Both the men's and women's soccer programs got their seasons off to strong starts with two wins each over the weekend. I'll give some thoughts on the games specifically and the whole weekend in general, rather than writing a detailed recap of each game.
Fresh off a 5-1 win over UAB in Birmingham in an exhibition game, the Tigers returned home to take on ETSU on Friday night. I was really curious to see how the new lineup would look, especially along the backline. As expected, the Tigers came out in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. Andrew Tarbell got the start in goal, the backline went Aaron Jones, Patrick Bunk-Anderson, Kyle Fisher, and Iman Mafi. Like he did with Dia and Amirkhanian this past season, Coach Noonan moved an attacking midfield to a fullback position. This clearly fits with his overall desire to see his fullbacks push forward when Clemson has the ball and is attacking. I thought Bunk-Anderson (PBA), had a good chance to start over Mauriq Hill so I wasn't too surprised to see that. Aaron Jones had been quite the standout at Georgia State the past two seasons so he was expected to start right away.
In midfield, the holding mids were Paul Clowes and Oliver Shannon. Clowes's ability to hold it down by himself allows Shannon to push forward in attack. The attacking mids from left to right were TJ Casner, Diego Campos, and Saul Chinchilla. That lineup didn't particularly surprise me. Campos playing in the middle allows him to basically play as a second striker, and Chinchilla and Casner can both cut in from the wings to give the full backs some space out on the flanks.
Kyle Murphy got the start as the lone striker. Murphy has come into his own as a good role player the past two years and I think the start was partially due to seniority. As expected this was and will be a striker by committee role.
From the opening whistle it was obvious what ETSU's strategy was going to be. They lined up in a 4-4-2 and were content to sit deep in their half. They were forcing Clemson to break down two banks of four players with the hopes of hitting the Tigers on the counter. It is a smart strategy for an outmatched team to play like against a team as offensively potent as Clemson; it is what I would have done and its a strategy that you can see at the highest levels of the game.
The Bucs actually went up 1-0 with less than 10 minutes left in the 1st half. At this point, Thales Moreno had subbed into the game and was playing centrally. He played a ball to freshman striker Michele Bottari, which was intercepted by ETSU, mainly because Bottari didn't step to it. Moreno then made the situation worse by going off on a horrible slide tackle and taking himself completely out of the play. The Bucs were able to play it down the wing before Mafi could recover from pushing down field, getting a one on one with centerback PBA. The cross found their Brazilian winger (their best player) in the box. He slotted it into the far post with a nice half volley.
The Tigers responded well in the second half, upping their pressure on ETSU. Clemson's first goal actually came off a counter of their own. Tarbell collected the ball on an ETSU corner before launching it out to Alex Happi on the wing. Happi was able to get a free run towards the middle of the field before slipping the ball to Clowes who slotted it past a diving keeper with about 20 minutes left in the half.
The winning goal came with 11 minutes left. An Aaron Jones cross had been cleared ineffectively and when the ball was recycled back into the box Mafi was able to take an excellent touch out of the air and get the ball between multiple defenders before hitting a shot into the low corner away from the keeper.
The third goal was simply icing on the cake. Clemson forced an ETSU turnover in their own half and Campos got a off a rocket of a shot that the keeper saved. However, Shannon followed the shot in and was able to knock in the rebound.
On Sunday, the Tigers defeated Mercer 4-1 with a few changes to the starting lineup. Junior Mauriq Hill started at centerback in the place of PBA, Alex Happi got the start at holding mid over Oli Shannon, Thales Moreno replaced Diego Campos centrally, and Austin Burnikel started at striker.
With 20 minutes left in the first half, the Mercer keeper messed up a clearance while attempting to punch away a free kick. Saul Chinchilla was able to head the ball back towards goal where Kyle Fisher got a final head onto the ball to get it past the keeper. Mercer was able to pull one back right before the end of the first half. A bad clearance and then a slip by Mafi on the wet field gave Mercer a chance to cross the ball, where it found an open player after a marking miscommunication by Jones and Clowes.
The Tigers scored a trio of goals in the second half. The second was scored by Austin Burnikel with an excellent backpost run on a Diego Campos free kick. The third goal was scored by Chinchilla when he cut in from the wing. Murphy set him up by out-muscling a Mercer defender on a 50/50 ball. Captain Paul Clowes finished off the scoring to cap off a great weekend for him and the team.
So some general positive thoughts. As you can see, this team has a tremendous amount of firepower. 7 goals in two games is pretty good, especially considering the offense appeared a bit sluggish and unclinical at times. The squad has very good depth, evidenced by the multiple substitutions we were able to make with hardly any drop off. I was impressed by Shannon's ability to play holding midfield, attacking midfield, and even left back. Both PBA and Mauriq Hill looked good alongside Kyle Fisher. I thought Bottari did well in his playing time. He showed his talent and the aspect of the game he has that a forward like Kyle Murphy, more of a holdup man, does not have. Speaking of Fisher, he provides a very dangerous threat on set pieces, almost scoring numerous goals over the weekend. Clemson, particularly Campos, is very adept at drawing fouls.
Now some negative thoughts. Initially, I was not a huge fan of the way the midfield was arranged. Casner was a defensive liability at times on the wing. I also thought that once Diego Campos moved from the center to the wing he looked much more comfortable. Camps made some good runs and drew quite a few fouls. Mafi has a little work to do defensively but I think he's a good, physical, aggressive option at fullback. PBA struggled in 1 v 1s when pacier attackers got a good run at him. I was a bit disappointed with Thales Moreno. He had a couple of silly plays, from the errant slide tackle in the first game to a couple of silly fouls in the second, he was not too strong defensively. He can also get tunnel vision at times, missing runs that are being made because he is looking down at the ball. The team itself has a bit of an issue with that. However, with 12 goals over the past 3 games (pre-season and regular season) I can't complain too much.
Clemson has the week off until they take on South Carolina at home Friday and Coastal Carolina on Monday. So far the offense has been as good as advertised and if they can cut back on mental errors they will be difficult to score on. I really like what I saw this weekend and I expect that form to continue into the rest of the season.
Speaking of beating South Carolina, the Lady Tigers did just that this past Friday. After beating College of Charleston 2-0 the previous weekend, the Lady Tigers took on #11 South Carolina. After falling behind early in the game, Clemson battled back to win in the second half with goals from Shannon Hogan and Catrina Atanda. On Sunday, Clemson once again found itself trailing 1-0. Two goals in the second half from Claire Wagner and Jenna Weston proved the difference in this contest.
The women's team is sitting at #17 with a 3-0 record. Coach Radwanski has the team playing well and it looks like the Tigers will continue to build on last season's successes and continue to become one of the better programs within the ACC.