You may be shocked to see my byline on a non-football topic. How does film study or Brent Venables discipleship leave time to watch other sports for an obnoxious football purist who in the past has condescendingly professed finding only middling enjoyment/passion in other sports?
In a startling turn in my own character development, a spring deprived of any sports whatsoever combined with a dystopian national reality to awaken in me a newfound appreciation for sports which lack an oblong, obtuse leather orb.
I have thus chosen to more closely focus on the Clemson soccer programs. This is in part a coping mechanism I use to handle two increasingly apparent existential crises: the real threat that the all-consuming Clemson football experience will be unrecognizably watered down if there’s a season at all, and the Premier League restart absent all other sports made me follow through on my long intended notion to follow a PL club. Yet my chosen club happens to be long known for the English soccer equivalent of a ten letter word long taboo around here, which starts with “C” and ends with “ing.”
In my naivety following an exciting 2018 World Cup and research into recent history, I chose Tottenham Hotspur. It made sense on paper: a big, profitable club with the most opulent and advanced (finally completed yet now empty) stadium in the world; a “Big Six” club located in London, where I’m more likely to one day visit than Manchester or Liverpool; most of all, an exciting cast of renowned attacking players.
But this is Spurs we’re talking about, and my second annual attempt to follow Tottenham this past August devolved into the same malaise-turned-indifference that the Carolina Panthers manifest in me by October. And after a few games with disappointing or outright dull results, I was back to being consumed almost exclusively with the far more rewarding and exciting Clemson football.
Upon even the simplest and shallowest introspection, I know this is because I am spoiled by Clemson football, though not merely by its recent dominance. I’ve long struggled to find a defining, passionate rooting interest in a professional team where I have no true affiliation to ensure my undying love and interest like I do in my alma mater. I’m spoiled by the passion I feel when I see the paw.
Which brings me back to Clemson soccer: the bridge between the passion for my alma mater and the sport I played for 15 years, and have increasingly grown to enjoy spectating especially this summer. This is a bridge I’m sure most of you can cross if you haven’t already, and I hope you’ll join me in keeping a closer eye on all of Clemson’s programs henceforth — but especially this fall. Here’s why we should follow the men’s and women’s soccer programs, in particular, more closely than ever before when their seasons eventually roll around.
Both programs are among the best on campus historically and today
The Clemson Women’s Soccer team is the most successful women’s program on campus, and the only challenger is the nascent softball program which has played only a month’s worth of games in its entire existence. Women’s sports have been the unworthy butt of more than a few too many jokes in our attempts to belittle UofSC, whose women’s sports have dominated ours of late, versus our men’s sports recently dominating theirs.
But Women’s Soccer has more than done its part. Our Lady Tigers defeated the eventual SEC champions last season, and if you don’t think that matters ask yourself if you would gloat in an alternative hellscape universe where UofSC wins the SEC football championship the week after losing to Clemson. Thought so.
The program has a proud history and is on the upswing — with a handful of alumnae recently inking professional contracts in the NWSL — and even boasts England national goalkeeper Sandy MacIver signing for the Everton Women’s side. With an entrenched coach in Eddie Radwanski, a 2nd round appearance in the most recent NCAA tournament, and a top 5 recruiting class now on campus, a top 25 level program is primed to rise into the next tier.
Radwanski’s counterpart on the Men’s side, Mike Noonan, has been even more successful in his decade along the Historic Riggs Field touchline. Clemson Men’s Soccer is one of the elite programs in the country and owns what was long the best trophy case on campus until football’s recent run — national championships in 1984 and 1987 among a bevy of ACC crowns — and most recently produced the #1 overall pick in this January’s MLS draft: Herman Trophy winner (basically the Heisman of college soccer) Robbie Robinson. Notable alumni range from other young faces in the MLS all the way up to former USMNT veterans Oguchi Onyewu and (current Fox Sports soccer analyst and proud Clemson fan) Stuart Holden.
All that has eluded Noonan during his tenure is an elusive NCAA crown. The reigning regular season ACC champion, 2014 ACC tournament champion and 2015 national runner up, Noonan has made Clemson a mainstay among elite programs nationally. There has been no better counterpoint to the common UofSC fan’s assertion “all y’all got is football” than the Men’s Soccer team. There was a lengthy stretch last fall when it was Noonan’s Tigers, not Dabo’s, who were the highest ranked team on campus. With their own top 5 recruiting class joining the Women’s side in a brand new practice facility later this year (more on this later) both teams are equally primed to warrant more of our attention for autumns to come.
Historic Riggs Field is the Best Setting in College Soccer
This should take no convincing: Riggs is absolutely gorgeous.
Wait that’s my dad with his dog Riggs. At Riggs Field. In an unrelated note here’s my dog Howie with Howard’s Rock:
Seriously, Riggs is the idyllic, intimate college soccer setting. Since building a new pedestrian bridge alongside Highway 93 and integrating it into a permanent north grandstand, the broadcast cameras have moved from the south stand press box to a balcony above the north stand. This offers the viewer a better taste of the atmosphere; no longer does the camera pan out and show a highway behind a temporary stand along the north touchline in the background. Instead, the broadcast features the large south grandstand and a glimpse of campus behind the action on the field.
When the camera pans west, we no longer see the shabby precursor to the new Texas Rangers baseball stadium, we see a modernly rebuilt indoor tennis facility offering a brick facade with plenty of room to pile up banners when the fences lining the west endline fill up.
When the camera pans out, we glimpse Old Main’s bell tower, the old quad behind the stand, and even the embankment leading up to Holtzendorf where you’ll sometimes find an overflow crowd of students behind the east end goal, keen to let the opposing keeper hear them.
Oh, and those students? My how times have changed since I was a student, when the best (or worst) we could manage was a vuvuzela or two on the heels of the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. Now, there is a true student section in the south stand which sadistically assembles just behind the opposing bench.
They have more cheers than occasionally spelling Clemson (way too quickly at that) and clapping off-beat like during football games. Most notably, they set off orange and purple SMOKE BOMBS after kickoff. Hey Death Valley mic guy, you mind taking note? The atmosphere and power in our football cathedral is unmatched, but the most creative and entertaining crowds are in Riggs.
And if you still miss those goofy balloons when running down the hill for whatever misguided reason, ORANGE AND PURPLE SMOKE BOMBS ARE YOUR DELIVERANCE.
Earlier this year I flirted with ordering season tickets this fall before everything shut down. If not able to attend every game coming from Greenville, I at least hoped to attend whatever weekend games I could. Enjoying any sporting event live this year is a silly pipe dream at this point, but get yourself invested in these programs now and you’ll enjoy it even more if things are normal by 2021.
A brand new practice facility will make recruiting even stronger
This isn’t merely an assertion Athletic Directors make to boosters when fishing for more lucrative gifts. The direct correlation between the facility enhancements in every single sport during Dan Radakovich’s tenure and the increase in talent cannot be denied. Even our much-derided basketball recruiting has benefited from long-needed updates and practice space expansions in Littlejohn — if I’m not mistaken, six of Brad Brownell’s eight blue chip recruits (I know, I know, still not great) have come since the Littlejohn makeover.
The new day-to-day home for Clemson soccer has the same sort of impact in mind, but for much more immediately viable programs. Built between the existing soccer practice fields, the facility will offer mirrored wings with all the necessary space and resources for both programs, with direct access to their respective training fields.
The ACC Network allows us to watch every single match
Never before have athletic departments relied so heavily on conference television networks. Soccer made no profit anyway, but without fans filling up Death Valley this fall, the AD will take a sizable financial hit. The biggest chunk of revenue has long been television money, but now it will be an even greater percentage. And that television network is the lifeblood for remote fans this year as well.
In the recent past, those who really cared could find most baseball and even a few soccer games in the depths of WatchESPN. Now, the ACC Network provides a quality broadcast for literally every sporting event in the league. It has never been easier to watch Clemson teams perform, and with what looks like a reduced football season in the very best case scenario, we’ll all have more time and reason to tune into the other fall programs which do Clemson proud. That should begin with the men’s and women’s soccer programs.
I recommend following both programs on Twitter and turning on notifications from their accounts so you never miss news or scores. Better yet follow them on Instagram if you want all the highlights and behind the scenes stories which I’ve found provide the best way to become more familiar with the team and their activities.