Men's soccer prepares for season
Senior Mahamoudou Kaba earned a spot on the All-Conference USA team last season. He begins this campaign as the preseason pick for C-USA Defensive Player of the Year.
For the Gamecock men’s soccer team to achieve its goals this season, it must overcome quite a few injuries to key players.
Familiar faces like junior midfielders Ryan Arambula and Devin L’Amoreaux have not played at all this preseason, but are hoping they won’t miss too much of the regular season.
Arambula had surgery on his feet according to South Carolina head coach Mark Berson while L’Amoreaux is still battling a quad injury.
The back line of defense is also experiencing some pain with redshirt junior goalkeeper Robert Beebe set to miss extended time after getting an operation on his elbow.
In Beebe’s place for the time being stands sophomore Marco Velez, who Berson said has played “outstanding” in the preseason. Velez gained significant experience filling in for an injured Beebe at the beginning of last season. The sophomore started in 15 of his 17 appearances last year and recorded four shutouts on his way to being named to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team.
Berson said the biggest loss of the season is to junior forward Kevin Walker who the Gamecocks signed from junior college at Cincinnati State. Walker broke his neck in the early stages of preseason after going up for a header and landing awkwardly. He had surgery on his neck that went well according to Berson, but will miss the entire season and receive a medical redshirt.
Even with all of the injured Gamecocks, Berson still thinks his team is pretty much on schedule.
“I think we would obviously prefer that we didn’t have two losses and a draw, but the performances have been good,” he said. “We’ve had the chance to look at a lot of players through these games, so the results aren’t really the number one goal going through these scrimmages.”
Berson said the biggest thing the Gamecocks need to work on is the errors on defense, pointing to the five goals they allowed in three exhibition matches. He added that the mistakes can be easily corrected with help from some of the more experienced players on the Gamecock defense.
Senior center backs Braeden Troyer and Mahamoudou Kaba continue to perform well at the middle of the defense while sophomore Ive Burnett returns to hold down his position at left back. Kaba will bear some of the biggest expectations of any Gamecock this season, following his All-Conference USA performance in 2013. Before the start of the season he was picked by the C-USA coaches as the preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
However, the position of right back has been the weak link thus far and a clear starter has not been determined yet.
Among those vying for the spot includes freshmen Martin Ramos and Trevor Baum as well as junior Reid Grayson.
Berson thinks that as long as the defense keeps striving to improve, it will move past the early season blunders.
Additionally, South Carolina will look for a player to replace last year’s starting forward J.P. Rafferty and Berson said sophomore Mikkel Knudsen will likely step in to that role.
Knudsen’s home country is Denmark where he led its U-19 league in goals during the 2011-12 season with 12 tallies while scoring 16 goals in the 2010-11 campaign.
Berson has been mixing and matching to see who will play up top with Knudsen and the candidates right now are senior Asa Kryst along with junior Jeff Torda and sophomore Eli Dent.
Despite the injuries, the goal of winning their conference and contending for an NCAA Tournament bid has not changed for the Gamecocks. Berson said it’s still very realistic.
“We do need to get some people back and I think we will, but that’s just one of the things that sometimes you have to deal with,” he said. “It’s a shame to lose Kevin for the year, he’s an outstanding forward with great talent, but hopefully some of the other guys will be coming back and they’ll give us a big boost.”
Berson wanted to add that he and his team really appreciated the support that the fans gave them during the exhibition match against Elon.
“I don’t think in my 37 years have I ever seen a crowd like the one against Elon,” he said. “It meant so much to us and I hope we can get a huge crowd again for the men and women’s doubleheader this Friday.”