The Daily Gamecock

Men's soccer looks to gain ground in conference at ODU

It would be easy for the South Carolina men’s soccer team to fold on the rest of the season with the slew of close losses it's endured. 

Yet with two games remaining in the regular season, head coach Mark Berson’s team is only looking forward in hopes of finishing above .500 for the first time since 2011. 

The Gamecocks (7-8, 2-4 C-USA) travel to Norfolk, Virginia, to face Old Dominion (7-5-1, 2-2-1 C-USA) Tuesday at 7 p.m.   in hopes of returning to the same city in a couple of weeks for the Conference USA Tournament.

As of Tuesday, the Gamecocks hold the seventh spot and would be the first team dropped from the tournament. Two wins in their final two games could catapult South Carolina as high as third place, but two losses could very well leave the team on the outside looking in.

South Carolina will look to rebound from a crushing 4-3, double-overtime defeat to Kentucky Saturday night in which the Gamecocks came from three goals and one man down to even the score.

Above all else, Berson expects the toughness that his team played with in its last game to carry over to the final two games.

“I think this group has shown that type of heart, that type of fight consistently this year,” he said. “No coach could ask more of his team than what we got from our guys.”

South Carolina’s strong showing against conference leader Kentucky despite overwhelming odds in the latter half of the contest has Berson believing that his team can stay on the field with anybody.

At 7-8, one may glance at the Gamecocks’ schedule and attribute the record to general mediocrity. However, a closer look reveals that the margin of error may be smaller than what meets the eye.

Of South Carolina’s 15 matches this season, 12 have been decided by a single goal, and eight of those contests went to overtime. The Gamecocks are now 6-6 in games decided by one goal and 4-4 in overtime matches. 

Berson will be the first to tell you that his team is better than its record indicates. But a handful of missed chances and balls bouncing the opposition’s way have kept South Carolina out of a spot near the top of Conference USA.

“We’ve gone up against good teams,” Berson said. “We feel real confident that we can create good scoring opportunities and get goals.”

The Gamecocks have picked up steam in the offensive third as of late, scoring 13 goals in the last five games, due in large part to the emergence of redshirt freshman forward Mikkel Knudsen. The Denmark native now leads the team with six goals, three assists and 17 shots on goal.

On the other hand, junior midfielder Jeffrey Torda appears long overdue for a breakthrough. Torda registered a match-high seven shots against Kentucky but could not convert. The junior leads the Gamecocks with 46 shots and is tied with Knudsen for the team lead in shots on goal, yet he's only been able to net two.

Unfortunately for South Carolina, the defense began to falter as the offense picked up. The team has surrendered 14 goals in the last five games compared to eight in the preceding five games.

Still, Berson continues to focus on the positives. Although a bevy of narrow defeats would have many coaches pondering the what-ifs, South Carolina's head man continues to believe in his team and what is to come.

“It’s not a difference in attitude. It’s not a difference in effort. It’s not a difference in work rate or intensity,” Berson said. “We just have to keep working and get a couple breaks and see what we can do down the stretch.”