With Baladez gone, South Carolina will need new faces to find the net this year
With about a week to go before the regular season starts, the South Carolina men’s soccer team will have its final tune-up against Elon on Saturday at 7 p.m.
USC won its first exhibition 1-0 against Mercer on Sunday off junior Asa Kryst’s goal. The junior forward/midfielder was happy with the offensive and defensive performance last match, but is working to get that final touch on the ball to score more goals, she said.
Kryst will be a major focal point on offense this season for the Gamecocks now that last year’s go-to scorer, three-time All-Conference USA selection Bradlee Baladez decided to forgo his senior year and play professionally.
Also expected to pick up the slack in scoring is junior midfielder Braeden Troyer who was second on the team with three goals last year and an All-Conference selection himself.
“Goals are going to come by committee right now,” head coach Mark Berson said. “We have a number of guys that have played well on the attack.”
Berson mentioned that senior midfielder J.P. Rafferty, sophomore midfielder Jeff Torda and sophomore forward Wesley Eads are among those who will be key contributors on offense this season.
USC also lost top defender Mike Magnotic to graduation, which means on both sides of the ball, different players will have to emerge.
“We’re definitely going to have to step up now that Mike’s gone and Bradley’s gone,” Kryst said. “I think we got a couple freshman that can step up and score. I know J.P. can score. We’ll have a lot of new scorers in.”
Several second-year players will grow into larger roles this season after a year of starting experience under their belts.
Sophomore midfielder Ryan Arambula said that he will be used more on offense this season and that starting during his freshman year has made him feel much more comfortable in his position.
“This season, coach told me that I’m playing more of an attacking role,” Arambula said. “I played more holding last year. The next step is to attack and build chances.”
Some key games for the Gamecocks include a matchup against rival Clemson at Clemson. South Carolina won 1-0 in last year’s contest at home.
USC plays four ranked teams in the NSCAA preseason poll. They play at No. 13 Coastal Carolina on Sept. 10, at No. 21 Charlotte on Sept. 27, vs. No. 14 Tulsa on Oct. 6 and No. 11 New Mexico on Oct. 26.
Berson believes there is still room for improvement after a strong showing against Mercer. He said the attacking rhythm is pretty good right now but could get even better.
“Defensively, in transition, we have to get better, and some of our decisions in terms of keeping the ball need to get better,” Berson said.
Berson wants to see things progress more in this next match against Elon. He said the Mercer scrimmage was unusually early for the preseason, but was happy with the results.
He said the match will be a good assessment of where the Gamecocks are headed as they enter the regular season.
“Elon will be another really good team,” Berson said. “It’ll be a great test for us.”