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Men’s Soccer Roundup: It Begins!

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Tiger attack looks dangerous in pair of weekend wins

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Ohio State v Clemson Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Welcome to the Show

The season is here! No, not that one. You’ll have to wait a few more days before Dabo Swinney’s team finishes its long victory lap and takes on the (mighty?) Kent State Golden Flashes. The soccer season, however, is in full swing, and no. 5 Clemson looks as good as advertised. The Tigers opened the season with a bang, sweeping through their weekend matches against Cal State Fullerton and Radford with relative ease. If you missed the matches, don’t worry; I’m here to compensate with recaps, analysis and questionable pop culture references. Enjoy the show, kiddos.

Cal State Fullerton (Friday 8/25)

Starting XI (3-4-3):

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

I’m not here to confuse you with some kind of Nolan-esque non-linear narrative, so let’s start from the beginning. Clemson opened the season with a 2-0 win against Cal State Fullerton. Although the win was fairly comfortable, Mike Noonan’s Tigers were jittery in the opening minutes. The team made a number of mistakes in possession in the early going. The mistakes persisted until transfer Jason Wright changed the order of proceedings with his goal 18 minutes into the first half. The forward looked bright and inventive from the beginning, and his boundless energy in the press forced the Titans’ goalkeeper into a misplay. Wright pounced on the mistake, and he glided past the goalkeeper for a tap-in that opened his account with the program.

After the Jamaican forward’s first goal, the team seemed to settle into the game. Tanner Dieterich began to assert himself in the midfield, hitting long balls and short passes alike. Malick Mbaye was a composed presence behind him, snuffing out attacks and starting positive moves. The Cal State Fullerton forwards had limited space between the defensive and midfield lines, and as a result they often looked overwhelmed in possession. Michael Melvin, who seems to have carved out a starting spot at LWB, was disciplined on the flank. He provided some timely runs, and he threatened on a regular basis. On the other flank, Saul Chinchilla looked less disciplined in his starting role. He found himself sucked forward into the attack on multiple occasions, and though his positioning didn’t hurt him in this match, it is something to watch in the future. I don’t expect the senior to start against South Carolina—he is better as an impact substitute.

The forwards were dangerous in both the first and second halves. Though Diego Campos and Harrison Kurtz started on the wings, they frequently shifted across the front line, and their combinations with Wright gave the Titans’ defense nightmares. Campos was unlucky not to score on any of his 4 shots. The future of this forward group looks bright too. Freshman substitute Robbie Robinson prevented a drop-off when he came in for Wright. The forward from Camden drew a penalty early in the second half. Mbaye calmly finished from the spot, and the Tigers never relinquished their 2-0 lead. Robinson continued to threaten throughout the remainder of the match, providing mazy runs and some neat step-overs. Tactically he looked more comfortable then he did in the preseason. His energy and creativity should earn him a significant role off the bench in his first season, and I would not be surprised to see him start a few matches.

Ximo Miralles wasn’t tested much at the goalkeeper position, but he was solid when needed. He kept a clean sheet, and the Tigers opened the season with a decisive victory.

Radford (Sunday 8/27)

Starting XI (3-4-3/5-4-1):

  • GK: Ximo Miralles
  • LWB: Michael Melvin
  • LCB: Cale Thorne
  • 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

Before providing details on the second match, I’d like to use this space to encourage the reader to be wary of the formations that ESPN provides at the start of each college soccer broadcast. In a reasonable move, the broadcast team seems to be cobbling together the formations using the listed positions on the official rosters. Mike Noonan, however, does not feel limited by such constraints. So, if an ESPN graphic tells you that Clemson is running a 4-4-2—I saw one such mistake pop up when I reviewed this match—keep in mind that the publishers of this information are under the impression that Dieterich is in defense and that Mbaye is in the midfield. Review will clearly show that the 3-4-3 (and possibly the 5-4-1, if you account for the second half’s more defensive posture) was the formation of choice in this match.

The formation proved effective once again in this 2-1 victory. Though Kurtz faded into the background, Campos and Wright were lethal. This duo is too much to handle for your average defender, and it showed. The two forwards combined with regularity, running rings around the left side of the defense. Campos began what should be a productive scoring season with 2 goals, both near the end of the first half. The first came on an excellent first-time low cross from Grayson Raynor, which Campos half-volleyed home. LWB substitute Gian Scalise, a transfer from Wayland Baptist College was involved early in the move. Scalise was more directly involved in the next Campos goal. He darted toward goal on a nice combination with Campos, and drew a penalty after a tussle with a Radford defender. The penalty call was a little questionable—Scalise’s position at the edge of the box was unclear—but Campos didn’t seem to mind. He fired a low, hard shot right of center, and the goalkeeper chose the wrong direction. Noonan looked pleased; Scalise made a major statement for more playing time.

Clemson continued to dominate possession in the second half, and exciting freshmen Robbie Robinson, Michael Ille and Kimarni Smith saw the field. Smith has looked good in limited action—he is a long-strider with some potential as a future centerpiece of the front line. Development of the technical side will be key, though. The encouraging signs from these young forwards didn’t negate the worrying late goal, which came from the foot of Kieran Roberts with about 3 minutes to go. Roberts took advantage of LCB Cale Thorne’s slow reaction to split the space between Thorne and Bunk-Andersen. The Radford forward latched onto a lofted through ball, rounded the keeper and finished with poise. Similar mistakes from Thorne against superior opponents could cost Clemson some matches. I anticipate that Burnikel will reclaim the starting LCB spot in the next match.

Next Up: South Carolina (Friday 9/1, 7:30 P.M.)

The next match should be a good one. Clemson will get the first real test of the regular season when the South Carolina Gamecocks visit Historic Riggs Field. These matches are usually tight, regardless of the state of each program. That said, Mark Berson’s Spurs-Up Chicken Attack Squad is unranked this year, and Clemson should be able to grab a victory with the First Friday crowd present. Emotions will run high and there should be some minor scraps. South Carolina will want redemption for last season’s heartbreaking loss in the NCAA Tournament. If Clemson can keep cool and dominate possession, I’d expect multiple goals from the Tigers. These are the matches in which co-captain Oliver Shannon typically shines, and he should do so once again.

Prediction: 3-1 Clemson win, with goals from Diego Campos, Harrison Kurtz and Oliver Shannon.