutive matches for the Tigers, and was named the team's Defensive POY and Third Team All-ACC. Fisher, Kavita, and Dia were the only players to start all 21 games in the 2013 season for Clemson.
Position Group Analysis
- Goal Keeper: Clemson has a deep goal keeper group with both Andrew Tarbell and Chris Glodack. Both logged playing time last year. Tarbell started more games, including the ACC and NCAA tournament games so he appears to be the starter for the 2014 season. Having two reliable goal keepers is a necessity.
- Defender: Clemson returns three of its four starters from a dependable back line. Amadou Dia will man one of the fullback spots, with Phanuel Kavita and Kyle Fisher at the two center back positions. It will be interesting to see who takes over the vacant fullback position. Incoming and highly ranked freshmen Tyler Rider and Michael Melvin could see some time. Mauriq Hill, who redshirted last season is also likely see playing time. It would also not surprise me to see a midfielder move into the fullback position because of the depth in midfield. Regardless of who plays, Clemson should once again have a stout back line.
- Midfield: The Clemson midfield is probably the deepest and most talented position on the team. The Tigers' main goal scoring threats play out of the midfield. Paul Clowes, Ara Amirkhanian, and Manolo Sanchez are three of the definite starters, with Clowes holding and then Ara and Manolo playing in a more advanced and attacking role. Thales Moreno, who scored the winning goal against South Carolina, will see his playing time increase, as will fellow sophomore Alex Happi. Clemson also brings in some very talented midfielders in this recruiting class who should push for playing time. Gerald Vargas and Saul Chinchilla, members of the Costa Rican national team program were both Top 50 recruits. Clemson has also added Grayson Raynor from Riverside in Greenville. Lastly, Iman Mafi, who was selected to the Big South All-Freshmen team, transfers from Gardner Webb. Mafi started 18 games and scored 3 goals and 1 assist for Gardner-Webb.
- Forward: Since there are no strict substitution rules in college soccer like there are in professional soccer, Clemson usually rotates forwards. As I said in the formations piece, Clemson plays a 4-2-3-1. Clemson's forwards are not the primary goal scorers; rather, they set up goal scoring opportunities for the midfield. TJ Casner, Austen Burnikel, Bobby Belair, and Iain Smith all saw playing and had multiple goals/assists. I would also expect to see Justen Shear, a member of the USMNT program, get playing time after redshirting this past season. Diego Campos, a top 50 recruit and part of the Costa Rican trio, has scored 62 goals of the past two years at Montverde Academy. Another incoming freshman, Reid Cawthon, could get some playing time but I would not be surprised to see him redshirt. If Clemson can get some more goals out of the forward position it will give the team an even more dangerous attacking element.
Here is a link to the full season schedule. As far as ACC schedules go this one is relatively tame, especially when compared to last season's. The schedule sets up for a very successful conference season. Notably absent is nemesis Maryland, due to their Big 10 move. Defending national champion Notre Dame, Duke, and Furman are also absent. Virginia, Syracuse and Wake Forest all come to Clemson, while the Tigers go on the road against Louisville, UNC, and South Carolina. Out of conference, in addition to the Gamecocks, Clemson has added South Florida to the schedule.
With a somewhat favorable schedule, eight full time starters returning, key role players returning, and an excellent recruiting class, Clemson looks set to have another successful season. The key to the season will be improving in front of goal. At times last season, Clemson struggled to put the ball in the back of the net, even if they led the opponent in shots. While no one player can replace Thomas McNamara's output, multiple players will have to step in the gap. I would especially like to see some more goals/assists out of the forward position. If Clemson can get increased production from the forwards while keeping a rock solid defense, then the Tigers could successfully challenge for an ACC title.
Now to list my expectations for the program this season:
- Beat South Carolina. This one will be hard since the Tigers haven't won in Columbia since 2006.
- Average 1.5 goals per game. Last year, Clemson averaged 1.38 goals per game. With the talent we have I think we can improve upon our scoring last year. We will need other guys to step up since McNamara is gone.
- Average 0.9 goals conceded per game. This is what we averaged last season. With 3/4 of the back line starters plus the goalie returning, I would not be surprised if we topped this mark.
- Win all home games. Clemson lost four home games last year but they were all to top programs, including the two national title finalists Notre Dame and Maryland. Duke and Furman were the other two. An undefeated home record this season would give Clemson victories over Syracuse, Wake Forest, and Virginia to name a few. Midweek games against quality OOC opponents such as Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, and USF, will also be a challenge. I won't be disappointed if we lose one, or even two, but I think we can go undefeated at home.
- Finish in the top four of the ACC. A top four regular season finish would give us a first round bye and a home game for the second round. We did this last year and it is definitely doable this year. With the departure of Maryland, and a favorable schedule, Clemson could challenge for an ACC title.
- Reach the NCAA Tournament and win a first round game. Another strong ACC finish will put us into contention for a second straight NCAA Tournament birth. If we can host the game then I think we could have a great shot at winning it. Even on the road at Elon last year we took the game all the way to PKs.
Mike Noonan has a deep and talented team this year, arguably the best in his five years at Clemson. With a relatively favorable schedule too, I expect Clemson to be one of the better sides in the ACC. This Tiger squad will help tremendously in restoring the program to its former glory. Exhibition play begins on August 16th, with the regular season beginning August 29th, the Friday before the Clemson at Georgia football game, versus Radford.