clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Men’s Soccer Roundup: Clemson Struggles, Triumphs

New, comments

Also, let’s talk about the USMNT

NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Clemson vs Virginia Tech Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday we witnessed perhaps the greatest disaster in the history of the United States Men’s National Team. After cruising by Panama last Friday, the USMNT seemed to have qualification nearly secured. Then Qualification Armageddon happened. The United States lost 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago, despite the efforts of young Christian Pulisic. Panama proceeded to squeak by Costa Rica on a controversial own goal, and Mexico fell to a mediocre Honduras squad. The men in red, white, and blue crashed to fifth place in the Hexagonal, and failed to qualify by a single point. The nation fumed. Taylor Twellman screamed. Bruce Arena shrugged.

My complaints on the failure to qualify are numerous and varied; a truly comprehensive response would necessitate two or three full-length pieces on the matter. The topic is tangential to our concerns at Shakin the Southland, but no American soccer fans can really approach the sport this week without the debacle on their minds. I, like many, was ready to breathe a sigh of relief, but the opportunity never came. Instead, I’m left shaking my head and perusing job openings at the Angst Sports Network. So far I’ve seen no attractive offers. I’ll keep looking, though, I promise.

Clemson soccer fans might find relief in an elite men’s program that stands a few goals away from really breaking out. Two losses and one win in two weeks don’t look very encouraging from afar. Indeed, the Tigers did exhibit some troubling symptoms. A leaky back line in crucial moments could prove troubling. The relative disappearance of Jason Wright at Wake Forest raised some alarm bells. However, I think Clemson fans can take heart from the recent run of performances.

The losses to Wake Forest and Notre Dame were both close games that required late goals to separate the two teams. Both opponents sit in the top ten, and Wake Forest looks like the hottest squad in the nation. The Demon Deacons score in bunches, and Clemson kept up. Notre Dame rode to victory on the back of a stellar performance from Jon Gallagher. In spite of some defensive mistakes, Clemson performed admirably on the whole.

Indeed, all is not lost in TigerTown. This team is still a contender at the national level, and a conference tournament title is still on the table. The competitive nature of both games suggests that Clemson is ready for a deep run. The goals are there, the midfield talent is there. The defensive talent is there too; Mike Noonan just needs to find a way to cut out the killer lapses.

The Tigers proved their credentials when they thrashed Gardner-Webb on Tuesday. Jason Wright recorded a hat trick, the midfield clicked, and Ximo Miralles and the back line produced another clean sheet. The fun didn’t end on Friday, either, when Clemson took on no. 16 Duke in Durham. Diego Campos bagged a hat trick of his own in that one, and the Tigers triumphed. Two more games remain on the regular season slate, and after the last two performances it appears that Clemson might just be ready for postseason play.

Before we move forward, though, let us look back.

Clemson: 2 at Wake Forest: 3 (Friday, 9/29)

Starting XI (3-4-3):

  • GK: Ximo Miralles
  • LWB: Michael Melvin
  • LCB: Justin Malou
  • CB: Patrick Bunk-Andersen
  • RCB: Malick Mbaye
  • RWB: Grayson Raynor
  • CM: Tanner Dieterich
  • CM: Oliver Shannon
  • LW: Diego Campos
  • ST: Jason Wright
  • RW: Harrison Kurtz

Clemson took Wake Forest to extra time in this one, but the Tigers lost 3-2 on a stunning golden goal. The Demon Deacons were better in possession throughout, and for the first time this season Clemson was on the back foot. Tanner Dieterich and Shannon had trouble establishing a rhythm in the center of the park, and the defense had trouble with the incisive runs of the Wake Forest wingers. In the 6th minute, winger Luis Argudo played winger Ema Twumasi through on goal with some sharp passing. Twumasi finished with aplomb. Clemson substitute Robbie Robinson answered with a goal of his own in the 35th minute. The goal came on a peach of a free kick from Campos, and all Robinson had to do was tap home. The forward is in a good run of form, and his big match production should pay dividends in the postseason. The teams went into the half tied at 1-1.

Ema Twumasi came out of the half with a fire in his eyes, and he gave the Clemson defense fits. His 59th minute wonder-strike put the Tigers in a 2-1 hole. The defenders could only watch as he fired a shot past Ximo from 30 yards out. Clemson spent the rest of the half probing for an equalizer, and Noonan made a number of personnel changes to that effect. Robinson’s continued presence was the most inspired move, however. He latched onto another Diego Campos free kick in the 89th minute, tying the game in dramatic fashion. When the game went to extra time, the Tigers looked poised to complete a gritty comeback. Unfortunately, Wake Forest midfielder Steven Echevarria latched onto a Jon Bakero pass at the 103’ mark for the match-winner. The Tigers fell to the Demon Deacons 3-2.

Clemson: 1 vs. Notre Dame: 2 (Friday, 10/6)

Starting XI (4-3-3):

  • GK: Ximo Miralles
  • LB: Michael Melvin
  • LCB: Patrick Bunk-Andersen
  • RCB: Malick Mbaye
  • RB: Grayson Raynor
  • CM: Alex Hemmingsen
  • CM: Oliver Shannon
  • CAM: Diego Campos
  • LW: Kimarni Smith
  • ST: Jason Wright
  • RW: Robbie Robinson

The Fighting Irish bagged a win The scoreline, though, belies the quality of the Clemson performance. Head Coach Mike Noonan seemed determined to get his freshmen some big match experience, with Alex Hemmingsen, Kimarni Smith, and Robbie Robinson all stepping into the spotlight. Disregarding a few early mistakes, Hemmingsen turned in a particularly mature performance. He looked poised, and his presence in the starting XI hints at Noonan’s increasing confidence in the young midfielder from Denmark.

Both Notre Dame goals were the result of defensive lapses. The first, which occurred at the 47’ mark, was the product of a neat through ball that caught Patrick Bunk-Andersen out of position. The pass allowed Blake Townes to slide a ball of his own across the box. Jon Gallagher shed Grayson Raynor to open the scoring with a sliding finish. The Clemson back line should have done better. Hemmingsen answered Gallagher’s goal celebrations with a goal of his own. He provided a tap-in at the 50’ mark. The goal came after some nice interplay between Bunk-Andersen and Wright. I’d like to see Bunk-Andersen increase his involvement in those forward areas. Clemson bombarded the Fighting Irish with shots for the rest of the match, but the forwards had trouble finding the target. Notre Dame’s Jeff Farina had no such trouble when he finished a Gallagher free kick with a stunning, unchecked header in the 89th minute. The home crowd went silent and the match ended in heartbreak.

Clemson: 5 vs. Gardner-Webb: 0 (Tuesday, 10/10)

Starting XI (4-3-3):

  • GK: Ximo Miralles
  • LB: Michael Melvin
  • LCB: Patrick Bunk-Andersen
  • RCB: Malick Mbaye
  • RB: Grayson Raynor
  • CDM: Andrew Burnikel
  • CM: Alex Hemmingsen
  • CAM: Oliver Shannon
  • LW: Diego Campos
  • ST: Jason Wright
  • RW: Robbie Robinson

After two close losses, Clemson welcomed Gardner-Webb to Historic Riggs Field with a 5-0 rout. Oliver Shannon opened the scoring at the 10’ mark with a worm-burner into the corner from the top of the box. Wright added to the party 6 minutes later, after benefitting from a defensive misplay. Clemson dominated possession throughout the first half, and took a solid 2-0 lead into the break.

The party didn’t stop there, though. The midfield three continued to dominate, and Gardner-Webb could hardly get a touch on the ball. Wright notched another goal at the 56’ mark. Campos put him through with a single nifty touch, and the forward from Jamaica made no mistake in finishing the move. 12 minutes later Wright completed his hat trick with a bouncing header on a cross from right fullback Robert Campbell. The opposition’s defense looked sleepy and uninterested at that point in the match. Substitute forward Robby Jacobs took advantage of the sloppiness when he received a pass in the final third from substitute midfielder Johnny Heckman. Jacobs had ample time to receive and position himself—his first touch didn’t fail him. He brought an end to the scoring when he faced the charging goalkeeper and slotted the ball in the far corner.

Gardner-Webb is not high quality opposition, but supporters should take some satisfaction from the win. Clemson needed to regroup before facing Duke and the remainder of the regular season. The Tigers’ performance was indicative of the team’s sharpness. After disappearing against Wake Forest, Wright has responded well. The midfield was just humming, and the Runnin’ Bulldogs were overmatched.

Clemson: 4 at Duke: 1 (Friday, 10/13)

Starting XI (4-3-3):

  • GK: Ximo Miralles
  • LB: Michael Melvin
  • LCB: Patrick Bunk-Andersen
  • RCB: Malick Mbaye
  • RB: Grayson Raynor
  • CDM: Andrew Burnikel
  • CM: Alex Hemmingsen
  • CAM: Oliver Shannon
  • LW: Saul Chinchilla
  • ST: Jason Wright
  • RW: Diego Campos

Clemson was looking for a marquee win, and this match may have provided just that. Duke was a top 25 opponent, and the Tigers shredded them in style. Diego Campos was clinical, but his hat trick was just one part of a complete team performance. Although Hemmingsen won’t get the plaudits on the scoresheet, he was pulling all of the strings in the midfield. The subtle, steady presence of Andrew Burnikel as the defensive cog in a staggered midfield seems to give the Danish freshman the time he needs to operate. Against Duke he hit some switches that really stretched the Blue Devil defense, and his high work rate put the opposition midfielders under constant pressure I’d like to see the squad line up in this manner going forward, especially when Tanner Dieterich and Harrison Kurtz are resting.

Noonan’s tactical decisions helped the Tigers to overwhelm the Duke midfield, and the forwards benefitted. Campos scored the first goal of the match in the 20th minute, when Shannon won a scrappy challenge and poked a pass to the streaking Costa Rican forward. Campos was unerring, and his far post finish skipped past Will Pulisic, the cousin of USMNT star Christian Pulisic. Campos’ second goal followed soon after, at the 26’ mark, when he curled in a first-timer. The first half wasn’t just a goal fest for Clemson, though. Andrew Burnikel lost the ball in a bad position, and a crunching Malick Mbaye tackle couldn’t prevent an easy goal for Brian White. Misfortune struck the resurgent Blue Devils just minutes after the 38’ goal. Matthias Frick left Campos the gift of an upraised boot, and Campos went writhing. The referee had no choice but to issue a red card to the Duke midfielder. From that point onward, the Clemson midfield—which had already run proceedings to that point—seized control.

Duke could barely get on the ball in the second half. Alexander Hemmingsen ran rampant, firing switches and stretching the defensive lines. Campos’s third goal came after the Blue Devils finally obtained some possession, though. Max Moser fired a curling ball backward to no one, and Jason Wright ran onto a free ball with acres of space in front of him. Pulisic took Wright down in the box, but the referee allowed the Tigers to play on. Campos pounced on a rebound and fired home. The hat-trick was complete. Saul Chinchilla, in a rare starting role, capped a strong individual performance with a goal 3 minutes later. He slithered across the top of the box and rifled a shot a bender into the far corner. Clemson cruised for the rest of the match, and left Durham with an excellent result. Onward and upward.

Extra Time:

If your stomach is strong, watch Trinidad and Tobago halfheartedly butcher American World Cup dreams.

Penalties:

Dear Colin Cowherd,

You don’t get to be mad about the USMNT.

I still remember your SportsNation days. Do you? You worked for ESPN. You might recall leaving on acrimonious terms. Well, during those halcyon days of individual relevance you constantly dismissed and demeaned the game of soccer. I don’t mind that. You’re welcome to your opinion. However, you have no credibility as a commentator and analyst for the sport.

You regurgitate obvious points about the “suburban,” “pay-to-play” nature of the sport in America. You trumpet the anger of Alexi Lalas as a revelation, but Lalas never offers much beyond a refrain of “set pieces, set pieces, set pieces,” when he’s doing anything other than excoriating the players on the USMNT. You rightly point to Twellman as a shining example of informed, righteous fury, but you fail to provide unique insights of your own. You masquerade as a hot take artist but your takes are freezing cold.

Kindly refrain from commenting on a sport that you don’t care to understand.

Sincerely,

Glenn

P.S. Never say “hells yeah,” again. God help us all.