After winning the National Championship for the third time in school history with a dominant 2021 squad, Clemson United had to replace seven graduating starters, including the 13th overall pick of the MLS draft in defender Oskar Ågren.
They finished fourth in the Atlantic division, became the lowest seed (at 8th) to reach the ACC tournament final, and lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament against UCLA to end their year 13-7-1 overall.
Following the conclusion of their season, Clemson had three players selected in the MLS draft, led by first-overall pick Hamady Diop, the second Tiger to be drafted first overall in the last four drafts (Robbie Robinson, 2020).
Mike Noonan is entering his 14th season as head coach for Clemson United. The Tigers have high expectations for 2023 as the Preseason ACC Men’s Soccer Favorite, returning All-ACC players Ousmane Sylla and Mohamed Seye, along with All-ACC Freshman Team goalkeeper Joseph Andema. They begin the season ranked 9th nationally by the United Soccer Coaches preseason poll.
Midfielders Joran Gerbet and Ousmane Sylla were named to the United Coaches Players to Watch list, along with forward Alex Meinhard. Sylla was the leading scorer for the Tigers in 2022, while Gerbet and Meinhard both transferred into the program over the offseason. Gerbet was the 2022 PAC-12 player of the year, while Meinhard was twice named the AAC player of the year during his time with Tulsa.
Week 1 Recap
2-1 Defeat vs UCF
The Tigers started 2023 with a disappointing loss to the UCF Golden Knights. Despite Ousmane Sylla scoring the second-fastest goal in school history just 25 seconds after the opening kickoff, UCF fought back and equalized things in the 43’.
A gritty second half resulted in a red card to Clemson’s Adam Lundegard, leaving them with just 10 players on the pitch. Shortly after the ejection, Emmanuel Bam took advantage of the extra man for UCF and netted the winning goal in the 68’.
UCF is a decent team (currently ranked 16th as of this writing), but this was a frustrating way to start the year off.
1-1 Draw vs UNC Wilmington
In another physical match, Clemson dominated the time of possession and recorded 23 shots, but had to settle for a 1-1 final score against UNCW. Several clutch saves late prevented the visiting Seahawks from taking a lead:
Mohamed Saye scored first for the Tigers, calmly netting the pass from Shawn Smart for his first goal of the season, but the Tigers weren’t able to maintain their early lead, as UNCW’s Ethan Newsome scored in the 51’.
2-0 Victory vs South Carolina
This was a huge win for the Tigers, giving them their tenth victory in a row versus the Gamecocks. They have now outscored South Carolina 28-4 across their ten-game winning streak.
The highly touted impact transfers scored both goals for Clemson, with Joran Gerbet driving a low shot to the far post for a 1-0 lead in the 24’. It marked Shawn Smart’s second assist of the season and was followed in the 82’ by Alex Meinhard’s goal:
Winning the state rivalry is always the goal for any Clemson team, and this victory gives United a boost of confidence as they head into the next week of their schedule. The loss against UCF and draw vs UNCW saw the Tigers tumble out of the national poll, but this win is a step in the right direction.
Week 2 Preview
Clemson will face Presbyterian at home on Tuesday night before traveling to open ACC play against Notre Dame on Saturday. Presbyterian should be a given Clemson victory, but they have firepower that will have to be kept in check. The Blue Hose scored eight goals in their opening win against Southern Wesleyan, including a hat trick from forward Victor Faaborg Christensen.
Notre Dame also had some fireworks in their opening match against IUPUI, scoring 5 goals in the shutout win. The Fighting Irish’s home turf will be the first road test for Clemson, who will be looking to open conference play with a victory for the fifth straight year.